There is an old Buddhist saying, “First learn the rules, then break them”. The typical Hungry Academy cadet is a young, intelligent, and highly motivated person who loves to create. A prerequisite of that love is a desire to know and understand how things work. Once you have grasped the essence of something, you can bend and shape it to your will.

This mentality has served us well, but it is not without its downsides. The web is vast, and the sheer amount of information produced and distributed through it is both overwhelming and awe-inspiring. It is the ultimate playground for builders like us, and it can be as overwhelming as when a seven year old kid walks into the world’s biggest candy store.

The availability and sheer volume of information can, ironically, stunt our capacity and the speed at which we learn. The information overload is like quicksand, sucking us into a morass of possibilities and options. There are so many new technologies, tools, and languages in the development world that a narrow focus is needed when you begin - otherwise it is easy to feel overwhelmed, or worse, paralyzed by all the options.

One example: Hungry Academy. The aim is to teach “Web Development”. We’ve already been exposed to Ruby, Rails, HTML, CSS, JQuery, HAML, SASS/LESS, RSpec, Capybara, and Git. It’s a lot to learn - especially for those of us new to the field, but it represents a tiny fraction of the available frameworks and languages for web development.

Let’s be clear for a moment - the diversity of information and options in web development is a strength, not a weakness. However, when learning it is important to keep a narrow focus on the objectives. Otherwise it is incredibly easy to be sidetracked.

So how to stay focused while learning? Here’s one way.

Create a breakable toy - a small app that you can constantly tinker with and implement new technologies you are exploring. You’ll learn things that are hard to get out of tutorials or books, and doing more of what you got into web development to begin with: creating things.

Now get learning!