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Learning is an infinite game

Learning is an infinite game

Learning is an infinite game. You can't win or lose, you can only keep playing. As a founder and a builder, you will regularly find yourself needing to quickly and efficiently learn new skills.

I graduated from UConn in 2009 with dual engineering degrees: one in Computer Science, and one in Mechanical Engineering. The first field of study was a no-brainer: since my first days of high school, I loved writing code and building software. Studying Mechanical Engineering was more of a misguided whimsy - my dad had a long career as a mechanical engineer, and thanks to him I developed a love for classic american cars. I studied mechanical engineering thinking I might want to get a job in the automotive industry.

Fast forward 14 years (my god!), and I've never worked a day as a mechanical engineer... until last week.

At Craftwork, we recently signed on to a project that has us painting the same type of door many, many times. The doors are made of metal, and we'll be painting them with a spray gun. However, we can't get paint the latch mechanism, so we need to mask it off. We could do this by hand, but it would take a long time.

We have... hundreds of these doors to paint. Maybe thousands. Each with the same latch mechanism that needs to be masked off, and then unmasked after painting.

Enter 3D Printing.

It's the perfect tool for this job. We can design a simple mask in CAD, and then print it out. We can print as many as we need, and adjust the design as needed.

The only problem? It's been, uh, 14 years since I've done any 3D modeling, and I've never done any 3D printing.

In the span of about 10 days, I went from knowing nothing about 3D printing to having a working prototype of a mask that we can use to paint these doors. I quickly researched a number of critical topics, including:

  • which 3D printer to buy
  • the latest in 3D modeling software
  • how to design for 3D printing
  • the difference between various 3D printing materials

...all while working on a number of other projects, and in addition to the complexity of the actual problem we're trying to solve (painting these doors).

Screenshot from CAD software Onshape
I used a tool called OnShape to design the mask. It's a fully browser-based tool. Insane!

This is not to say that I'm a particularly gifted engineer, or a brilliant Instead, I think the important nugget here is something that I've learned over the years: learning is a skill, and as a founder, you need to be good at it.

Here are some tips that I've picked up over the years that have helped me learn new skills quickly and efficiently:

1. Learn from the best resources you have access to

You don't need to reinvent the wheel. There are people out there who have already done what you're trying to do, and they've probably written about it.

When I was learning about 3D printing, I found a number of great resources that helped me get up to speed quickly. From previous passing interests in 3D printing, I knew of a few youtube channels that ended up being super helpful. Thanks to my schooling, I also have a cadre of actual mechanical engineers who I can rely on for advice (shout out to Sean, James, Andy, & Mike - y'all are the true MVPs here). I consulted my dad, who spent 40+ years doing CAD and mechanical engineering. I read tech reviews, and I read the documentation for the 3D printer I ended up buying.

My point is this: you don't need to go it alone. Find the best resources you have access to, and learn from them.

2. Learn by doing, and act quickly

I'm a big believer in learning by doing. I've found that I learn best when I'm working on a project that I care about, and I'm learning the skills I need to complete that project.

While researching for my project, there were many opportunities along the way to take what I was learning and use it to make progress on my project. I could have spent more time researching, but time spent researching is time not spent building.

3. Learn from your mistakes

You're going to make a lot of mistonks -- and every one you learn from makes your understanding of the world around you that much more accurate.

I iterated on the design for our painting mask 5 times before I got it right. In 3D Printing, that means I'd spend some time modeling the mask, and then wait a few hours for it to print out. I'd then test it, and see what worked and what didn't. I'd then go back to the drawing board, and make changes to the design.

A series of 5 prototypes for the mask on my desk
I iterated on the design for our painting mask 5 times before I got it right.

One thing that struck me during this process is how similar modeling & printing are to debugging software. The main difference is that debugging software is virtually instant gratification - you can make a change, and see the results immediately. With 3D printing, I'd have to wait hours to see the results of my changes. It requires more patience, and a deliberate approach to getting things right.

In the end, it's looking like this project is going to be a success. These 3D printed masks will do the trick for this project, and the skills and techniques I've learned will be useful for future projects, whether directly or indirectly.

Perhaps most importantly, this was another mega-deep dive into something new, and I'm better for it. I'm also deeply grateful to my wife, who saw me disappear into my office for hours at a time, and put up with me staring into the middle distance as I thought through the next steps in the process. She's a saint.

tl;dr: learning is a skill, and as a founder, you need to be good at it. Part of building something new is taking decisive action quickly, and learning quickly from experts in the field. Take what you learn, turn it into applied science, and iterate quickly. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Now, it's your turn - have you found yourself going down the rabbit hole for something new recently? I wanna hear about it! Hit reply and let me know what you're learning about, and how it's going.

More filament extruded from my brain

(It's a 3D printing joke. I'll stop.)

  • 🎙️ In the latest APIs You Won't Hate podcast, I caught up with Danny Sheridan from Fern to talk about the incredible tooling they're building for generating API clients and documentation from OpenAPI specs.
  • 📰 Craftwork was featured by Forbes, and I still can't believe it. I'm so proud of the team we've built, and the work we're doing to make home services better for everyone. What a journey so far - and we're just getting started.

Thanks for reading Tiny Improvements. If you found this helpful, I'd love it if you shared this with a friend. It helps me out a great deal.

Until next time - be excellent to each other!

Learning is an infinite game

As a founder, you're going to need to learn new skills quickly and efficiently. Keeping your skill for learning sharp is a critical skill, and should can be practiced like any other skill.



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