Good Riddance to 2020, and Hello To Learning New Things in 2021
Well, that was certainly a challenging year. One thing it has shown us, is that we are now almost completely dependent on our digital world and that this is only going to increase as we go into the future.
Our life should be built around us continually learning, and never sitting back on our knowledge. So let 2021 be the year that you pushed yourself forward and learn something new within our digital world. If possible, try and avoid just surface learning, and properly understand the foundation principles of new ways of thinking. It is so easy to sit back and criticise new methods, without actually delving into them and seeing their potential for yourself.
So here are my Top 10 things to learn in 2021:
- Say hello to Data and Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is now all about data. With only 72 hours to report on a data breach, the requirement for gathering information and data mining has never been so important. The world of data is now at your fingertips, and Python and R have opened them up to a massive potential for analysis. So my top tip is to learn Pandas, and along the way, you might learn a bit of maths, too. But the analysis of data on its own is often only part of the solution, and where we must chart our results in order to convey information. So go learn how to present data in a meaningful form. It might be bubble charts, linear graphs, log graphs, bar charts, and so on, but learn how to illustrate things so that you present meaningful data. In developing a career route my top tip would be to get into Splunk. The skills of the future will be focused on analytical skills, and in debugging, so go and exercise your brain. [Learn].
- Build new worlds in GitHub. I have transformed the platform I used in my teaching by using GitHub to deliver the content, rather than using the clunky Moodle platform. To me, Moodle seems like it was made for the 20th Century, and GitHub gives me a platform where I can more easily control and maintain my content, and in not locking it away behind a firewall. So go and learn how to use Git properly, and see how it can transform our world.
- Go Learn Crypto! I see encryption in the same way as Ohm’s Law is seen in electrical engineering. It should be the foundation layer of cybersecurity, but generally, it is one of the weakest areas, and where many struggle to get past the definitions of the acronyms. So, go and learn about public-key encryption, and hashing, and symmetric key encryption, and digital signing … in fact, there’s an endless number of things to learn. The magic moment will hit you when you say … “Ah, I get this!”. As a starter, perhaps, go and learn the beauty — and simplicity — of the RSA method. But there’s more … homomorphic encryption, zero-knowledge proofs, range proofs, group signatures, lattice cryptography, light-weight cryptography, … [Learn].
- Once you’ve learnt Python, go learn Golang. I fall back to Python as my default, and, for me, it is like the pocket calculator for computer science. But, for writing fast and robust code, it is not quite there. The “pip install” command for installing libraries can break things, and the Python 2.7 v Python 3.7 engines do not quite help in creating standard code. I also do not like the code syntax, but it is so powerful, that its usefulness overcomes its weaknesses. So my No 1 tip is to learn Golang. With Go, it feels like I am back when I started to learning programming, but also so modern. It overcomes all those DLL problems, by just downloading its code GitHubs. And the great thing for me is that it compiles to an executable program.
- Learn about the beauty of Elliptic Curves. These beautiful little curves (y²=x³+ax+b) are just taking over the world of cybersecurity just now, and as RSA becomes increasingly more difficult to process, elliptic curves are there to take over in the creation of our secure tunnels, key exchanges, and so many other things.
- Read more research papers and learn to continually innovate. I have a worry that my knowledge will eventually age, and that it becomes redundant. So one way is to get hold of the latest research and try and consume it. Some of the papers will go no-where, but others will open up new areas. When you read them, go and grab the related code, and try to get it running. Also try to simplify things, and make your own little prototypes. If you can, too, go and try and explain it to others. Try to learn how to question things and look to innovate yourself, and encourage others around you to do the same. The best album that REM ever made was created when they all swapped their instruments. Every great thing started with an idea. Don’t sit back, go innovate!
- Get into AWS. Sorry for being so specific here, but Amazon Web Services (AWS) is playing a leading role in our digital world. If you have had a look recently, AWS provides a toolkit that builds a more scalable, robust and secure world. Unfortunately, we are often not using it to its best potential, but we are learning fast, and those companies who move the fastest will be the ones will succeed in the future. My favourite is to use Python to script Alexa, Cloud servers and databases, but you can build your systems in whichever way you like. As we are using Cloud systems, then all the things I told you about learning crypto become ever more important.
- Learn Overleaf (and LaTeX) and dump Word. One on-line package that has completely changed our outputs, our collaboration, and our productivity is Overleaf. It is an online system for producing beautifully formatted documents, and which do maths and layout properly. But its real power is the way that teams can collaborate on documents, without needing only one person to work on it at a time. All of our researchers and MSc students now use it, and, in the end, they produce documents which can be easily reviewed and commented on, and which are formatted that best represents them. For some reason, many fail to see how to properly structure a document in Word and the template methods just do not work well.
- Challenge yourself to learn. Go and do that PhD or MSc you always wanted to do, and you will — hopefully — not regret it. While you may be comfortable with your current knowledge, education can open up a whole new way of looking at things. We all have gaps in our knowledge, so go and plug them. Forget being a jack-of-all-trades, and become a master of something. There are few barriers to learning these days, and there’s knowledge at your finger-tips. Read research papers, and dive into them, and trying understand their signficance.
There you go! That was my Top 10 tips. We increasingly live in a world of surface learning, so go and be a true expert in something and learn it deeply. Don't end up being a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’.
What will your Top 10 things to learn in 2021 be? Remember don’t just surface learn …