Have you ever thought about how you could better acquire new skills? As we all know, indie making is not all about coding. Building and marketing a product requires a lot of different skills.

While most companies have teams looking after different aspects of the business, being an indie maker often means working solo on your own product. You could of course pay to outsource the work requiring these other skills you don’t have, but it will cost you a lot, especially if you are just starting out.

This is why being an indie maker requires to have at least some level of familiarity in fields of discipline as diverse as UI/UX, sales, marketing, growth hacking, and content writing. This is a lot of work, so how can you learn faster when you only have limited time?

Learning by doing

When I was in high school, I remember playing around with Photoshop and trying to create a design for a logo making contest. I headed to Youtube and found the exact tutorial I needed in order to create the design I had in mind. It was one of these situations where is was much more efficient to learn by doing, rather than trying to learn every single tool in Photoshop and eventually apply everything to a project.

In coding and programming, I have made some silly mistakes early in my career, trying to finish an online tutorial about PHP which was about 200 videos. I did finish the videos, which took me multiple sessions, but I didn’t make any progress on the project that I was working on at the time. It felt like I was productive because I finished all of the videos, but it was an illusion: I was actually procrastinating.

Let’s borrow our criteria for judging what is the best way to acquire new skills from the book by Daniel Coyle The Little Book of Talent, a manual for improving skills with scientifically-proven tips for getting better at sports, music, art, and business. The author provides a framework on how to properly measure the effectiveness of learning and practicing. He called it the R.E.P.S gauge.

  • Reaching and repeating – are you pushed repeatedly into your sweet spot?
  • Engagement – are you interested and emotionally immersed?
  • Purposefulness – does it target the specific thing you want to learn?
  • Strong, speedy feedback – does it clearly tell you how you did and how to improve?

Learn through tutorials

This kind of learnings requires other people/teacher to directly tell you about what you should do and don’t. They will in theory provide all of the things that you need in order to get the fundamentals. But in terms of reaching and repeating, learning through tutorials provides a little feedback since you are just following what your teacher sayings.

In terms of engagement, it depends on the course that you are taking. But it’s rare to find online tutorials that explain things so well that you will not get bored. In terms of purposefulness, going through tutorials will give you a lot of topics but they might not be the ones that you are actually interested in.

Finally, regarding the last criteria — strong, speedy feedback — online tutorials will only give you weak feedback since you are just following along.

Building your own products

Building your own things requires a lot of courage, trial, and error in order to create something meaningful. Let’s measure how you building your own products can help you acquire new skills using the R.E.P.S gauge.

Reaching and repeating – you are getting pushed repeatedly in your sweat spot since you are actually building something using your knowledge.

Engagement – which measures if you are emotionally immersed. This does happen when you get stuck and struggle in trying to make your product work. Your next action is usually to look for answers online, which counts as active exploration. You can also ask for advice in the makers’ community, which will make you more emotionally connected.

Purposefulness – does it target the specific thing you want to improve on? Yes again, since you are actually building a product which addresses problems that need to be solved, and requires specific skills in order to make it happen.

Strong, speedy feedback — does it clearly tell you how you did and how to improve? Yes, because when you build your own products you will be able to see straight away the progress you are making and to use the new skills you just acquired. When you start building your own products as an indie maker, you can start with what you know to build the project, and pick up the other skills as you go.

This is the concept of “just-in-time learning”; the idea is to just learn something when you actually need it rather than going through a lot of tutorials and saying to yourself that you will learn this “just in case” you will need it. The “just-in-time” strategy is really helpful since you are not consuming too much content and just learning things you need to in order to move your project forward.

In conclusion, going through online tutorials is good especially if you are completely new in making, since it will give you some level of familiarity about the journey you are about to start. But don’t spend too long going through tutorials, since it will become a form of procrastination on actually shipping your products. Once you passed the initial phase of getting the fundamentals, it is more efficient to start building your own products. It will accelerate your learning and acquisition of new skills.

Time and money are precious as an indie maker. Try “just-in-time” rather than “just-in-case” learning.

This post was originally published in MakerMag