I find that classes have a way of taking all the fun out of everything. I enjoy programming, but when I have to do it for a class, I put it off. Most of the time, this isn’t because I dislike the subject matter. I took Web Client Side Programming, and had a blast doing the JavaScript projects. In another class, half of the coursework for one class focused on PHP. I loved PHP, and I still do, but I dreaded the projects because they just weren’t interesting. I credit Dan Bogaard for my interest in JavaScript, because he left things open-ended enough to keep them interesting. In so many classes, the subject matter is trivialized and turned into busy work.

Every time I pick up a project on my own, I’m reminded how much I really like programming and learning new languages. When I’m doing it for myself, I can set the requirements and find new and interesting things to do. Even for “real” projects I’ve done, where I DON’T define the requirements, I have a lot more fun, because the requirements aren’t “use at least two of the following: cookies, sessions, SOAP, blah blah blah.”

I tend to go for long strethes where I won’t do any coding because it invokes classroom flashbacks. Every once in a while, I muster the courage to jump back into the fray, and find myself putting off classwork to do the “real” learning on my own projects. Really, I should have kept myself constantly busy for the past four years so I wouldn’t forget how much I like programming.

I mention all this because I picked up a technical book today for the first time in months. Only a geek would think of Beginning XML as pleasure reading. Even though I’ve never used it, I thought I understood XML. Today I was wandering around the library and noticed how much real estate was devoted to it, and thought I might have been mistaken. So far, I haven’t read anything I didn’t know, but I’m only through chapter 1 (“What is XML?”).

I have to wonder if four years and countless thousands of dollars in student loans were necessary to get where I am. I’d like to think that the diploma gives me some credibility, and classes taught me how to learn (to some extent), but I’ve always learned best when I teach myself. I can’t let myself forget again how much I enjoy teaching myself things, because I’ve still got a lot left to learn (next on my list: this .NET business everyone is so worked up about).