Learn Something Smart

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It’s almost been 5 months now since I made the jump to my “plan Z” and decided to teach myself web design and development, and I am finally starting to feel like I made a really really good decision. I knew from the start that learning how to code was going to require a lot of time before I might be able to start making anything awesome, and I would say I was generally right. Learning to code has not been “hard”, however it has been extremely time consuming. Like when learning any literary language, learning programming languages first requires a good understanding of language theory, and secondly a good understanding of the languages vocabulary. All those foreign words you see in computer code only look foreign because you haven’t learned them yet, and I am really starting to realize that.

The truth is, only you can hold yourself in the "stupid" category.

One of the biggest obstacles I have been able to overcome in my recent spat of learning is the human tendency to require instant gratification. Especially with learning to code, it could take weeks to accomplish some things that may seem pretty small. On multiple occasions I've spent the better part of 48+ hours debugging code that turn out to be tediously small syntax errors that cause the whole thing to quark. Just like a good construction worker has a full tool belt and the skills to wield them, a good programmer should have an equally well equipped mental tool belt. Every small technique learned is like adding a new tool to your toolbelt.

Just like a good construction worker has a full tool belt and the skills to wield them, a good programmer should have an equally well equipped mental tool belt.

On a slightly related note, today I was thinking to myself about my own conceptions regarding the differences between “smart” and “stupid”. While there are obviously infinitely different ways you could compare smart vs stupid, I was thinking more around the sense that “smart” connotations are usually considered to be more difficult to obtain, while “stupidity” is generally easier. For so much of my younger life I held myself back because I assumed that I wasn’t smart enough to be able to understand (personally) daunting fields like upper division mathematics or programming. The truth is, only you can hold yourself in the "stupid" category. And just to clarify, I do not only consider areas like the sciences as respectable “hard” categories of endeavor. Anything can be hard to an individual, for example social interaction was just as difficult for me in my younger years as math, which is one of the reasons I chose to go to a big University and join a fraternity; to help expand my social capabilities. Believing that coding was “hard” was one of the reasons I never tried it till after College. I used to look at simple HTML and think “WOW, I can’t believe people actually write that!” Fast-forward to today and I now think HTML is a piece of crumble cake, because I chose to get past the “hard” part and actually try and learn it. This got me thinking more about the things that I currently find hard, like difficult programming techniques that I’m still beyond foggy on, and I know they just seem hard because I haven’t learned them yet. A lot of the things I think are difficult will probably be pretty simple once I get around to fully learning them, and until that time my mind will try and seduce me into thinking they are too hard to master. So if you have ever thought about learning something hard, stop being stupid and get in there and learn it!

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Riley scribbled this article down on: March 21, 2013
  • Mark Hilliard

    Add philosopher to your tool belt… Nice observations about what holds most people back from being brilliant. It is a matter of interest, drive and determination to see or experience a black hole in your life. I remain impressed by your focus to see beyond your previous limitations, a quality that has always been a part of your character.

    By being fearless in your approach to learning, the only thing holding you back will be the time required to master your black holes!


  • Annette Calo

    “Simply Brilliant ” !!!! The simplicity of your language makes for easy reading / and that I want to read the whole blog !!! Thank- You for that important factor in reaching “All” of us !!! Bullseye = Perfect off the chart score !!! Your graphics are of a “Whimsical ” effect that seem to keep it light and inviting !!! New York Times ~ says ” Best in Show “

    • http://rileyh.com Riley Hilliard

      Haha, thanks for the support Annette!

  • Ryan Carson

    This is awesome Riley – thanks for sharing! :) Also, I freaking love all the Treehouse Badges on your site!

    • http://rileyh.com Riley Hilliard

      Thanks so much Ryan! Yeah, I’ve been pretty blown away by the awesomeness of Treehouse. An upcoming article I have scheduled to write will be on Treehouse in particular. Pretty revolutionary learning platform. It has helped me immensely.

  • Kenny Madrid

    The definition of smart is characterized by sharp quick thought; bright. SomeTHING cannot be smart because it can’t think. I’d rephrase, dummy.

    • http://rileyh.com Riley Hilliard

      Haha, the good ‘ol Kenny word police! You’re wrong; I met a super smart rock once.