Beginning the Journey, Part II: Further Explorations

In the first part of this two-part post, I described the beginning of my journey to a new career in terms of three stages: initial wayfinding, orientation in the business world, and finally, further explorations to try to find my place within it. This post addresses those further explorations. As in the earlier post, my intention here is not to present a “how-to guide” for a process I’ve yet to complete, but rather to fill in a few gaps in my own story and to share some approaches and resources that could be helpful to others making a similar transition.

3. Further Explorations

I landed in programming after re-connecting to realms of art, science, and mathematics that I had mostly neglected in recent years due to the demands of professional specialization. I had spent at least five years delving deeper and deeper into specific realms of human experience and historical knowledge, and now, for the first time in a long time, I had the mental space to venture beneath the surface of new areas of knowledge. The experience was, and continues to be, one of both exhilarating discovery and an almost overwhelming, ever-deeper awareness of the extent of my own ignorance. For me, this process of discovery has been both spiritual and scientific, personal and professional. In this post, I want to address the more professional side of things.

I’ve spent the most time studying within the fields of design, systems and network theory, mathematics, and, of course, programming. In many ways, there were easy natural bridges from my interests and work as a humanist to these other areas. Having studied premodern image theories and practices, and having worked with patterns of information access and organization through medieval manuscripts, I was quickly drawn to modern design as a language for information organization and communication. Having closely considered a variety of human systems, networks, and institutions in my work as a historian, I was especially interested to learn more about the interdisciplinary fields of systems, networks, and complexity. I was initially drawn to programming for many of the reasons I’ve previously described, and that interest, combined with the mathematical models I encountered in my reading in the natural and social sciences, incited me towards a renewed study of mathematics, which I plan to describe in a future post.

In the context of these and other studies, I also devoted time to thinking about thinking itself, and the techniques, patterns, and concepts that I apply in reasoning. I’ve deliberately sought to expand my conceptual vocabulary and abstract and clarify the processes that I use, in order to make them more easily and immediately transferable to other contexts. The many times that I have already been able to reapply elements from my earlier liberal arts education leads me to trust that this renewed expansion will pay future dividends, even if it has come at the immediate cost of some time and resources that I could have focused on more specific new skills.

Ultimately, this process of exploration and reflection led me to seek to develop new specific skills in programming. I’ve described this larger process here for two main reasons. First, I wanted to offer something to other current or former students and teachers in the humanities interested in making a career change. I wouldn’t consider this post a blueprint, but I hope it might serve as encouragement or a source of ideas for other transitions. Second, I wanted to further communicate something of the complexity of my own journey towards programming. I don’t want to give the impression that this was obvious or hasty, or that I simply fell into it. On the contrary, it has been quite a deliberative process, and the deliberation and exploration are part of my story.

The following is a short selection of some recommended resources drawn from my explorations. I provide ISBNs rather than full citation info to conserve space.

Design:

  • Hack Design: Design lessons for programmer, curated by top designers, http://hackdesign.org/.
  • Rebecca Hagen and Kim Golombisky, White Space is Not Your Enemy, 2nd ed., ISBN: 978-0240824147.
  • William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler, Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated,  ISBN: 978-1592535873.
  • Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips, Graphic Design: The New Basics, ISBN: 978-1568987705.
  • Ellen Lupton, Thinking with Type, 2nd revised and expanded edition: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students, ISBN:  978-1568989693.
  • Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, ISBN: 978-0465067107.

From the Sciences: Systems, Networks, Complexity:

  • Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks, ISBN: 978-0452284395.
  • Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, ISBN: 978-1603580557.
  • Melanie Mitchell, Compexity: A Guided Tour,  ISBN: 978-0199798100.
  • Santa Fe Institute Bulletin, http://www.santafe.edu/research/publications/sfi-bulletin/

Thought Processes and Strategies:

  • Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, ISBN: 978-0691156668.
  • John Mason, with Leone Burton and Kaye Stacey, Thinking Mathematically, Revised Edition (1985),  ISBN: 0201102382.

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