usable in any place a human can be used



[caption id="attachment_565" align="alignright" width="282" caption="necessary part of grokking something"]banging head[/caption]

Computer nerds should be familiar with the term grok while the rest of the populace has no need for such a silly word. You may hear it down at your favorite nerdery, "I don't quite grok this" or "Once I grokked it, I flew through the project." What does this word mean though and where did it come from.

Grok for the non-nerd means, "to understand thoroughly and intuitively." Although this is true it belies what it truly means to grok something. For that we need to realize the origin of this fantastic geek speak, this term is straight out of Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. He defined it as follows

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

The great thing about grokking something is that it changes your world view, it fundamentally shifts the way that you see, perceive, and understand the world. The bad thing about grokking something is that it is incredibly difficult to get to that point. Let's take a look at a fantastic chart I've whipped up to help us understand this better.

[caption id="attachment_566" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="the graph of grokitude"]grok[/caption]

In this graph we have time and effort along the horizontal and understanding along the vertical. We can spend a great deal of time after "mastering" a subject before we get the epiphany and truly grok something. To really understand a subject on the level that a computer nerd would consider grokking it takes not only a full in-depth knowledge of the function of something, but an understanding of the design, an internalization of the principals, and a familiarity that borders on oneness.

This is the reward for hundreds or thousands of man-hours spent toiling in something, the day when the clouds part and you truly understand something, this has an amazing non-linear effect on your understanding and your productivity. Once you grok something, be it a framework or a library or a concept, your ability to use that and your productivity in it increase in a non-linear fashion.

Although it is important to have a wide breadth of knowledge we must remember the importance of having a few areas of incredible depths of knowledge. These areas will permeate everything else you do, so try to choose wisely. The subjects that you truly grok are the ones that will effect your big picture outlook.

Here are my suggestions for some fundamental things to learn, and learn to a point that it fundamentally shifts the way you look at the world.

  • A Pure Object Oriented Langauge - I would suggest smalltalk for purity, but ruby makes a fine substitute and has more application.

  • A Functional Language - For this look no further than Haskell, and Learn you a Haskell for Great Good

  • A Set Language - Take the time to learn SQL, its a tool most of us use everyday and very few of us take the time to learn properly

  • A Markup Language - HTML + CSS, these are the embodiment of separating data and display, learn them intimately.

Learning these, but more importantly grokking them will color the way you approach problems and solutions. Having a depth of knowledge in a key variety of tools allows you to quickly master new ones, better understand problem domains, and more completely express your thoughts in the abstract.

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