Burton Rast, Genius Of

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Before now all of my heroes were really big people. I mean, you would recognize them for their deeds. They exist in the annals of history as those who stood against oppression or climbed some huge mountain. They were people who, for better or for worse, you would recognize. Not Burton Rast. He's just a guy.

Burton's not a software engineer. He did not write his own operating system or build some gigantic IT company from his garage. He is actually an "Interaction and Software Designer" with a particular message -- you can teach yourself things.

The Burton Method

Burton recently gave a talk at a local education facility called SPACE run by General Assembly titled, "Designing Your Own Education in the Post-University Era". I was pretty skeptical about the subject but was very interested since I value self-education highly.

Here's Burton's method in a nutshell:

Seems Silly, But Works

If you are like a lot of people you are spoiled for choice. There seems to be at least two competing technologies for each and every computing problem. By the time you learn the low-level way of working with a technology somebody comes along with a framework that reduces how much you have to know about it. This can lead you to a kind of paralysis where you stay in a perpetual WAIT mode, trying out a few aspects of new computing technologies but never delving too far. Do this long enough and your knowledgebase will be full of only 'trial version' knowledge. It will not take you very far.

Burton's method attaches the use of technology to projects you care about. Your projects can solve problems that could easily have been solved with information technology but were not and hence there was a disaster. When you catch yourself saying, 'there ought to have been...' in response to a calamity, think about a potential project and a technology set you wanted to get involved with but lacked the impetus.

File Away Techniques

One of the most intriguing implications of using Burton's method is that it turns you into someone that can see useful, successful patterns being used in the strangest of places. A bird's nest might tell you something about durable, lightweight structures. A telephone headset may give you clues about ergonomic design. What might work for you once you have hit this level is to start keeping scrapbooks with various examples. That is the reason for the strange, backward title of this post. It is filed under, 'Burton Rast, Genius of, ' where I keep ingenious ideas from everyday people.

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