The last couple of weeks I got a lot of emails from people asking me the same questions. "How do you become self-taught? Any advice? Any books you can recommend?" etc. Let me answer all those questions in this blog post.
First of all: I think "being self-taught" is sometimes a bit overrated, especially nowadays. Being self-taught isn't the opposite of going to university. I've actually never studied anything, but I think most of the students are self-taught as well, even if they learned something the "official" way.
You never say "ok, I'm going to be self-taught now" instead of studying something, going to school or whatever. Basically everything starts with curiosity. If you're curious about something and you're willing to learn more about it, everything happens by itself.
I always was curious how computers, my TV or even a microwave worked when I was a kid. And the first thing I did was taking an old TV or computer, take everything apart down to the last detail until I had a lot of screws and little electronic parts on my table. And then I started to put everything together again and see if the devices were still working. Most of the time they didn't , that's why I repeated everything again and again. The nice thing about this is that you learn a lot while doing it, it's the process that teaches you how it works. You'll also generate your own little "problems" in order to solve them. After some time you've learned which electronic part does what and that's where the magic comes in. Because now after you understand the basics, you try to manipulate it in order to create something new.
It's like this example you've probably already read about. It's only about connecting the dots. But in order to connect the dots, you first need to collect them. I got my first dots when I took old pieces of hardware apart — then I connected them.
Everything starts with curiosity and YOUR first step. Just listen to your instincts. My instinct told me that I should take the devices apart, look how they work, and then put it back together — No one told me that. When you force yourself to this kind of process, everything else happens on your way.
That's why I started as a computer scientist first because I was curious about it, then moved into trying to be a software engineer (Man, I was bad) because I wanted to learn how to program my own piece of hardware. And then I started being a designer because I was always spent more time in designing my software and make it more useful... and so on.
To be honest, I can't recommend any books because there is just no thing as "I want to be self-taught" - That's the least thing you say when you're actually self-taught. It's not a decision you make upfront, it's just describing the process once you're already into it. Most people I know who studied something are also self-taught, that's how I see it.
What i learned
1. It's about the process. Just do it and start with the first thing that comes to your mind. There is absolutely nothing you can do wrong.
2. Don't listen to other people who're telling you what's right and what's wrong. Those people will always try to keep you small and hold you back. Don't listen to them. People always told me that I'm naive — and yeah, maybe I was. But I always was optimistic and I knew that I'm doing the right thing.
3. Surround yourself with people who motivate you and always making you feel good about what you're doing. These personalities are rare - so if you found them, keep them.
4. Help other people. Even if you're at the very beginning of something, use your knowledge to help others. Why? Try it, magical things will happen, I promise.
5. Always surround yourself with people who're "better" than you. That's what Donny Osmond said and I think it's partly true. But try to replace "better" with "crazier" or "different".
6. Break the rules. That's actually one of the most important things at being self-taught. Be a rebel, break the rules and don't be afraid of anything. What if you fail? Get up, try again. If you don't like it? Don't do it, do something else. It's that simple.
7. Stop complaining. I know, that's fcking hard and I'm not really good with this either. But complaining is always the easy route and nothing actually happen when you do it, except you're surrounding yourself with a lot of negative energy.
So yes, that's it — Hope you enjoyed it and thank you for reading!
If you have any questions I would love to get an email from you tobias at van schneider.com or just send me a tweet.
Cheers from Stockholm
(Header picture by my friend Stefan Leitner)