Ignorance, Expose Thyself!


Today, I made friends with a sticky note.

image When you get stuck at Dev Bootcamp (and you’re bound to get stuck at Dev Bootcamp), you can do one of three things:

1) Abandon the problem and start doing something else, hoping you’ll learn enough from your next challenge to solve the one that tripped you up.

 2) Grit your teeth and muscle through the problem, using Google as a hammer to pound it into submission, deep understanding and good design practices be damned.

3) Put a sticky note on your monitor so one of the half dozen roving instructors (or a bored boot a Phase or two ahead of you) can see that you need help and stop by to answer your question.

Last week, I was too stubborn about #2 to try #1 on for size at all, let alone #3. Looking back, I know the instructors knew I was stuck almost all the time, but they wisely held off until I got exasperated enough to ask them for help.

Blogging helps me reflect. As I wrote about my building stress and exhaustion last week, a lightbulb switched on. Maybe, if I was going to stay so invested in doing all the challenges without any outside help, I would have been better off staying home, self-instructing over several years’ time, and saving several grand in the process.

My choice was clear: I could change how I had been trying to shove all this information into my skull, or I could collect my refund (minus deposit) and go be as stubbornly proud as I wanted to be, on my own time, somewhere else.

I elected to stay. I elected to sticky.

Last week, I got through all the challenges (barely) on Monday and Tuesday, and came up miserably short for the rest of the week. There are stretch challenges assigned every day, in case you finish the core work early, and I remember heading home at 9pm jealous of the several boots who had found the time to knock out chunks of stretch code while I was scrambling toward mediocrity each day.

Today, I asked for help nine times and left at 7:30 after completing at least half of the day’s only stretch challenge, which I’d started before the 5:00 gong. This is the pace I dreamed of hitting when I started a week ago. This is the pace I want to keep up.

Keeping this pace won’t require much, just a patient pair, some self-adhesive paper…and the slow and agonizing death of my over active ego.

All my life, I’ve prided myself on being The Guy. In school, I was The Guy Who Never Had To Study. After school, I was The Guy Who Could Sing Really Well. On occasion, I was The Guy With All The Tangentially Relevant But Fascinating Factoids. Being The Guy feels good. People recognize you. No one forgets your name. You have a go-to Thing about you that you can lean on, a key attribute to master, an expertise that insulates you from the danger and discomfort of real growth.

In his awesome (and awesomely free-to-read) book Apprenticeship Patterns, DBC Chicago founder Dave Hoover outlines a comprehensive list of behaviors that, when implemented over time, enhance learning and inspire real personal growth. It’s technically about programming, but the lessons apply to life in general. In the text accompanying the Expose Your Ignorance pattern, Hoover warns that selectively veering toward situations where you already feel competent can lead to a future as an inflexible effort. While the world needs it’s experts, software development needs craftsmen, people capable of making beautiful things from any of a dozen tools.

Let’s face it: Rails may only have a couple years left before it gets overtaken by the next great OOP language. The key, as Sandi Metz writes in POODIR, is to prioritize longevity over perfection: usable in five years beats amazing for two months every time. The same goes for our coding acumen; by emphasizing learning habits that apply to any set of tools, DBC is setting me up for success long after I graduate. I just have to practice using tools that function in any context.

 Like this nifty asking for help gadget. Fits most problems, tons of torque. This week’s going to be about whether I learn how to wield it like a pro.



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