Get on the Listserv

I often get asked how I stay up to date with the “latest and greatest” best practices, libraries, technologies, and developments in the programming world. The simplest advice I can give, is that if you are serious about learning to code, or learning technology, or staying relevant even, “get on the listserv.”

Using websockets? Get on the hybi listserv.

Pyhon? Ruby? Erlang? C? Get on the listserv.

Use vim? Emacs? A particular mode in emacs? A particular vim plugin? Get on the listserv.

LaTeX? D3? R user? Again, listserv.

Heck, if you find yourself doing hardcore kernel tuning (I was in this position last week), add yourself to the linux kernel listserv too.

If you don’t want a clogged inbox, it being the 21st century, you can address this by simply making a filter. Personally, I have everything go straight to the inbox and I read at least the subject lines of every email that comes in (this needs to be timeboxed of course, gmail shortcuts are your friend). I spend relatively little time on email compared to some of my peers because I batch my reads (like I/O buffering), but over the last few years, I’ve found that when attempting to learn something, there is no substitute to being on the listserv for that something. Here’s why:

  1. You have an immediate conduit for your questions (assuming you ask good questions the correct way, meaning you’ve exhausted other options).
    • Note that while many questions are answered by google or stackoverflow, if you stay with a technology for long enough, it is extremely probably that you will come across an original question (or at least a question with no online presence).
  2. You can see what’s upcoming
  3. Because you are aware of #2, you actually have a hope of contributing, for example, if you have a need that is clearly not being addressed anywhere
  4. You can answer other people’s questions! This is your proof so to speak that you actually understand what it is that you are learning. Nothing drives home understanding like teaching.
  5. You can connect with some of the best minds in the community. Iron sharpens iron, and usually, they won’t bite (iron also tends to pierce wool, but egos are useless in any hard science anyways).