- Goals of this guide
- The Art of War
- The Art of Learning
- Mastering Internet
- Time Management
# Goals of this guide
This guide serves various purposes:
- To understand broadly how the learning of the human brain works (before teaching machines, we will have to learn ourselves, right?).
- Presenting how Virgilio sees teaching and learning.
- Give useful tips to make the most of the help Virgilio can give you in starting to explore this fantastic world and develop solid skills in the world of data through practical projects.
# The Art of War
This guide is aimed at anyone who wants to enter the world of innovative fields such as those covered by Virgilio but it can serve as a general approach to learning any subject, skill, or job.
For this guide, we will use various enlightening books (famous and not), from which we will draw various lessons about how human beings learn, create, reason, and memorize.
For each resource, summaries or "key points" will be provided, but I will never stress enough the importance of reading the books that will be mentioned.
The first book we consider is The Art of War (opens new window).
Here (opens new window) you have a more consensual version, but I recommend buying the book with the attached analyses.
Here (opens new window) the main key points.
The book is condensed of the wisdom of various generals and heads of state of the ancient Chinese empire and is used in many training courses, especially in management and decision making.
I firmly believe that its principles can apply to any human activity, particularly the planning of one's own self-improvement and learning.
Today you don't learn a job that you will do all your life, but you will have to reinvent yourself and learn new skills continuously. Who stops is lost! (opens new window)
The two main points of instruction that I would like to emphasize are:
- Know your enemy
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
This means that whenever you are faced with a problem, be it an enemy soldier, an engineering problem, or a human relationship, the best tactic is to know your enemy as much as possible.
Continuing the analogy, knowing the enemy means knowing the number of his forces, how his army is composed, which are the most important departments.
In our case, it means knowing how much work awaits us, what is the perimeter of the things we want to learn, and what are the techniques most used in practice.
If you try to do everything, you do nothing! Which brings us to the next point:
- Face one enemy at a time
How many tutorials have you seen of the type "learn Data Science" in 3 weeks, full of many topics and concepts, techniques, and frameworks? This approach is totally unsuccessful (as well as disrespectful for those who take years and years of study), the reason is trivial.
What we at Virgilio prefer to do is to outline a path that enables you to take one step at a time, learn one concept and apply it, preferring a solid skill (developed in the right time) rather than knowing a thousand acronyms or exotic techniques.
This principle is another way of formulating the classic Divide et Impera (opens new window), a principle of software engineering whose purpose is to try to manage the growing complexity of programs, as well as generally advise to disassemble a problem into smaller pieces and address them separately.
In a later section, we will see how the principles of software engineering, dealing with complexity and logic, can be applied profitably to everyday life, rational thinking, and in general to the planning of our lives (professional and non-professional).
We'll help you to develop you "The Art of Learning".
# The Art of Learning
The human brain is currently the most complex device we know of, far more complex and powerful than any result of today's engineering. In addition to this, it is also extremely efficient in terms of the resources required for operation, gives us the feeling of being "living" and protects us from the outside world in an ingenious way. What an incredible thing!
To exploit it to its full potential, however, is very difficult, firstly because we know very little (opens new window) about its operation, and secondly because we are not taught to do so!
The good news is that countless scientists for decades have been looking for clues on how to learn best, and effective techniques have been developed that work more or less for everyone.
Here (opens new window) is an overview of these techniques.
The bottom line is that each brain is different, according to the experiences it has lived and how it has formed (opens new window).
So, understanding which learning strategies work best for you is something to discover, more like a trip, than something you can learn from a book or a course.
These extremely useful for not having to reinvent the wheel, and understand what options work, but then you have to experiment and fail to understand what is the most suitable technique in your case.
Before you even start learning, you have to learn "how to learn"!
Virgil's suggestion is: spend time testing different learning strategies, each for at least a few topics, and evaluate the results!
If you don't want to and want to focus on the subjects you want to learn right away, we offer you a technique that suits more or less all situations and all brains.
Actually, it's nothing particularly innovative, but to be cool we'll call our learning framework "The Magic Circle".
The Magic Circle is an iterative process that consists of 3 simple steps:
- Theoretical understanding
- Practical application
The trick is simple.
By addressing one topic at a time, you first aim for a theoretical understanding, then you put it into practice, and finally you evaluate yourself. If you feel confident you can proceed, otherwise you will iterate another round of the circle.
The first time you address the topic X, first of all, make sure you have framed X. In Sun Tzu this means knowing how your enemy's army is made up. You don't need to know in detail which men make up its ranks, but you need to have an overview of how many forces it has and how they are divided. In our case, it means knowing why I'm learning this, what prerequisites it has, and where it fits in with the neighboring topics. Every Virgilio guide provides this kind of information, but it is important to spend time looking for it and understanding alternative points of view.
Each different iteration of the Magic Circle tries to change the resources you use to support learning. Virgilio's guides often provide more resources for the same topic, just to get more visions of the same concept.
The point just mentioned is fundamental. Knowledge is multifaceted, and there are many different ways of seeing or understanding almost everything. An incredible trick to fully know a topic or concept is to see it under as many different points of view as possible, see alternative interpretations or alternative methods of visualization. It is very important to confront also those who claim that a certain concept is useless, harmful, or outdated! For example, if I'm learning what a neural network is, it's also very useful to look for information like "when not to use a neural network".
For each topic, Google searches for visualizations of concepts, GIFs, videos, in short, any form of explanation that goes beyond words and code examples.
To make sure that you understand, in the Check phase, the most effective technique is generally to try to explain the concept. If you can, perhaps getting feedback from someone, you probably learned it. The teaching process works for a simple reason: to explain X, your brain must take X as an input, process it, make it its own, and then output it easily. The only way for this process to be successful is for your brain to be comfortable with X.
Don't persist too much on a subject, it's natural that after a while you lose interest and motivation (especially if they are difficult or advanced concepts). Relax with some simple new concepts, and maybe come back to this in a few days or weeks. The connections of our brain, in fact, take time to form and strengthen, do not stress it too much! 😃
These are some of the best practices that are dictated partly by common sense, partly by what international research says and partly by the personal experiences of the author of this guide.
Let's now see how to use the tools you have at your disposal (in addition to your partner Virgil), to enhance your learning and make it unlimited.
# Mastering Internet
Every time I think about the fact that I have Google in my pocket, I think it's an incredible historical moment to live: we have the most powerful tool man has ever created and for free!
For a couple of decades now, the Internet has allowed people, wherever they are, to learn any concept or work, to create value for themselves and for others, and countless other possibilities!
Despite this, it is clear that its use is often superficial by most people, sometimes even zero!
Every time you see a Facebook post like "how do I start studying machine learning?" or more generally "how do I do this?" it means that there is a big problem (opens new window).
This section of the guide aims to introduce you to the most advanced features of Google, giving you tips on how to best explore the knowledge tree it contains.
It also contains some tips on how to use Reddit.
Google can almost always answer your questions, whatever they are. Don't be ashamed to ask for articulated things, don't judge yourself! 😃
In particular, Google search works by keywords, so often to search for something it is effective to try to describe it inaccurately using meaningful keywords, and often Google does the rest!
The more keywords you add, the more information Google has to find what you need, but it also narrows the search field, uses it wisely!
Here (opens new window) you find a guide on how to make your Google searches more effective, but like everything, try it and get it wrong, only then will you learn to know Google intimately and guess which keywords give you the results you need.
Another thing that amazes me every day is how few people know how to use Reddit (opens new window) effectively.
Reddit is a content platform where more or less all the information in the world goes through, long before newspapers, TV, and social media!
Reddit is divided into folders, like a file system, and each folder contains a topic where users can post articles, questions, discussions.
Personally, I found it perhaps the biggest source of information because it is specialized and generally the user is an expert, within the various folders. For example, following r/MachineLearning (opens new window) or r/LearningMachineLearning (opens new window), makes me learn dozens of new things every day, and I see new papers, tools or projects in preview, often being able to speak directly with the author!
Do you have a question, about any concept or topic? Look for a dedicated subreddit, sign up, and post a well-formulated question. You will see that in a couple of days several users have answered in detail!
What an incredible tool is used as a "crowd mentorship"!
# Time Management
Learning is difficult, tiring, and requires commitment without always seeing the end of the path.
Often one of the main obstacles in learning is poor time management. Not everyone has the opportunity to spend the whole day studying, and often when you want to learn a new skill you have to try to fit it between many professional and social commitments.
The best advice for this is the good old "Divide et Impera" once again. By dedicating even just one hour a day, or a couple of days a week to learning, with the time you can learn any skill.
The two enemies of your time are motivation and constancy.
For motivation, I recommend using the concept of visualization (opens new window).
I also think that motivation is something very personal, which can go from the ambitions of pure knowledge to establishing oneself in a field to helping others through one's own knowledge.
In order to get to know each other better and to understand what your real goals are, I recommend the application of the mental techniques suggested in "Focus" (opens new window).
As for constancy, its greatest enemy is procrastination (opens new window).
To solve this second issue, I suggest you use this conceptual framework that personally helped me a lot.
These two readings are strongly recommended. I can say that by themselves they can revolutionize the way you approach the realization of your goals (not only learning but also professional and life).
After reading the books and articles in this guide, you should be able to gradually improve and become extremely effective and quick to learn. But remember that the road is always uphill (if you want it to be so and it is ambitious), and there will always be something new to learn ... better for us curious, right? 😃
In the next guide you fill find a gentle introduction to the core Machine Learning concepts and it's main limitations.