Learn That Language/Framework Faster!

The one thing I like more than coding and fancy tacos is dropping the kind of knowledge you can’t get in a college. Every Sunday, I put on my teaching hat and work a with a small class of students at a part time web development bootcamp. I also work as a full time web dev so Sunday’s class is usually a breeze for me… for the students, not so much.

HTML and CSS are usually the fun weeks. ‘Oh cool! Some shit appeared on a screen.’ Neato. Bootstrap adds another layer of complexity and then things get a little hairy… the moment I introduce variables, booleans and conditional statements in javascript, things go south in a hurry. That word ‘var’ just scares people. Because our class only meets once a week, I encourage students to do a lot studying on their own. I’ll admit, it can be a little frustrating watching students struggle through a basic for loop for the 30th time. Why don’t they just get it? Now, in all fairness, I work with javascript (and other languages) 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, so it’s easy for me to forget just how difficult it is learning new things. Well, now I find myself in their shoes…

You see, two weeks ago I got a job offer at a startup (of course… fuck, I am a stereotypical Bay Area dev now). Cool motherfucking beans! Now, comes the hard part: I’ve been using AngularJS, C# and .Net for the last two years and Node, React and Python at home. Well, this company uses EmberJS, Ruby on Rails and Postgres. Shit. Here I am on day 12 after I heard the news and I feel comfortable enough with Ember after studying a bit after work each day to hack together a crappy front end app. Two years ago I also didn’t know .Net, C#, or AngularJS. I’ve found a pretty decent method to learning things (well enough) to be dangerous in a relatively short amount of time. Here it is:

Mix Up Your Learning Methods

Some people need books, some need videos, and others might need a paint-by-numbers style tutorial. I need all of these and more. I will use at least three mediums to learn a new language/framework. I will scour the net for blogs, short books and of course the docs on said topic and see what I can glean. My goal here is to get some basic information and best practices and to know what I’m dealing with. I’lll usually buy a cheap Udemy course after that (usually around $10) and work my way through about half of it. The reason I rarely finish these courses is because they become more of a crutch than anything around the midway point (more on that later). Lastly, I might find a meetup, join a slack channel or listen to podcasts about this new language/framework and check out some open source work to see some good examples of it in action.

Tutorial != Understanding

I used to complete a tutorial and read a book about a language and think I’d be an expert as soon as I was done. When I needed to learn C#, I bought a book then completed a 19 hour tutorial the week before work at my new job began! I went into work that Monday at my new job and had absolutely no fucking clue how to write C#. I knew what a static void, namespace, class and other trivial shit was but that didn’t help me write production level code. While I encourage reading and tutorials to my students, I always warn them about relying too much on books or tutorials. How may times have you finished a tutorial which is essentially coding by numbers (they type then you follow) and then when you go to fire up a new project, armed with your newfound skills, you are utterly lost? I’ve been there.

Build Shit

Ok, you’ve read about this new tech and have a general understanding of how it works and some of the gotchas. Check! You completed a few video tutorials or some todo app. Double motherfucking check! Sweet. Now here’s the part where you get lost in the weeds: think of something very simple that is reasonable to build over a week. Great. Now build that shit. You will be stuck, you will be frustrated and you will be googling furiously, perhaps cursing out the inventor of said language. “Why isn’t this more like here?!” You should be cycling back to steps 1 and 2 during this stage to supplement your barebones skills and by the end you will likely have a crappy app that shouldn’t see the light of day.

Congrats, you now know more than 92% of all people who complete a Udemy course or pick up one of those ‘Dummies’ books.

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