Learning by doing

I had lunch yesterday with someone who has been investing in the crypto / token space recently — having pooled together a small “fund” from friends and family.  It’s a short-term vehicle (like, 6 months), and a large part of the goal is simply to become hands-on familiar / capable investing in token sales / ICOs, and dealing with issues like custody and security.  At least for the moment, there are so many odd aspects of working in this space (handling private keys, exchanging tokens on various exchanges, downloading wallet software, etc.) that actually a large part of the value that a fund manager offers is handling all of that stuff.  Over time, this will change, as infrastructure and new financial vehicles (e.g., ETFs) come to market. But for now, it’s actually really complicated and hard to do this stuff, and there’s no better way to learn it than by doing it.

More generally, I just love the idea of learning-by-doing.  It’s the best way.

Right after college, when I thought I wanted to be an architect, the first thing I did was get a job with a construction company, building homes.  I spent the better part of a year shoveling gravel, jack-hammering old driveways, and sealing foundations, but I also got to do some more interesting / complicated building work over time.  My reasoning at the time was that I didn’t want to be that jackass, know-it-all architect (believe me, that’s often how they are perceived by builders) who didn’t know how things really worked at the ground level.

Same thing when I got into programming.  There are two really beautiful things about learning to code: 1) you can learn everything you need to learn at basically zero cost online, and 2) you’re making as you’re learning.   I think that’s great as a learning mechanism, and it’s also really great in terms of motivation.  Nothing like wanting to finish making something as motivation for learning how to do it!

Learning-by-doing is harder to do when it comes to investing.  Because, of course, in order to invest, first and foremost you need capital.  But it doesn’t need to be a lot, especially in the cryptocurrency space.  So it’s possible to learn to be an early stage tech investor by actually doing it.  I think that’s pretty exciting.

(as always, buyer beware!)

   

  • LE

    I agree 100% with what you are saying here. Has pretty much been a guiding principle of mine. [1]

    Right after college, when I thought I wanted to be an architect, the
    first thing I did was get a job with a construction company, building
    homes. I spent the better part of a year shoveling gravel,
    jack-hammering old driveways, and sealing foundations, but I also got to
    do some more interesting / complicated building work over time.

    This is really great. By contrast my niece is out in some far away place during the summer building a bridge for some tribe in Swaziland. Everyone thinks it’s great and I am sure that it is fun. However it seems to me to be more of an ‘experience’ rather than working closer to home in a real situation that will mimic what she will do when she graduates. You know it’s all about finding work when you graduate you can have fun later once you have a secure job.

    I think that’s great as a learning mechanism, and it’s also really great
    in terms of motivation. Nothing like wanting to finish making
    something as motivation for learning how to do it!

    Honestly this is the most fun in the world. Having a problem to solve and being able to write a program to automate and solve that problem. Not a professional programmer (as I like to point out) but this is what I spend considerable time doing. More fun for me than being on a beach (which I can do) or driving my sports car on windy roads (which despite being on my 3rd 911 I have only done maybe 2 or 3 times).

    [1] One of my first experiences when starting a printing company (with no knowledge or background at all in printing (family or otherwise)) was trying to learn to run a printing duplicator (small press) based on a 1 hour of guidance from an experienced newspaper pressman. Then it was sink or swim with live customer orders to be delivered. Pretty much unheard of. After some time (and sales) I hired someone but knowing how it all works (down to the cam eccentric) came in extremely valuable when dealing with problems later on. And dealing with those who work for you (as you are pointing out). How do you learn that when printing a cover you have to take into account the bulk of the paper? Well you learn after the big job for a University Physics departs is all done and bound and it’s off center! (Now multiply that by 1000 and you get the learning curve and reason people spend years an go to school or apprentice..)

    A million moving parts, all has to be right, or you don’t get paid:

    https://youtu.be/4QTsaGoQ070?t=1m54s

    • Right on.

      Btw I feel similarly about programming vs beach (though beach is nice too). I do like driving a convertible car on a windy road :-)

      • LE

        Let me know if you ever want to go to the New Hope PA/Washington’s crossing area (great place to bring the family). Canal path is fun (you can bike ride) and also plenty of roads to drive on. Would give me a reason to get out. I went to high school in Newtown. You can bike ride all the way from Yardley to past New Hope on the canal path (unless it is flooded out which sometimes happens).

        https://www.njhiking.com/delaware-canal-towpath/

        It’s about 12 miles of this (puts high line to shame..):

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_9ybIYSeqo

  • So true! There’s the person who reads 10 articles about X and the person who « lost » 500$ / 10h actually trying to do it. I’d work with the latter any day. Learning by doing feeds your gut/instinct. Thanks for sharing.

    • yep – there is a lot that you can only learn by doing, too, I think

  • Rob Underwood

    Learning by doing is what separates the wantrepreneurs (and whatever the equivalent is for aspirational VCs) from the real things. You have to know your stuff and you do that by doing.

    Personally my turkey popper has popped for working with anyone in technology, either tech the vertical or tech the function, who 1) can’t do / or has not done some rudimentary coding, 2) doesn’t understand the basics of systems and network engineering and/or 3) thinks doing the tech stuff is what the lesser and little people do. It’s abnoxious and wrong headed. You should know the fundamentals of the function and/or veritical for which you profess to be an expert on social media and at cocktail parties. Otherwise you’re a huckster. A fraud. That so many hucksters continue to get billions in VC each year is a shame.

    So glad to read this post Nick – it’s right on point. Thank you. Learn. H doing and, as corollary, know the topic of which you proclaim to be an expert.

    • totally agree about that attitude

      I think it’s also just helpful to remind oneself that most things are accessible enough to actually try, esp w very new / foreign things (like cryptocurrencies)

      • Rob Underwood

        thanks and yes. Everyone at your firm, at least the folks I know or have met, knows tech AND business/finance as they should since they (you) work at the intersection of tech and business/finance.

        And that’s not just knowing how to “talk” about it or make pretty slides about your work — it’s knowing it in your bones, in your muscle memory, in your soul, like a craftperson does. Your profession is your craft and the doing it is how is the actualization of your craft. This was a central point to folks like the later Robert Pirsig.

  • JLM

    .
    As a kid in high school, I worked in construction. I spent entire summers placing concrete and learning how to finish it. I hauled rocks and built gabions on watercourses. I dug ditches.

    When I studied civil engineering in college, I had a feel for it.

    When I went into the Army, I had a good feel for how hard a man could work in 100F, 100% humidity and it stood me in good stead when commanding troops. I used to make my troops throw discard everything except for water, socks, chow, and ammo. Never made anybody shave, but made them wash. Nobody could carry the prescribed load. Way too much in those conditions.

    There are two things which come from doing stuff — real, useful knowledge and the common touch. When I was building high rises, I used to write into the construction contract that the builders had to supply ice water and ice for bandanas for their men. It was an odd thing, but it paid a dividend — no heat related injuries. Most importantly, it made me feel good cause I knew what it felt like to work in that heat.

    JLM
    http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com

    • Totally agree about the combination of practical knowledge and “common touch”.

      Thanks for articulating that

  • Wenbo Wang

    I am a firm believer about learning by doing right now. I just graduated from business school and joined a VC. I came from financial service business but really want to grow my finance expertise from a business standpoint. What are some suggestions for me to achieve that while working in VC?

    • Anything you can do hands-on, either within your firm or outside it

      Inside it’s a little easier to figure out – just be helpful wherever you can
      Outside it could mean meeting other companies, advising where possible, learning to code, or building up other skillsets you want to work.on…

      • Wenbo Wang

        Thanks! You mentioned learning to code. What are some recommended resources to learn? Both online and offline options are welcome!

        • Codecademy.com is a great one

          I learned by book, 20 yrs ago