Teach Yourself Programming in 10 years

Programming is an art and a science. It’s a life-long passion, not something you will learn in 7-days, 30-days, or even a semester.

Learning one language is not learning how to program. Peter Norvig, in his 2001 article, “Teach Yourself Programming in 10 Years” summarizes this up:

Researchers (Bloom (1985), Bryan & Harter (1899), Hayes (1989), Simmon & Chase (1973)) have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, telegraph operation, painting, piano playing, swimming, tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again. There appear to be no real shortcuts: even Mozart, who was a musical prodigy at age 4, took 13 more years before he began to produce world-class music. In another genre, the Beatles seemed to burst onto the scene with a string of #1 hits and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. But they had been playing small clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg since 1957, and while they had mass appeal early on, their first great critical success, Sgt. Peppers, was released in 1967.

Being a programmer is a state-of-mind. And if it your passion, those ten years will fly past before you know it.

Here’s some points that Peter lists as Secrets to Success:
* Get interested in programming, and do some because it is fun. Make sure that it keeps being enough fun so that you will be willing to put in ten years.

* Talk to other programmers; read other programs. This is more important than any book or training course.

* Program. The best kind of learning is learning by doing.

* Work on projects with other programmers. Be the best programmer on some projects; be the worst on some others. When you’re the best, you get to test your abilities to lead a project, and to inspire others with your vision. When you’re the worst, you learn what the masters do, and you learn what they don’t like to do (because they make you do it for them).

* Work on projects after other programmers. Be involved in understanding a program written by someone else. See what it takes to understand and fix it when the original programmers are not around. Think about how to design your programs to make it easier for those who will maintain it after you.

* Learn several programming languages. Include one language that supports class abstractions (like Java or C++).

So, as you struggle with that obtuse error message, or work through a re-design or a re-design for a program that just didn’t work right keep in mind that challenge to move out just beyond your current ability; making yourself an expert in your field.

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