July 14, 2018

Learning is frustrating and uncomfortable

Katherine and I had Vaidehi Joshi on our podcast Friends Talk Frontend yesterday, and we asked her about her learning habits while she was working on basecs. Basecs—for people who are unfamiliar with it—is a blog (now a podcast and a video series) where she set out to learn and teach computer science concepts every week. For a whole year. If you do the math, that's 52 topics about computer science. (In reality, she wrote 50 blog posts. That is still a whole lot of topics to learn about.)

What amazed me is her grit and persistence in learning. She said that she worked almost every day of the week, working on a topic, chipping away at the concepts involved, and making that into a tutorial.

She mentioned how it's like going to the gym: you work on yourself, little by little, until you gradually get better at it and see results. You might find that this is completely different from how learning is marketed online especially when it comes to programming. Here's a screenshot of my Instagram feed where people are told that a 12-week programming boot camp would basically guarantee them an average of $105,000 per year:

Image: A screenshot of my Instagram feed where the company App Academy advertises that its students make $105k salary on average.

Now this could very well be true and their graduates might have actually found jobs that gave them, as a whole, an average salary of $105k. But I think it implicitly tells people that it only takes a short amount of time to get rich, and 12 weeks is really all that's needed to get your prize money for doing such a good job with the course.

In reality, getting good at something takes time. On top of that, technology is in constant flux so it's important to know that there's no such thing as a finish line here.

Note that I'm not shitting on boot camps—I think all this learning and availability of resources for people is great! But I do think that a lot of the boot camps are creating unrealistic expectations from the students. Just like the gym metaphor, people will try to sell you diets and workouts that promise to make you fit and strong in no time. We're human, and we want to believe that there are hacks and shortcuts. But, as we all know, that doesn't really work as we expect it to be.

It takes time for your body to adapt. Likewise, it takes time for your brain to make sense of what it's learning.