The Long Road

When I started programming, I was hoping to be a professional programmer within a year. Maybe two. I pictured myself as an expert, and studied the minutia of Python. If I memorized the documentation, I’d be an expert, wouldn’t I?

This apprenticeship pattern describes why that line of thinking is false. Becoming an expert is a lifelong experience, and the expert realizes there is always more to learn. It warns against taking the best, highest-paying job as soon as possible. Instead, value learning and accept the role of an apprentice.

I beat myself up for not pursuing my interest in programming when I was a child. I asked a cousin how he programmed video games when I was 10 years old, but didn’t write my first line of code for 5 years. Even then, I found the task daunting. Obsessing over details slowed me down. I didn’t completely dive into bigger projects until my 20’s.

The best learning experience I’ve had was an internship. I had freedom to try new things, make mistakes, and overcome challenges. I built a large project on my own, which my team loved. At a larger company, I would have likely worked on a much smaller piece of a huge puzzle. The experience of starting on my own will pay dividends for my entire career.

Similarly, while returning to college after a few years of programming was frustrating, it was helpful. I had thought CS-101 would be a complete waste of time. Instead, it was a chance to dive deeper into subjects I was already familiar with and gain exposure to concepts I hadn’t. It provided a foundation, which is the essence of this pattern.

This section of the book says there is no one so far ahead that you cannot catch up if you think decades ahead. This idea is an extreme relief to those of us who started a bit late. It’s tempting to compare ourselves to the teenage CEOs of the world and take shortcuts to catch up tomorrow. But I plan to write software for the rest of my career, so this pattern is a reminder to take my time, enjoy the process, and understand that consistent, continual effort will get my skills where I’d like them to be.

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