I’ve always been told I was a smart kid. I got straight A’s through high school and when I got to college, I was still passing my classes with little trouble. I often received praise from my parents and my peers, all labeling me as “smart.” Perhaps it was because I often spent my time reading books (fictional stories, mind you). Perhaps I have a knack for remembering odd details. Regardless, I did a great job at fooling everyone into thinking I was some kind of prodigal scholar.
While I don’t disagree that I have a sharp mind, I found myself on the opposite end of the spectrum when I decided to go to code school. You see, us “smart” folks don’t have to study. I never had to actually learn because I was able to pick things up very quickly in traditional school settings. All I had to do was sit through a single lecture and I could absorb enough information to win myself an A+. But programming doesn’t work like that. The knowledge of even a single programming language is so vast and dense that only the internet could be a reliable teacher. You learn everything you know about programming by getting your hands dirty in the code—not lectures or textbooks, which is something I didn’t know how to do.
It wasn’t long before I hit a mental wall. With the curriculum designed to teach you enough to be considered a junior programmer relatively quickly, I guess I shouldn’t be terribly surprised that all the spaghetti didn’t stick the first time around. Yet, I couldn’t help but constantly compare myself to the other students. Everyone else was so good! Suddenly, after twenty years of being in the top 5% of the class, I wasn’t at the top of this class. This compounded my frustration and really made it hard to stay motivated, because, from my perspective, I was not doing as well as everyone else in the class.
Now, that’s a terrible hole to try to get out of, so I really had to sit down with myself (multiple times) and remind myself that the skills I had now are exponentially greater than the skills I had last week. Despite where in the class I fell when it came to speed and efficiency (which, by the way, are TERRIBLE markers for judging a beginner’s grasp on programming) when compared to everyone else, the only metric that mattered was that I was leveling up my skills faster than I had in any other learning environment.
While I went to code school with the sole intention to learn how to code, I feel like I left with something much more valuable—the ability to learn. Yes, folks. At twenty-five years old, I have finally learned how to learn. Not only that, but I also learned that learning is not a competitive sport and it really doesn’t matter how quickly you learn, so long as you continue to build on that knowledge each day. Even now, I don’t know everything about programming, but I know where to look and how to figure it out, which is a skill more valuable than anything anyone could have taught me. And – I have to say—figuring all that out feels pretty smart.