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Time to prove my Seventeen Year Old Self Wrong

by Nicholas Barnard on January 14th, 2014

I finished my first day of Code Fellows today. We’re supposed to blog frequently about what we’re learning, its a good way of reinforcing learning. Sort of like in those big college lecture halls where I took notes to make sure I paid attention and to run it through more parts of my brain. I barely ever looked at the notes afterwards. However, today’s blog entry won’t be technical. That is not what I need today.

It’s weird for me going back to school. The last time I was in a classroom was eight years ago, and I’ve only taken a few online classes since then.

Code Fellows is split up into lessons in the morning, and working time in the afternoon. In the lessons I followed along just fine. When we got to the afternoon bit, several of my classmates appeared to be done with the assignment by the time I arrived and starting working on it. Peeking at some of their bios online, a few of them have studied computer science in college, and others are freshly out of college having studied random subjects.

I completed the assignment with time to spare. I know the spots where I’ve made tradeoffs that I’ll probably have to rip out tomorrow, and I’m fine with that. I’m working to be reasonably comfortable with the idea of producing crap. I know that writing code and creating applications is like anything else: you’ve gotta do it to get better at it.

I have become a better musician. I just watched my Handbell Quartet’s first performance, and we were horrible. Its painful for me to watch that three year old performance. We could have given up at that time and moved on. However, we continued rehearsing and started rehearsing more. We got better, slowly but surely. We’ve reached the point, that a week after my quartet performed at church, I was still receiving compliments including, one guy who told me, “that was fucking awesome.”

In the same way, I know I have gotten better at writing code. I just peeked at code that I wrote 18 years ago. I know it worked. I used it daily to commit around 10,000 copyright violations per day. However, it is horrible, horrible, horrible code, and I can’t glance at it and tell you how it worked. There are so many things wrong with it, that I could write a few blog entries about it. In short, it has barely any abstraction, the variable names are not really readable, the code is spread out over multiple files, in multiple different languages. It makes a Ford Pinto seem well designed.

However, my progress at writing better code has come in fits and starts. I haven’t been as consistently dedicated to becoming a better programmer as I have been dedicated to be coming a better musician. I’ve become a better musician because I’ve consistently practiced and worked at becoming a better musician. Part of that consistency for me has been making music as a part of a group. Another important part of becoming a better musician, has been making music as part of a larger community. I’ve invested the time in going to conferences, learning from other musicians, discussing making music, and appreciating the music of others.

I recognize that for me to become develop myself as a computer programmer, I need to do that as a member of a group and a community. I initially avoided going to college to become a computer programmer because I believed it was an anti-social activity. I know that does not have to be the case.

I know I need to work consistently. My precalculus teacher once wrote that Nick “… is plenty smart, but more than a little bit lazy by my standards. He’s usually a great participant in class discussions, one of the first to answer correctly during discovery lessons. But the rest of the students catch up and then often surpass him through homework preparation and study. It seems a pity he doesn’t use his gifts better.” That quote still haunts me in its accuracy. I can’t blame my seventeen year old self for my performance in that Precalc class. There are some days I’m amazed, that given what I was dealing with in life, my teenage self was as successful as he was. (Which is to say, I graduated from high school while managing not to inflict major harm upon myself or others.)

Now, I have a pretty good handle on all of the issues that have held me back from fully utilizing my gifts. That isn’t to say all of those issues have completely disappeared, but I now they’re minor bumps and I can get back to where I want to be quickly.

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