The Process of Mastery

When learning something completely new, whether it be a skill or technology, there are a specific sequence of steps that I always follow.  This is a technology focused post, but you can use this process for the mastery of any skill.

Step 1 – Value

What is the benefit of mastering this “thing”?  What will be the benefit to me, my family, my friends, my employer or my customers?  What will it cost me in time and money?  Is it a need or a want?  Is the “juice worth the squeeze?”

Step 2 – Proficiency Matrix

Breakdown the “thing” to be mastered into the series of components that it is comprised of (a blueprint) and then rate yourself on each component (skill-level: zero, basic, advanced, expert).  This will provide a score-card that you can update as you progress on your journey to mastery.  Make sure you include any Prerequisite skills you need get started.

If you cannot deconstruct a skill into its component parts, then you should seek help from someone who does before beginning your journey.

Here is an example skills matrix for the VMware Certified Design Expert certification.

Step 3 – The Plan

What steps do I need to take to achieve basic-level, advanced-level and then expert-level mastery for each component of the “Proficiency Matrix”.  The more detailed and progressive the breakdown of steps, the more likely you will be to achieve each goal.  It is difficult to maintain enthusiasm when it feels like you are not progressing.

Here is an example plan for the Nutanix Platform Expert certification.

Step 4 – The Timeline

How long will it take to achieve basic-level, advanced-level and then expert-level for each component of the “Proficiency Matrix”.

Keep in mind that most physical skills take 10,000 hours to master and in technology it is around 1,000 hours.

Step 5 – Resources

What are the resources that you will use to develop this skill-set?  It will probably be a mix of (free and paid):

  • Course-based training and instruction
  • Instructor-lead training
  • A mentor to guide you
  • Blogs
  • Videos
  • Books
  • Podcasts
  • Like-minded students in a study group or training camp

Step 6 – Unlocking the Levels

Achieving basic-level proficiency should be fairly fast and is very important to recognise as a major stepping stone.  Just make sure you achieve basic-level across the entire blueprint before moving onto advanced-level and then expert-level mastery.  This ensures a balanced skill-set and prevents the adoption of bad habits that you will have to unlearn later.

It is important to enjoy the process and maintain your passion during the journey.  As soon as it stops being fun and becomes a chore, the more likely you are to abandon it.  So take your time, there is no rush.

Step 7 – Maintenance Mode

You are now rated as an expert, what now?  Well, in the technology world there is a continuous cycle of advancements that you need to keep abreast of.  All skills become rusty if you do not practice them regularly, so you will have to keep your hand in to remain proficient.  Also consider mentoring other students who are on the same journey you just completed, it is rewarding and forces you to truly understand what you have mastered by explaining it in simple terms that others can understand.

Then there is the continuous cycle of learning, it never stops.  So pick your next goal and follow the same process to mastery.

Learning Methods

We all learn differently.  Some people prefer to read every book they can find and watch every video available before putting it into practice.  Others prefer to get their hands dirty on Day-1 and learn by trial and error.  Some people like instructor-led tuition where their hand is held during the journey.  Depending upon the skill being learned (life threatening to you or others or not), each has its place and is up to the individual to pick which is best for them.  Just keep in mind, that as you progress on your journey to mastery, that switching things around can help in breaking learning slumps and progress road-blocks.


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Chief Enterprise Architect and Strategist, 4xVCDX#133, NPX#8, DECM-EA.

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