In general, I’m a believer in what is known in software development as “eating your own dog food.” That is, you use the product you create, as you create it. A project to build project management software is managed using that software. Bugs in the bug tracking system are tracked in that system. A new distributed version control system is eventually hosted in its own repository. And so on.
The principle is most obvious, of course, for tools related to software development, but conceivably it can be pushed further, as long as the developer is a member of the target audience for the system.
Recently I began thinking about ‘dogfooding’ in the context of my primary responsibility: not software development, but teaching. I noticed a troubling inconsistency. I truly love learning; my life is structured so that I can explore and experiment with new ideas and techniques just about every day. However, I no longer have any interest in learning in the context of a formal course. It seems I don’t like the taste of my own medicine!
This isn’t even about the much-maligned lecture format or the traditional classroom. I’m happy to attend independent lectures about topics that interest me. And a flexible environment doesn’t make a course any more tolerable for me as a student. I think I just rebel at the prospect of following someone else’s syllabus.
Maybe this, as much as anything, is what a Ph.D. is about. It signifies a dedication to life-long learning, but also endows the scholar with the ability (and responsibility) to construct her own curriculum. Can one stand on the shoulders of giants without having to sit through their classes?