TTT #15: Learning How to Learn as a Developer

Stephen CollinsOct 21, 2023

In today’s rapidly evolving tech landscape, the most valuable skill a developer can possess isn’t a proficiency in a specific language or framework. Rather, it’s the ability to learn and adapt swiftly. This week, I examine the art of “Learning How to Learn” as a developer.

1. Understand the Learning Curve

Every developer, regardless of expertise, has faced the daunting learning curve of a new technology or concept. Recognize that the initial phase is often the steepest. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Remember, the “Aha!” moment is just around the bend.

2. Active vs. Passive Learning

Passively watching tutorials can give a false sense of mastery. To genuinely internalize a concept, engage in active learning. This can be in the form of building projects, writing code snippets, or teaching someone else.

3. Embrace the ‘Beginner’s Mind’

In the words of Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Approach each learning experience with openness and curiosity, devoid of preconceptions.

4. Connect the Dots

Learning isn’t linear. Often, understanding a complex topic can be accelerated by relating it to something you already know. The more connections you make, the more coherent and comprehensive your understanding becomes.

5. Take Breaks

Ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? It’s a time management method that breaks work into intervals, typically 25 minutes, separated by short breaks. These regular pauses can boost your productivity and give your brain a much-needed rest. While I’m not suggesting strict adherence to this method, I do advocate taking regular, frequent breaks when trying to learn something new.

6. Join a Community

Engage with a community, whether it’s online forums, social media, local coding groups, or international conferences. Discussing, debating, and sharing ideas with peers can provide fresh perspectives and insights.

7. Seek Feedback

Iterate on your code and ideas by seeking feedback. Whether it’s through code reviews or mentorship, external input can highlight blind spots and offer new strategies.

8. Embrace Failure

Thomas Edison once remarked, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Every error, bug, or failed project is a stepping stone to mastery. Don’t fear them; learn from them.

9. Keep a Learning Journal

Document your journey. Jot down challenges, solutions, and insights. This not only serves as a future reference but also helps consolidate your understanding. Even just updating READMEs on your projects can help refresh your understanding in the future when you revisit something.

10. Stay Updated

The tech world is ever-evolving. Subscribe to blogs, podcasts, and newsletters (like this one!) to stay informed about the latest trends and best practices - you don’t want to end up a dinosaur!

In conclusion, learning how to learn is a meta-skill that can exponentially accelerate your growth as a developer. Embrace the journey, cherish the challenges, and remember: every expert was once a beginner.