As I begin to learn some major new things beginning from zero, I wonder: is there any way to describe, perhaps even quantify, the height of a learning curve?
Having worked at many places on many projects, and half the times not being a good fit, I see we all need better ways to describe skill levels and skills needed for a project. I'm interested, for the purposes of this question, in describing the amount of increase in skills/knowledge/savvy for someone to be effective on a given project, staying with the same employer or in the same situation generally.
Example: The owner comes to me and says "Hey, this new thing, it's vital technology for our next major project. No one here knows much about it. How long will it take you to get up to speed on it?"
(BTW, I want to consider only competent people. No PHBs or fanboys of glitzy new things. Those confounding factors are important in real life, but secondary to the main point here.)
Loose relative words like "steep", "easy" etc don't mean much. The person learning the new thing, and their manager, may have different expectations. I'd like to find something more objective, even if not perfect.
In some magically ideal world, we might say "it takes (n) hours to learn C++, to skill level (x), including all of OO, STL and (blah-blah) set of design patterns". Hours could be used to mark calendars, assign team members and generally plan well. But of course, we all come with different thinking styles, different past experience, different IQs, different levels of passion to know or use the new thing. And then, do you want to design it, fix it, or just use it? Hours might not be useful, even if there was some formula to account for all those factors.
Personally, I learn new ideas in electronics or photograpy about 3 to 10 times faster than new ideas in software, but don't know if I'm comparing new ideas of the same "size". (And I'm not sure in what sense I mean "faster"; not necessarily hours or days.)
In part, I'm wondering about the "size" of knowledge it takes to become competent at, or to master, a new technology. There is the rough rule that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. Maybe for becoming a superb flute player in the symphony, or to be a top-notch helicopter pilot, but obviously one can master tying their shows in far less time. Shoe-tying is a "small" skill, the others are worthy of full time careers.
Maybe someday, with future discoveries in psychology, neurscience and education theory, one could say something like: "it takes (n) million mental thought quanta to learn (new thing) given you already know x, y and z and have a natural talent for grokking (subject)." Then there's be a rule of thumb that a million thought quanta on average correspond to so many minutes or hours, with some of us faster or slower, affected by stress, health and other work. Yeah. Nice science fiction, but not useful today for deciding whether or not to accept a project, which candidate to hire, or making career changes.
What can we do today to describe the steepness of the learning curve, or rather, the height of the hill we're climbing, metaphorically speaking? What's better than vague subjective generalizations?