No To BYOM: Bring Your Own Motivation

I went from dreading education to becoming an avid learner and even breaking into data science. How did I do that? I found inspiring teachers.

The school has taught me that education is a grind, best to be avoided. I still remember the tranquilizing powers of my history professor. Every class, he monotonously read the textbook out loud for a full 45 minutes. Half of us dozed off quickly. One guy even snored, but the teacher always kept going, unbothered. In that class, I discovered that time is relative. The moment the lesson started, the clock. Slowed. Down. 

One time my friend bluntly asked, How can I be motivated to learn when I don’t see how any of this is useful to me? To which the teacher said: I’m here to give lessons, not to motivate you. Want to pass? Bring your own motivation. They were both right, and it made me feel frustrated and powerless. If that was a paid course, I would have asked for a refund. Unfortunately, schooling was compulsory, and the market laws didn’t apply.

Fortunately, one class stood out thanks to our superstar IT professor. She once gave us the assignment to learn how to solve a Rubik’s cube, with extra credit for the best time. Soon we were walking around with these cubes, having mini-tournaments, and discussing how the fast solutions are harder to remember than the slow ones. When we discussed algorithms in the next lesson, everyone paid close attention. The ideas were immediately applicable. Having skin in the game changed everything.

Once I tasted inspiring education, I wanted more. Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding great teachers. I just saw the same BYOM approach everywhere, from university lectures to commercial skill training. I had two options: to endure lousy teaching or to let go of higher education. I chose the latter. It was the right thing for me at the time, but it left me thinking that lousy education was just a sad fact of life. I’m glad the world has changed since then. 

That’s how I was able to learn data science. No Polish university would admit me to a proper Master’s program because I lacked the prerequisites. Their loss! The access to knowledge is no longer bound by the chains of geography. MIT, Stanford, Khan Academy, and YouTube were much more welcoming and even worked at my own pace. I started with Calculus 101 and ended with a data science role in Tumblr.

Just like excellent teachers reached me through the academic walls, selective admissions, continents, and time, they can reach you if you only allow them. They are always a few clicks away, often offering free lessons that work at your own schedule. Why endure lousy BYOM courses, when you can learn from the best teachers out there? You may not get a degree, but does it really matter?

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