A proven framework for efficiently building technical competence in any field

The framework for building technical competence

1. Resource-based learning

  1. Learn from broad/introductory content — In most fields, there are great introductory resources that go over a large breadth of information and give you a landscape of the entire field. Usually, these can be found on YouTube in the form of hour long “complete guides” or “topic overviews” and in long overview research papers.

    These are incredibly valuable early on as they give you a sense of the various areas you may be exploring in the coming weeks and they help you to feel out the scope of the content that you’re dealing with.

    Getting a broad-scope overview of a field can also help you to quickly overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect where beginner’s tend to overestimate how competent they are in a discipline — which is important because this often gets in the way of reaching true technical competence. When you understand the scope of a field, you can truly internalize everything that you don’t know and you know where you stand as far as your understanding.
  2. Go through a breadth of specific content — After you feel that you have a sufficient grasp on the general landscape of your discipline, its beneficial to start diving into more specific content on some of the various areas that you learned about in the overview. Developing this specified knowledge on less surface-level topics is what contributes to a deep technical understanding of a field.

    The goal of this step is to get a deep technical understanding on almost every major area of the discipline. It’s important to consider all the major areas that you want to learn about. Usually this includes most of the areas touched on in the introductory content that you used as well as any current innovations in the field. Having a sound understanding of all of these relevant areas will prove invaluable later when producing content yourself and interacting with experts.

    One note with this step: when I talk about getting a specific understanding in the important areas, I don’t mean you need to meticulously learn about every detail in every subdomain of the field, since that’s obviously unrealistic and unsustainable. The goal is more to understand and be able to talk competently about any major area in your discipline (reading a few research papers or watching a few videos on an area is usually sufficient if you understand the content).
  3. Look for opposing perspectives — This is something to keep in mind throughout your learning process. Many fields have central topics that are commonly debated and entertain multiple expert perspectives. On these topics, research papers and videos tend to have a tilt to one side of an argument. If you recognize this, it’s important to actively searching for opposing view points on such issues. When you balance your understanding of both sides of an issue, you truly gain an understanding of the full picture of the topic.
  4. Focus on specific interests — After going through a sufficient amount of specific content, you will likely have a strong understanding of the fundamentals and details of a discipline. At this point, I often find it most valuable to dive deeper into a very specified topic in the field that I am personally interested in. This can mean reading books about the topic or reading further research on the specified area.

    Building a specified expertise in a smaller sub-discipline of your field is valuable as it allows you to develop an understanding of a much more unique area, which serves many purposes (including content creation which we’ll talk about soon). This is analogous to how PhD’s spend time diving deep into an extremely specific area of their field (although this is of course much less rigorous than a PhD, the reasoning is similar).
  1. Make sure you’re using high quality content — Remember, you’re optimizing for learning, not time spent learning. Going through bad quality content is a big waste of your time. Finding high-standards resources is important. Identifying high quality content is a trained skill but as long as you have this intention in mind, you can start to develop an eye for good resources.

    To give you a sense for what high quality looks like, here’s a great introductory video on artificial intelligence, and here’s a high-quality introductory research paper on psychedelics.
  2. Keep an eye out for competence — In every discipline, there are standard teachers and researchers, and then there are people with a deep understanding of the nuances that make the field valuable and interesting. These people often produce the most valuable content in the field (Richard Feynman in physics, for example), and are worth following/learning from.
  3. Use books to your advantage — As I mentioned earlier, books are a great way to get deep specific knowledge on an area of interest. A good strategy is to search for good/reputed books in your field. From there you can choose one that looks interesting to you (choosing something interesting is important if you want to ensure that you stay motivated to continue learning).

    After you’ve chosen your book, Library Genesis is a great resource to get your book for free. It has almost every book you could want available for download as an ebook or pdf for free.
  4. Use google scholar to find research papers — Finally, Google Scholar is a great resource for finding research papers in any discipline. A simple search of the name of your field should result in good overview and introductory resources as well as recent developments. More specific searches yield more targeted results to your interests.

2. Content creation

  1. Simple/general explanatory content — Usually this comes in the form of writing articles or creating videos on topics that you’re learning about, and is fit for resource-based learning stages where you are learning about more generalized and surface level content. Creating introductory articles of your own or overview articles on a slightly more specified topics is a great way to get the ball rolling and demonstrate your understanding of the topic.
  2. Specified/novel explanatory content — As you start to become more knowledgeable about the subject and you go into more specific subdomains, you will be able to start creating more novel content. As you go into more specified areas, there will be less available content on the topics already available online and you will be able to take advantage of these opportunities to create content on new areas. This is valuable for you as you will have created truly unique content.

    Additionally, you can write down your own thoughts or reflection on a specific aspect of a discipline as you are able to provide unique insights through this method. Creating such specified content is one of the best ways to demonstrate the depth of your competence.
  3. Domain specific creation — In some domains, the most you will be able to do realistically is create explanatory content on the discipline. For example, if you’re researching genetics, you likely won’t initially have access to a lab and so you likely can’t run actual experiments.

    However, in many fields, especially software engineering related ones like web development, machine learning, blockchain development, etc. you have direct access to everything you need to create. In these scenarios, it’s extremely important to build projects specific to your discipline (ideally, you make several). For example, if I were trying to learn about machine learning, I would code several machine learning algorithms and try to make them publicly available (which I did, you can check it all out on my website!)

    This is arguably the most important type of creation as it shows direct experience in the field. You can demonstrate your technical experience through your projects and explanations of them. This is also your opportunity to dive into specific technical aspects like implementing theory into code and other such practices.
  1. Strive for novelty — When creating content, it’s optimal to try to create something uniquely valuable. This doesn’t mean that you need to propose your own earth shattering ideas, but you should at least try to put some kind of unique spin on the topics you cover or deliver them in a unique way. This ensures that you put some unique thought into your content which both strengthens your learning process and is more impressive.
  2. Do something unique but not obscure — On the other side of the spectrum, you want to make sure that for the most part, your content is relevant to a significant subset of people. This means that it most cases, you should try to specify your topic but not choose something so obscure that it will only be relevant to a few people.
  3. Create for your audience — When making content, it’s important to keep your audience in mind. In practice, this means several things. First, it’s important that your content is relatively understandable (within reason) for your intended audience. This means that unless your creating a very targeted piece of content, you should try to do your best to keep thing understandable and explain jargon.

    Additionally, writing for interest as well as education is important. If you can make your content interesting, it provides a much more enjoyable experience than drab explanations, which leaves a much better impression of you.
  4. Go above and beyond — With content, there’s so many possibilities for what you can create. Thinking outside the box in this respect can lead to creating some extremely impressive projects that also act as great ways to practice cross-disciplinary skills or show your competence.

    This involves thinking outside the box and it’s difficult to quantify. However, it often involves using other skills you’ve developed to benefit your learning process in your current discipline. For example, if you’re great at making websites and writing, and you happen to be learning about space technology, maybe you could make a cool learning website with all your articles on space tech with a nice design and interactive resources to help people learn.

    Sometimes these types of projects can be intimidating, but they’re often the most satisfying to complete, and even one of them can leave an incredible impression on anyone who sees them.

3. Reach-outs

  1. Exposes you to what the paths to success look like — By talking to people who are already successful in the field, you are able to see what it takes to succeed in the area, as you can see what path they took to get to where they are.
  2. Exposes you to potential mentorship — Often, if you are young, enthusiastic, and ambitious (and show it during your call, respectfully of course), people will be impressed with you and will be open to helping (most people love to help when they know that their helps is making a difference). Continued correspondence in such a manor can often lead to mentor relationships which is of course extremely valuable when learning.
  3. Builds up your network — Reaching out to people is often a great way to build up your network in a field. You can maximize this potential by taking note of any recommendations people give you of people to talk to, and also proactively asking people on call if they think there would be anyone else that would be good to talk to for you. I won’t go into how valuable building up networks is (since its a well-written about topic and I’m sure you can imagine), but the value of this is significant.
  4. Creates serendipity — This is the most intangible but still very prominent benefit of reach outs: by introducing other people into your learning process, you open the door to a wide variety of opportunities. When competent people see that you are trying to or are successfully becoming competent (which they can tell through your content), they are often willing to help in many ways, including ways that you often wouldn’t imagine. It’s not uncommon for qualified people to get great connections, help, advice, and even job offers (although I’m not making any promises) through such interactions.
  • Famous/well-reputed industry experts that are often talked about in the learning content that you’ve seen. Don’t underestimate the potential of cold-outreach, even extremely famous people have been known to respond to cold-emails given the right approach.
  • Researchers and authors in the field, especially those who’s content you have gone through are great to reach out to as you have something in common (you both know about something they’ve worked on).
  • Content creators that have made videos or articles that you’ve seen are also a great place to look for people to reachout to.
  • Ask for feedback on some of your relevant content — This involves sending them a relevant piece of content that you’ve created and asking for their feedback or advice on it. People love to help and are often more than willing to offer feedback to you, which can help get the conversation started.
  • Respond to their own content — If you’ve read something that they’ve written about, its often great to express your interest in their writing and ask (intelligent) questions about it or get their thoughts on a topic.
  • Create content based on their content — Combining the last two strategies, you can even create a piece of content explaining or based on something they’ve created and ask them for their feedback. I would imagine this one has a relatively high response rate (although there’s no hard statistics to go by).

Some closing thoughts

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