I had yet to notice any drawbacks of working in a field where I have either taught myself what I need to know or learned through work experience. Until now.
Hopefully you have realized, that I am a Web Designer & Developer. And, I'll now let you know, that I learned nearly everything for this career with trial & error and the internet. And, perhaps more surprising, I can honestly say that my gateway into this career was playing a popular computer game nearly nine years ago.
Becoming A Self-Teacher
Sure, Counter-Strike itself was rather addicting but what really got my attention was all those files (just left there for me to explore!) inside the install directory. There were graphics, sounds, levels and even a unique scripting language! So, through the power of the internet, I taught myself how to write Counter-Strike scripts. But, after finding or reading about most of the exploits, scripting became dull—I wasn't actually playing the game that much at this point, so there was no utility left. Soon after, I discovered hacking. Naturally, I taught myself how to create multiplayer hacks. Actually, I even worked on some of most popular public cheats of a rather limited time. From the amazing scripting community to the even more amazing hacking communities, I found a viable way to learn whatever I was interested in. And, I continue this approach even today.
My foray into creating websites was Geocities. Thankfully, I desired more control and eventually learned HTML; my resource was the HTML Goodies Primers. Which, looking back on it now, seems like a well structured lesson plan that could resemble what's taught in school. Sadly, I can't recall what my main resource was for learning CSS, but for PHP Tizag covers the basics pretty well. From that point, I had developed a strong enough base, that the rest of my learning could be achieved by reading the docs and spec sheets for the technologies I was interested in.
Recently, I was reading a bunch of the latest articles on A List Apart and I noticed something I didn't have an answer too. Which was, half the articles seemed useful and applicable while the other half seemed obvious. My opinion is that A List Apart offers the highest level of HTML (and similar technologies) understanding. Which lead to my confusion: are only some of the articles aimed for professionals while others are well-suited for beginners? Or, since after following the HTML Goodies Primers I learned much of everything else as it came up in actual work experience, that my knowledge is scattered? Perhaps, I have an understanding of some seemingly expert-level front-end development concepts, while missing other, intermediate or even beginner-level concepts? At the moment, I can't answer those questions. And, that brings up two problems: Even though I spend almost every hour living inside Web Development, can I claim expertise? I don't have any physical or widely-accepted certification—just experience. This is a problem, because I don't want to lie and I don't want to claim more than I mean. Another problem is, where do I go from here? How do I determine what level of knowledge I have of Web Development, and how do I properly determine the next step of progression?