#41 Skill Stacking

This is post #41 of my #365 day series.
Photo by Oleg Devyatka on Unsplash

I discovered chat forums in middle school. These online forums should not to be confused with chat rooms like internet relay chat (IRC) or AOL instant messenger (AIM). A chat forum is a place where you can make a thread and others could reply to your initial post. It was essentially the old school version of what Reddit is today. As you may have been able to tell, I didn’t make a ton of friends growing up, so finding common ground with nerds online was a key developmental stage for me. In the online forums (usually powered a PHP product called vBulletin), each poster would have a signature where folks would usually put in a custom banner.

Not only did I make my own custom banners using photoshop, I did them for other users on the forum as well. I took requests. Folks would send me a theme and I would create a custom banner for them. That’s how I learned to use photoshop. Out of necessity (well, as far as you can consider the creation of internet forum signature banners as a necessity). My skillz (the z is intentional to show that I’m an OG) got better as I created more and more banners for people. I eventually applied the skills I learned in photoshop to learning how to use vector based design tools such as Adobe Illustrator, which I used to help me design assets for video games I’d worked on but never finished as a kid. From Illustrator I got into Adobe After effects, learned about key framing and gained a greater understanding of motion and pixels.

Where am I going with this? That was just my initial journey on attaining the design skills that I use today. I never thought they would amount to anything. My initial intent was to only learn enough to make signature banners for strangers on the internet (for no monetary gain mind you). When I think back at all the skills I’ve been able to accrue over the years through my hobbies and various exploits, it’s a bizarre path to where I am today. Without realizing it I was designing every day. You can ask my friends from school what my class outlines look like, they were all fully designed flowcharts. Those same skills are one of the arrows in my quiver that let me explain ideas and logic flows in a graphical manner. It’s proven an invaluable skill to have learned and developed over the years. In my case, the development of my design skills was done completely unwittingly, simply as a means to an end.

When I think about the other skills I’ve stacked up over the years, they all follow the same pattern as my Photoshop skills, I learned how to do X simply because I wanted to achieve Y. What I realize these days is, people usually just stop at the realization it will take skill X to achieve objective Y. It was pure luck (or my inability to comprehend my own shortcomings) that I went forward with trying to pick up skills anyways. The inability for folks these days to accrue additional skills outside of their main profession is something that Sean Greaney and I talk about this all the time. My hypothesis is that the ease of access to specialists and professionals has reduced the need or ability for folks to become independent. When you can just hire a designer on Fiverr or craigslist (do people still use that?), why would folks spend the time to develop their own skills? I argue that you might find yourself in my position, where by attempting to be more independent and by accumulating a mish mash of skills, you can tackle problems later on in life that most people don’t have luxury of being able to do without large swathes of cash or people.

Learning a new skill is never a waste of time. Stack as many as you can. You never know when they might come in handy.

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