Pokémon (Learning) Ruby

I start Phase 0 in less than a week. I know so much more about programming now than I did a month ago. And the direct result of that knowledge is a deep and unsettling sense of not-knowing. The more I learn, the more questions I have. The more answers I find, the harder the questions get.

I’ve been taking study breaks to play Pokémon Ruby, because it’s been a while since I first owned the Elite Four, and because I like Mudkips, and because I’m learning Ruby in real life and I like symmetry. On occasion, a short break will turn into an hourlong Pokébinge and I’ll lose some valuable study time in the process.

Maybe by writing this down, I’ll improve that behavior.

See, it’s not the lost time that bugs me. What bugs me is the fact that I can be more willing to settle for virtual advancement than actual advancement, even when the requirements are almost identical.

The kid needs to catch monsters. I need to grasp lessons. Pokémon evolve with proper training. So does my understanding of methods and blocks and classes. My rival is a little tough but she drives me to maintain a competitive pace. Life is hard but it gets easier when I apply myself. And so forth.

Of course, games aren’t totally identical to life. If I could master real-life Ruby by walking in circles in tall grass and pressing A repeatedly, I would probably have several years of expertise under my belt by now.

And games entice with the promise of completion. Ruby Version has 386 pocket monsters, and I can measure my progress against that maximum. But I’ll never max out my programming knowledge. Ever. So I need to develop a motivation to learn that’s more subtle than “reach 100% and be done with it.”

That’s why Phase 0 can’t start soon enough. To date, I’ve been check listing my prep work, reading required texts and running through required exercises. When I finish something, it’s on to the next thing; when I finish all the somethings, I’m allegedly ready to dive in for real. There’s plenty of optional prep, but the core work follows the Pokémon model of skill development: if I can catch all the prep steps, I’m good.

But I can trigger that exact same reward center by grinding through a game I’ve already beaten, and I don’t like that at all. I’m hungry for a deeper, more nuanced level of engagement, beyond checklists, bigger than games. And it’s tough to satisfy that hunger before I know whether my preparation will hold up.

Luckily my days of toiling in solitude are almost over. Soon I’ll be an official part of a Dev Bootcamp cohort (let’s get it, July Firecrackers!) with real people as eager to learn as I am. So when I want to dive deeper into a concept than the checklist requires, there will probably someone I know willing to go even deeper than I do. And when I feel like I’ve fully understood something, I might be able to cement my mastery by explaining it to someone who needs some clarification.

Dev Bootcamp claims it can help students become better self-driven learners. I’m ready for that help. But in the meantime, I’ll settle for the warm comfy feeling of belonging to a group. I just need to keep the controller at bay for another week, and use that time to get control of the information I’ll be using this summer and beyond.

Beyond. Now there’s a scary word. I’ve been trying to keep my head down, look at just the next step, but I can’t shake this little voice in the back of my brain that constantly reminds me of how big this work is. I’m betting on myself here, betting that I can make the leap from semi-skilled jobs to a STEM career in less than a year. And I’m betting that I’ll be able to continue learning at a good clip after I’ve found work, building more skills and becoming more valuable, forever.

There are a hell of a lot more than 386 things to catch in this world. Is it crazy to want all of them? Probably. But if I don’t push hard, I’ll never get as much knowledge as I could have. I want the full stack, and I don’t even really understand what that is yet. But I want it.

Hopefully Dev Bootcamp will help me get it, by guiding me toward learning habits that are…


…super effective.

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.


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