My rambling thoughts on Learning to Code


A few rambling thoughts on Learning to Code

Just my own personal observations about my learning. Thought I’d share it. YMMV.

Anyone can learn to code, young or old.

(may be controversial) The younger ones may absorb facts faster than us, older folks… so we older folks need to study smarter, not harder. :slight_smile:

Good sleep/rest/breaks is a must – or the brain just shuts down and can’t absorb any more.

(unscientific?) It’s during this break/rest/sleep stage where my brain tries to organize this new fact I just learned. I call this the “simmering/percolating” stage. It’s like a new piece of a jigsaw puzzle landed inside my brain, and now the brain is trying to find its rightful place. It’s at this stage where “I get it/I understand it now” and the whole bigger picture appears more clearer as the different pieces land on their correct spots. Or maybe not… then it’s just filed somewhere for later recall.

Don’t feel guilty about sleeping, working out, going out, watching a movie or taking a break. These distractions and rest phase are good for the brain. Your brain is still working subconsciously. Take naps! It enhances learning… (back to the simmering analogy).

Computer Books are expensive ($35-$50) typically. I try to avoid buying them and try to find free alternatives (reference sites, free PDFs, blogs, etc).

But I find that when I do actually buy the physical book (not a PDF version) and hold the book in my hands, read it, mark it up, write notes all over it, totally OWN/AB-USE the book – that I get a lot more out of it. i.e. my learning seems deeper.

I look at my bookshelf and noticed books that were really used/abused, wrinkled, bookmarked, dog-eared, with coffee/soda ring marks, dried food crumbs, with broken/worn down spines are the ones that I learned a lot from. I don’t know why… maybe the simple act of spending “real money” on the book makes me want to extract the most information out of it. i.e. “Heck yeah, I’m going to get back my $50 (and maybe multiply it more) out of this book!”

Now, when reading a chapter/topic that I don’t understand, I just keep reading… no need to get stressed over it. Somehow, the brain will organize this new, confusing information later on. And put 2 and 2 together. Take a break, sleep on it!

Which also means, it’s okay to use another resource (another book, another video/course, website, PDF) to read about the same topic. Read something different or use a different mode of learning (watching video). Sometimes the video instructor will mention something casually off-hand or re-iterate something that makes you “AHA! I geeetttt it.” i.e. what you read in the book, and what he said… put them together, and it finally makes sense now. And then going back and re-reading the same confusing chapter/topic may now provide more clarity.

Most of my learning happens when I’m DEBUGGING. The problem could be my own doing (typo, missed a line of code, undeclared variable) or the problem could be caused by the author/book publisher (typo, different software version used). I try to compile the code and suddenly I’m greeted with an error message (or several, like a domino effect).

I try to solve the cryptic error message, trying out different things, searching google, reading the official docs site, and when I finally solve the issue and the program compiles and run successfully and produces the expected result, it’s a big CHEER and victory dance! YES!!! GOT IT!!! AHA!!! So that’s how that works! I understand now!

Don’t get me wrong. Debugging is not fun, sometimes its long stretches of time blankly staring at the screen, but your mind is actively executing the code in your brain… trying to understand it, trying to get into the other person’s mode of thinking. But at the end of the process, you’ve learned a ton of new things.

Second to debugging, most of my learning happens when I’m writing my OWN code. (not retyping what I saw in the video, or saw in the book.) Maybe writing my very OWN code is related to the above process of debugging… because usually, it’s going to need some fixups to make it work correctly.

Note that debugging and writing your own code are “hands-on” activities… not passive, like reading or watching a tutorial video.

If you’re trying to learn woodworking, watching a bunch of videos and reading books about woodworking will not make you cut wood straight, or hammer a nail perfectly. You need actual hands-on practice to actually learn woodworking! — well, it’s the same with programming! You need to actually write code, debug code to learn programming!

Just like the learning woodworker, a learning programmer learns the most from their mistakes! So you’ll know what to do (or not to do) next time!

Programming is hard. You’re basically trying to teach your dumb machine some new trick. But with practice, this process gets a little bit easier/faster each time. The more you do it, the better you become. A few, small, steady forward steps added up makes for a big leap in learning. Keep coding my friend!

** Right now, I’m trying to learn .NET Core 1.1 by Microsoft.


I absolutely agree with everything about this… You may be on to something with this peculating phase of the brain …I do drink a lot of coffee, and I sometimes feel like a machine, so that the machine I am happens to be a Keurig makes plenty of sense :laughing:

For really, I find that I come up with stuff that I’ve been having problems with when I stop thinking about it and give myself a break to do something else. It has happened to me where I wake up and within just 10m able to solve the thing that slayed my brain for hours before I fell asleep. The “worst” is when I leave home and walking my dog or going about my business, and suddenly I think of something new Im so sure will work…the time it takes me to get back home and test it out is brutal cause Im so excited to find out.

Your point on books is well noted too… I still have all the books I bought so many years ago to learn HTML4 and CSS…they look miserable and written up in, plenty of coffee stains and all that… but by gosh, I got it. Its not in your head though…there really is a science to it that the physicality in reading a book as opposed to reading something on a tablet or screen affects the way our brain processes information.

It involves more of our bodies process and senses to read a book…holding it, being able to smell the pages, the action of taking a highlighter to physically mark important text requires additional work mentally that in turn makes a larger imprint on our minds to retain the information we are reading. To go a step further…the action of taking notes by taking pen to paper is the same way. Typing or copying / pasting important text for note taking is no where near as involved mentally as physically writing it down, the action of repeating each word by your own hand adds an additional level of cementing that information.

Anyway! Im one who is downright fascinated by the process of learning…which tends to bore most people lol but definitely, you are observing all the same things I have, and have studied up on as far as how our brain best functions when it comes to learning something new.

As for age, oh I don’t know… I think we old goats have a bit of an advantage lol in that…growing up, if I wanted to find something out or learn something new, I had to go to the library and pour through so many books to find it…pretty much everyone went to the library back then. The younger generation though, they can just get on google, and in a matter of seconds find just the little snippet of info they are looking for. While fast and to the point, it doesnt leave that much, if any traction to really put the brain to work to decide how to best go about finding, and then processing the information it comes across. Even worse, some people wont even go on Google, theyd rather just ask someone and get the info without putting in any effort at all.

Of course thats not everyone but…while we may not be able to process information as quickly as we age, we do have the benefit of years of learning how to find, and process the information we come across in a way thats not at all common nowadays. So yeah, I’m not worried. I can still hang with the whipper snappers!:laughing: