Just learn to code
I’ve been studying Italian for more than a year now.
Wrong. Let’s start once again.
Instead of studying Italian, I was picturing myself as fluent in Italian at-some-point-in-the-future, enjoying Italian music, watching Italian-inspired movies, and drinking espresso on a daily basis. My process of learning Italian contained a lot of activities except one - deliberate practice. As a result, I didn’t become fluent in Italian, and you won’t get either if your plan is mostly about drinking coffee.
How does it relate to programming? For quite some time I was observing myself in the process of learning Italian, struggling with the gap between my thoughts and actions. This gap is something that a lot of students bring up when they reach out to me, seeking tips and suggestions on how to become a programmer.
What a lot of beginners experience after a few weeks of the initial excitement is lost motivation. Problems that emerge seem to be more difficult than expected, programming feels kinda boring, and projects you build are rather silly. Maybe this job is not as rewarding as they promised you to be? Or maybe the problem is somewhere else, and it has nothing to do with the goal you want to pursue?
Recently I come across a book titled “A Brief Introduction to the Progress-Focused Approach” which seems to include answers to the dilemma described above.
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Both my struggles with Italian and your struggles with programming may be explained quite well by one of the chapters of this book that is covering so-called “Autonomous motivation” - a type of motivation that is deeply internalized, connected to something useful, value-driven, and interest-driven. Coert Visser, the author of this book, differentiates between ‘mustivation’ and ‘wantivation’ - two polar opposites of the often misunderstood concept of motivation.
As the book suggests, it takes as many as four requirements to make the motivation sustainable, and the path toward the goal achievable.
In order to become a programmer, a cook, a speaker of a foreign language, a painter, or anyone else, it’s not enough to focus on the end goal. What’s surprising, the end goal may be the easiest part of defining the journey. The most difficult part is to ask yourself why the hell you should even start the journey, and if you truly believe it’s the journey for you.
My own adventures with Italian are constantly balancing between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Since I’m not a huge fan of learning something new just for the sake of learning, Italian doesn’t check all the boxes of autonomous motivation. It may, and probably will have a marginal influence on my professional career. I’m not going to relocate to Italy any time soon, and I don’t have many relationships requiring obtaining this skill. This is why I’m struggling. I didn’t give up yet, because there are parts of my inner self that are pushing me to continue in that direction, but they are also easily beaten up by the competition of engineering management, AI, knowledge sharing, and content creation - activities that directly influence who I am and where I want to be in the future.
Isn’t it the same with your struggles? It’s worth asking yourself how did you come up with this plan of becoming a programmer. Was it influenced by external factors - friends, status, pride, media, or trends, or maybe the internal ones - your values, your passion, your interests, your preferences for how you spend your time when everything is up to you?
Don’t get me wrong - this writing is not to demotivate you and disallow you to pursue such an amazing opportunity of becoming a software engineer. It’s only to let you understand the source of struggles, and maybe provoke you to approach this problem from a different angle. Maybe the solution lies in a different framing of the journey you’re on. Maybe you need to find some down-to-earth hooks to keep you in, such as financial or psychological incentives. Maybe you need to socialize more to feel like a part of a bigger movement that is changing the world.
Or maybe - just maybe - it’s worth considering different ideas for your next move?