As I look back at what I was doing say 5-10 years ago, I was pretty dense in some ways. There was a lot I didn’t understand about the ways of business, the internet, outsourcing, coding, and much more. I will always have more that I can learn.
But choosing what to learn is something that takes talent. Then you have to know how to learn. I had an English teacher in college that told me to “always ask yourself … what is the theme?”. So on any given day I still ask this question.
Looking at all the people and projects that I am encountering this day, what is the theme of it all? What are these people and projects telling me?
If I really think about it, it tells me what I need to do next. Is your approach similar to mine?
When you hit the real-world, I find that it becomes less about what you choose to learn and more about learning what is available to you. Unless you work for yourself successfully or have a pretty good job you’ll probably spend your time not learning the kind of stuff you’re desperate to learn.
The problem a lot of people tend to find is that they join a job that may pay well and give them a chance to practice their coding skills, but they soon realise that they want to give Python a try, and don’t have the opportunity because they work for a strict PHP shop, or that they love using Umbraco, but are forced to use WordPress as a CMS because it’s PHP and it’s a popular blogging platform.
As you’ve said, it takes talent to know what to learn, but it depends what means more to you. There are lucrative things to learn, and then there are interesting things. More often than not people are trying to anticipate the most lucrative thing to know so that they can land work, whereas it may be best for people to find things they enjoy, and hope that their ability in something fun will provide them with the drive to succeed in a professional workplace.
Back to your question. The “theme” is very subjective, because it’s something that differs from person to person. I find it beneficial to learn as much about my client as possible before I make any decisions on what the “theme” of their website is. There have been plenty of times where I’ve wanted to push x, when my client really wanted y. It’s now natural for me to almost doubt and criticise every development decision I make, because it’s better to learn from admitting mistakes to blindly following a path and hoping that your current knowledge is enough.