On Continual Education

I never went to university.

Well I did – I went to Leeds to study music –  but I dropped out after 3 months to go and join a metal band. And had a rip-roaring time of it too.Peet at 17

During most of my 20 years in tech, I’ve often regretted not sticking it out and getting a proper education with letters after my name and all the trimmings. But to be honest, it hasn’t really held me back – I’ve worked as a consultant for the likes of Sun Microsystems and BEA, I’ve run a couple of tech companies, taught programming and architecture at Oracle University (internationally) and spoken at several conferences.

The thing that has allowed me to do this has been the habit of learning all the time.

When I wanted to make the transition from teaching English to working in tech a couple of decades ago, I started a small web startup and bought Teach Yourself HTML and devoured it. On the train to work, at lunchtime, between lessons, on the train home, in bed…everywhere! And I’ve been learning constantly ever since.

This has not only opened up all sorts of doors for me in my career and taken me all over the world, but has made my life WAY more interesting.

The golden age of learning

The best universities have all got courses online for free, almost free or pretty cheap. What a time to be alive! This means that you’ve got access, right now, to a wealth of instruction from some of the best teachers in the world!

I’m a techie, so I’m going to focus here on how to get a great technical education, but the same applies across a  lot of disciplines.

M.I.T.

This is where it all started. In 2002, the Massachusetts Institute of technology published 50 of their courses online for free. Videos, slides, exercises. All for free.

Their Math for Computer Science course is taught in the same lecture theatre that you’ll have seen Richard Feynman teaching in. The lecturers are truly world-class, and everything that comes out of their mouths seems like the truest thing that’s ever been said.

There are incredible courses on most of the areas you’d expect to see on a top-notch computer science degree, plus all the maths and physics you could ever want.

Check out Gilbert Strang’s seminal course on Linear Algebra.

Coursera

This is the platform that really made MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courseware) household names.

Co-founded by AI Boffin and Stanford professor Andrew Ng, Coursera started off with courses from Stanford, and then blossomed to include courseware from several Ivy League Universities. Ng’s Machine Learning course is still one of the best introductions you can get to the field of AI.
What Coursera improves on, above what M.I.T. provides is that you have access to teaching assistants, a community of fellow students and graded exercises. Since the courses are run over a fixed time-frame (e.g. 11 weeks), you’re given a push to absorb a large amount of new information or skills in a short amount of time. And the fact that you need to complete both exercises and labs means that you end up understanding the material at a really deep level.

My favourite courses from this platform are:

 

Khan Academy

I don’t know where I’d be without Khan Academy.
It’s actually made for kids, but it’s saved my life, professionally.

Founder Sal Khan is one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever come across.
After getting two bachelors degrees in Maths and CS from MIT, and an MBA from Harvard, Sal worked in a hedge fund as an analyst for several years before starting to make videos to help his many nephews and nieces with maths. After seeing how popular they were with kids who were not related to him, he quit his job, postponed buying a house and dedicated a year to trying to get Khan Academy off the ground.

Now that it’s had investment from Bill Gates and other large charitable organisations, this not-for-profit foundation has created an amazing education platform to revolutionise the way that kids (and occasionally adults) are taught.

Take any maths or science subject that you’ve always struggled with, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll understand it deeply after completing the KA section on that subject. Do it now! 🙂

Plus it’s a case study in how to really do Gamification well. Check out this dashboard with unlock-your-next-avatar, points, and streak counters.

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 15.44.30

I do a lot of computer science courses in ML, AI and algorithms, and have to keep running back to KA to bone up on calculus, and the finer points of geometry and probability.

What next?

In a future blog, I’ll talk about some of the premium online education providers like Udacity and Stanford Centre for Professional Development. These providers charge a substantial fee, but offer qualifications from prestigious educational bodies for a fraction of the price of attending the actual universities.

In the meantime, why not carve out 6-8 hours a week for a couple of months and learn something brand new for fun and profit!

 

A day out of the office

At Wealth Wizards, every six months we have a whole company away day. It’s the chance for different areas of the business to work together, have some time out of the office and to take a step back from the every day. With offices in Leamington, Guildford and Leeds, it’s very rare that everyone finds themselves in the same place so it’s a good chance to catch up and collaborate.

At the end of June, we had a fun-filled away day, many will say that it was the best one we’ve had yet. Most of the morning involved scurrying around Warwick on a treasure hunt. This was not your normal treasure hunt, you could call this a ‘tech’ treasure hunt – iPads in hand, we had to pick up clues around town and do some strange tasks. Some of these tasks included air guitaring, taking photos with statues, recreating a favourite scene from a film, and trying to sabotage the other teams on the way. Once our time was up, we reconvened at the hotel, collected our clues together and had an intense 30 minutes of trying to unlock a briefcase that required buttons, dials and sensors being twisted and pushed in a particular order. Needless to say, the brains at Wealth Wizards were not beaten by this task, we managed to crack the code with a few minutes to spare!

The afternoon, although more low-tech didn’t disappoint either, we got to play with LEGO and learn about Agile ways of working at the same time. The activity involved two scenarios: one where the ‘customer’ told each group their requirements for a product (houses and modes of transport) then were presented with their product at the end of the sprint, and another where the customer was asked for feedback throughout the process. You can probably guess which scenario produced the happiest customer!

CEO Andrew Firth also gave an update about the company’s exciting direction it’s heading in (we can’t share that on here unfortunately, you’d have to come and work for us if you want to know!)

If you’d like to work at Wealth Wizards, visit our careers page.

Are you on Instagram? Follow our engineering team here.

Want to come to our next away day? Visit our careers page.