shivver13 (shivver13) wrote,

Knowledge is power

I only just realized this week that I am enrolled in no less than four different online courses, and this is really strange considering that I've never taken an online course before and only one month ago, I wasn't enrolled in any.


One of the classes I'm taking is at Udemy, and it's on automated testing using Selenium with Java. The course was paid for by work, and all the coursework is being done on company time. My boss had a list of about three or four courses that he recommended, and I chose just one of them; many of my coworkers chose two or three of them.

This, in itself, is astounding. I've been in the software industry for twenty years now and I've never seen any manager say, "Training and career advancement is important," and then actually back that up with actual training opportunities. Too often, the manager says, "There's a course I'd like you all to take," and then when it comes to it, he says, "Right now's not a good time. The project deadline is too important to allow me to spare you guys time to take the class."

I did have one boss who wanted me to get my CS degree. I was working as a programmer at a game studio and I didn't actually have any formal education in CS. The new boss said he wanted me to go to school full time and get my degree and that the company would pay for tuition and it would be on the clock. Good deal. So, I signed up for a full load of programming classes (since I already had a bachelor's degree, I could transfer credits for most of the liberal arts requirements) and started schooling. Luckily, the company was situated right across the street from the university, so I could work, then go to classes for 2-3 hours, then come back to work.

So, near the end of the second semester, the boss comes to me and says, "Why aren't you doing full-time work?" and I said that I am, that he said that schooling was on the clock. And he said no way, he never said that - he expected me to do full-time work and full-time schooling. That was the end of that - no more classes. Well, at least I got two semesters worth. That algorithms class was great!

My current boss has made it completely clear that all training is to be done on company time. He's very conscious of work/life balance and does not want any of us to sacrifice personal time for work tasks. So, a number of us are taking online courses, and he's also instituted a "technical book club", in which we take time during the week to read chapters of a book, then get together once a week to discuss what we read. This means that every week, out of our 40 hours, we're spending at least three hours reading and discussing. Add to that any time we spend on our courses, and we're spending at least 10% of our work time not doing "real work".

As I said, I have never seen this happen. But you know, I have never seen such a loyal group of people than the ones working for my boss. We're in a difficult place at this point, trying to transform the team and the process from an old, inefficient model to a modern efficient one, but he's taking the time to give us the tools we need to do it. He really rocks.

...and play.

I don't know why I decided to start taking online courses, but I'd been eyeing the Coursera music theory course for a while now, and I finally decided to do it. As I think about it, this is really typical of me. I'm pretty aesthetically challenged across all types of creative endeavours, so what do I do to try to actually understand an art? I take a theory course.

That said, it's been fascinating learning about chords, harmonies, and progressions. The course started with a basic tutorial on how to read music, and I have no idea how anyone who actually needed that tutorial can successfully pass this course. I would expect someone like that would be spending all of his time simply trying to read the music and the actual theory would go right over his head. Luckily, I read music pretty well, so that isn't a problem. I will say, though, that this final exam is hella hard.

I think I may have originally persuaded to take the class because it was offered by the University of Edinburgh and so I knew that in addition to learning about music, I'd enjoy listening to the accents. :D It started back at the beginning of December, and I almost had to abandon it because of the family issues that happened soon after. Luckily, I was able to find time to do the coursework while we were on our trip. This, however, meant that I haven't yet finished the course (I had intended to go through the coursework ahead of schedule, but couldn't) and thus I am still taking this one while the next two started up.

The two new classes I'm taking are creative writing courses, offered by Wesleyan University on Coursera. I figured, I spend much of my time writing, so maybe it's time I actually learn how to do it. I think you'll see that this fits the pattern quite well, that in order to try to understand an art, I'm again taking theory classes about it.

The classes are part of a "specialization" on Coursera, which means that they are designed to fit together and give you a comprehensive education on the topic, and if you do all of the classes in the specialization (which includes a final big project), you get special credentials. There are four basic classes in the creative writing specialization - plot, character, setting and description, and style - then a "capstone" class in which you have to write a short story and in which they teach you how to create a first draft and how to refine and edit your story, and also teach you how to work on getting published. I'm not planning on doing the capstone class, because I don't feel I need instruction on editing and I don't care to publish, but the rest, I certainly need all the help I can get.

The two classes that are offered this month are plot and setting and description, and so far I have enjoyed them. Each week, each classes has lectures to view and readings to do, and then they give you a short assignment. Also each week, you have to read at least three of your fellow classmates' assignments and critique them. So far, this has been very instructive. The assignments are well-designed, asking you to write something with a definite goal in mind. For example, the description class' first assignment was "write a scene depicting an action that, in real time, takes no longer than ten seconds, but use description to slow everything down into slow motion". We were told not to introduce the scene in any way - no character introduction, no exposition on how the action got set up, etc. I took a piece of action from one of my posted stories, just two paragraphs worth, and drew it out into slow motion by adding description. For example, in the original work, the character's eyes bugged out in surprise, so I added in a long phrase describing exactly what that looked like, and it felt like the camera zoomed in on him and held that image for a second.

I want to contrast this to the writing class I took at Gallifrey One last February. I don't remember if I wrote about it here, but I was very disappointed with the class. I had assumed it would be a class about writing for Doctor Who - you know, things like, how to depict the different Doctors so they're recognizable, how to design an adversary, how to create a sci-fi world, etc. - since, well, we were at a DW con and all. I was so wrong. It was a class on how to write description. It went through all of the usual "show, not tell" and "use all of your senses" stuff you get in Creative Writing 101. I mean really - I am not an educated writer in any way, and I already knew all this stuff. The teacher gave us an assignment to write a paragraph describing a scene using all of your senses, and that was all the direction we got. After we were done, people read their writing out loud, and most of it was a lot of purple prose, as they tried their best to describe every single thing as thoroughly as possible.

I really hated that class - I am not a descriptive writer and I cannot write description for description's sake, and I despise flowery writing - and I was hoping this class on Coursera would be better. Well, that assignment gave me a lot of hope. It asked us to use description for a purpose, to slow down time and draw the reader's attention to specific things, not just to describe a scene. It was a fun exercise and very instructive.

The plot class is also very interesting. We are learning about Freytag's pyramid, which is a description of how plots develop and resolve. The first assignment there was to write a scene using rising actions, and the assignment gave an assortment of words to use during the rising action sentences. One of the words was "memory", which immediately made me write a scene about Donna - I'm nothing if not predictable. But again, the assignment was well-designed to direct the student toward a specific goal.

tl;dr I'm really enjoying taking these classes. They have so far been high-quality and instructive, I feel like I'm actually learning something, and I'm pleased with my choices because they're classes in subjects that I really need help with.
Tags: real life

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