Learning CS and Entrepreneurship Online: Resources and Tools (Part 3 of 3)

In the past several months I’ve tried to immerse myself in learning and technology. I’ve thought a lot about various methods and resources for learning, and paid particular attention to the new models constantly being developed and deployed. I’ve tried to take advantage of online resources and information networks wherever I can, and have been constantly amazed by the ubiquity of high-quality content.

I’ve focused in particular on learning some fundamentals of computer science (including basic theoretical precepts and a few of the most common languages like HTML, CSS, and Python) and entrepreneurship (including a grounding in business concepts as well as praxis of starting and running a company). For both, my level of interest and intensity of study have fluctuated, and I realize I’m only beginning to gain a sense of these topics and the various branches and subfields that I continue to find. I find myself hardly grasping the basics of rudimentary CS concepts, but already feel a certain fascination in topics such as data science and web application design; likewise as I read about entrepreneurship I’ve started to develop interests in management, sales and marketing, project management and strategy…the list is ever-expanding.

I feel like I’m still just beginning—while this is post 3/3 in my introductory series on the topic, it seems to me more accurately part three out of hundreds or thousands. But for the time being I have to stop somewhere, and artificially conclude, at least in writing, the “initialization” of my journey.

So a snapshot of what I’ve gleaned in perhaps a year of part-time learning, at age twenty-three, will just have to do. This post will serve as a roundup of the most useful resources I’ve encountered so far, very briefly annotated. In addition to tech and entrepreneurship resources, I’m also listing some of my favorite tools as well as the best books and magazines I’ve read in the past year. As I discover more, I may periodically gather the best and create a “Resources” section of this site for easy access and posterity, and to feed my love of lists. Let me know if that’s something you’d like to see!

 General

  • Paul Graham’s essay collection: this has become one of my first recommendations for an aspiring innovator/technologist/entrepreneur—spending a weekend reading PG’s work is a great way to soak up some fundamentals on starting a tech company and thinking innovatively about technology; his writing is phenomenal
  • General Assembly: a great tech and entrepreneurship learning space, particularly relevant if you’re in NYC (or a handful of other cities—they’re expanding) for their great classes and events, but their online offerings are starting to grow as well
  • Quora: one of my favorite sites for learning random new things (more perspectives than fact-based stuff, which I like)—the quality of answers, and signal-to-noise ratio, is high, and every time I browse the site I find thoughtful, unique, and useful insights…and thanks to the demographics of its early adopters, it has a particularly strong focus on tech and entrepreneurship!
  • Institute for the Future: interesting futurist think tank; they have many reports on the futures of things like work, science, cities, and making—all available as PDFs for free download
  • Ribbonfarm: great blog by Venkatesh Rao, focusing on “refactoring perception” in economics, technology, culture and more—intellectually exciting and wide-reaching

 Business & Entrepreneurship

  • Derek Sivers’ blog: a wealth of advice for the aspiring entrepreneur, from a guy who is both incredibly thoughtful and disarmingly humble about his (considerable) accomplishments
  • Steve Blank’s website (and books, though I haven’t read them yet): a wonderful repository of entrepreneurship resources—his “Startup Tools” and “Books for Startups” lists contain enough information to keep anyone busy for months
  • Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to be Rich: started as a personal finance blogger but has developed great content on negotiation, starting a side business, and other useful things pertaining to entrepreneurship (his flagship courses are expensive, but the free content is useful too)
  • Peter Thiel’s CS183: Startup: class notes by Blake Masters brought this course wider recognition, and for good reason—Thiel is a piercing thinker with fresh perspectives that run counter to business-as-usual
  • Fred Wilson’s “A VC” blog: in particular, his “MBA Mondays” series, which presents business concepts expertly explained in concise and simple terms

 Technology

  • Learn Code The Hard Way: Zed Shaw has put together some amazing tutorials on several languages including Ruby, Python and C; I’m maybe 2/3 or 3/4 through the Python one, after completing his introduction to command line (very useful!) and am impressed so far, although my progress stagnated once it got to the hard stuff (Zed also has a Udemy course for Learn Python the Hard Way—only $29, and useful if you like learning with video)
  • Hacker News: great aggregator/portal for keeping up to date on new ideas and technologies; like Reddit but smarter and more technical
  • Treehouse: in-depth video courses for learning web design and programming; I’ve only watched a handful of videos so far but the content seems very good (although the video style seems sometimes-annoyingly aimed at kids)
  • Open courses from top universities—I haven’t completed any of these, but have done quite a bit of research on which ones look to be the most promising and well-regarded, and the below are the best I’ve come across—maybe someday I’ll have the patience/inclination to complete one!:
  • Processing: Helpful tutorials on their website, making it easy for a beginner to jump in and understand the basics—rare for a programming language, but this one is tailored to be simple to begin with, and its visual nature (aimed at artists, among others) is something I like. It’s downloaded and installed as a package that includes a very simple IDE and it’s super easy to get started creating “sketches” to test out ideas and follow along with the tutorials. I’m just starting with this one as well but I’m into it so far!

The below are some of the tools I’ve found most useful for both learning and generally being productive. I include software, physical objects, and mental processes/behaviors:

 Software:

  • Scrivener: great for organizing larger bodies of writing such as blog posts, business ideas, literary experiments, the seeds of a book, etc.
  • nvAlt: useful for jotting down snippets, lists, and rough ideas—I used to use Stickies, but nvAlt is super-fast and searchable, built around Markdown, and can sync w/ iOS via Dropbox
  • Alfred: awesome Mac launcher for quick access to applications, files, and more (highly extensible)
  • Total Terminal: souped up Terminal app (for Mac); makes jumping on the command line just a wee bit nicer
  • Sublime Text 2: great text editor for code exercises (e.g. LPTHW)
  • NetNewsWire: nice RSS reader with built-in browser
  • iA Writer: I haven’t started using this religiously, but it’s a solid, minimalist app great for distraction-free writing
  • Miscellaneous: There are a handful of menubar widgets for OSX that really come in handy, including Window Tidy (for organizing windows), Flux (shifts color temperature to save your eyes), Rescuetime (for tracking where the hours go), Mint QuickView (for tracking where the dollars go), Fantastical (better calendar app), and Cobook (better contacts app)

Things:

  • Macbook Pro: vital for my day job, which is heavy on video editing and motion graphics (I’ve got this sucker maxed out to 16GB of RAM), and the Unix underpinnings of OSX make it great for beginning to learn programming, too
  • A bookshelf or two stuffed full of real books: sometimes it’s nice to read things on paper and have a tangible reminder of what’s making you smarter
  • Kindle: perfect for subway reading—I still prefer paper for longer content, but I get through a lot of articles on the Kindle; much better than reading on a backlit computer screen
  • iPhone: comes in handy for note-taking, music-listening and a hundred other things while on the go
  • The best pair of headphones you can afford (I have the ATH-M50s—highly recommend): paired with Spotify: vital for concentrating and getting in the zone

 Mind:

  • Random conceptual projects: I like to frequently jot down ideas for creative projects, business ideas, etc.—I find the brain-dump aspect of idea generation to be good for getting ideas flowing, and sometimes they even evolve into something useful
  • List of life goals: I did an initial iteration of this last year—basically just an exhaustive list of interests and aspirations, edited by category, priority, timeline, etc.—and it was a very useful exercise in thinking about the future
  • Lists of things to do/watch/read/etc.: Again, I like to dump any aspirational activities, events, media to consume and more into lists, if only to offload them so as to lessen the obligation (I ultimately always forget about them, but better than my other habit of keeping dozens of tabs open all the time)
  • Experimentation: with miscellaneous software and iOS apps; with writing; in the kitchen—I try to experiment frequently and across disciplines, because I like trying to find new connections and relationships in the areas that interest me

Body:

  • Long walks to the park and nearby neighborhoods: every so often (well, at least when the weather’s nice) useful for restoring sanity, relaxing mind and body, and exploring my surroundings
  • Frequent exercise: sometimes a quick 11 minute workout (look up the 5-BX), or basketball/swimming at the gym; trying to make this more regular because it always helps keep my energy up
  • Drinking lots of water: like 7-8 bottles per day—I always try to stay hydrated!
  • A bicycle: I found a cheap one on Craigslist; when the weather’s nice I love riding to work
  • Occasional meditation: I haven’t gotten to the point of making it a daily practice, but I always feel good when I remember to do it

And finally, here are some the best things I’ve read in the last 6–12 months:

Physical:

  • If on a winter’s night a traveler (Italo Calvino): superb experimental novel, in which Calvino strings together stories into a metanarrative that questions the relationship between reader and author in a thoroughly entertaining way
  • The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business (Josh Kaufman): a broad introduction to myriad concepts of business and entrepreneurship—somewhat light, but a great primer for anyone just starting to learn about this stuff
  • The Art of Immersion (Frank Rose): interesting, if fairly introductory, book about how media is evolving to be highly experiential and immersive (but more importantly, this book has one of my favorite cover designs of the year!)
  • Impro (Keith Brownstone): short but amazing book about improvisational creativity—focuses mainly on important techniques and exercises of improvisational theater, but broadly applicable for anyone interested in tapping into deep creativity
  • The Gift (Lewis Hyde): a classic on the intersection of art, culture, and economics—to be honest I found it pretty overwritten in a lot of places, but still an interesting read
  • The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (Richard P. Feynman): great introduction to the writing and thinking of a true luminary; this book renewed my appreciation for science, skepticism, and unrelenting curiosity
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft (Matthew B. Crawford): as philosophical tomes go, this is a highly readable gem, in which Crawford elucidates some very interesting ideas about individualism, the modern information economy, the intellectual merits of manual labor, and the nature of work
  • A New Culture of Learning (Douglas Thomas & John Seely Brown): another short but important book, about the current revolution in learning centered around imagination, play, collective exploration, and experiential inquiry
  • The $100 Startup (Chris Guillebeau): a great assembly of small-business case studies; I like that he tells the stories of a wide range of entrepreneurs, much more diverse than the purely tech-focused core of the startup world
  • The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb): provocative insights on probability and our flawed ways of thinking about the unexpected; Taleb is a capacious thinker and entertaining writer, and his most recent, Antifragile, looks more interesting still
  • The Information (James Gleick): a prolific history of information in all its wondrous and far-reaching forms; a feat of research and distillation and a rewarding look into one of the most important conceptual fields there is
  • Envisioning Information (Edward Tufte): a classic of information design, and itself a beautiful book, filled with great examples of information visualization
  • Oulipo (ed. Warren Motte): collection of texts about the work of the Oulipo, a fascinating working group that took as its focus seeking out and creating “potential literature”, blending the literary and mathematical

Digital:

  • The Shape of Design (Frank Chimero): wonderful explication of the role of a designer; poetic, insightful, and beautifully illustrated throughout
  • It Will Be Exhilarating: Indie Capitalism and Design Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century (Studio Neat): great first-hand testimony to the power of crowdfunding and the maker economy, from one of Kickstarter’s early success stories
  • Effective Programming: More Than Writing Code (Jeff Atwood): very interesting lessons on what it’s like to be a successful working programmer—and just some generally great ideas on managing projects and businesses well
  • Mother Earth, Mother Board: massive Wired article by Neal Stephenson about transcontinental cable networks; sixteen years on, it hardly feels dated at all, and is one of the best pieces of journalism I’ve ever come across—thrilling insight into the burgeoning of the information age, and its fascinating antecedents
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: erudite, inspirational, and a joy to read; inspiring life story of one of the most remarkable men in America’s history, in his own words
  • Distance Magazine (ed. Nick Disabato): a great magazine on technology and design; each issue contains three substantive, well-researched essays

2 Comments

  • Mike says:

    Hi Brendan,
    Enjoyed reading your posts on CS and entrepreneurship. I’m on a similar journey myself at the moment. Great writing, and thanks for listing your favorite resources, I love learning about new gems in this vast evolving world of online education!

    • Brendan says:

      Thanks Mike – appreciate the note, and glad you found some of this useful! I’m eager to further explore the intersection of digital publishing and education, and have a project launching soon aiming to tie together (and experiment with) various ideas and mediums I think will be useful for educational content.

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