Learning, the hard way
In your own life, you realize fast enough that there are two ways to learn anything: by theory, which involves a lot of “what if” scenarios that leads to a global knowledge of what you need to know in order to go forward; and by practice, where you apply everything that you learned in the real world.
It may be a new job, a software, a series of exercises, driving a car, it doesn’t matter: when you open yourself to learn something new, you quickly see that between the theory that builds your knowledge as well as your expectations, applying your new set of fragile skills in reality is where the magic operates.
On the field
My first big job in the 3D simulation field was revelatory to me on many levels. While I did lots of courses that showed me 3D production from A to Z (especially for video games and animation), this particular job was way different and forced me to learn a lot in a strange new field.
This is where I realized something, after about three years working there: nothing can beat the possibility of learning on the job, right there, right now. The stakes are much higher, you learn all the tools you need to get the job done and you evolve much quickly in your own field. It also helps to have excellent tutors too, of course.
When I got the interview for this job, they asked me if I was any good with the3D Studio Max software. I began learning 3D with Maya for years and I knew a little bit of Max through some courses I’ve attended several years earlier, but nothing substantial. Still… I said that I had a good basis in Max, which was a lie. It was a gamble, but I felt I could learn a lot more that way and I did. It was hard, yes, but I learned so much on the field.
Learning to learn
Right now, with the task of making a game for the first time, I realize once more that this way to learn helps me grow. Of course, online tutorials are great tools to learn fast, but doing the task you want to master is the best teacher. It took me years to really understand this way of thinking, simply because I was always stuck in the theory with that fear of doing something wrong and seeing that as a failure.
Experiment, do mistakes, curse at your screen if you want to but get back to it and try again. It can be frustrating to lose so much time while doing so (it is for me, assuredly), but in the long run you will not only learn faster, but you will also understand it better. Better fail now and learn than fail in a high stake situation and hit the panic switch.
Like the bearded man says in the meme: Just. Do. It.