Soft Reset

Advice, opinions, and revelations of a non-traditional Software Engineer.

Getting (re)started

Apr 09, 2021   ·  4 min

When I decided to get back into software development after about a decade of no programming, I had many false starts. The two biggest roadblocks were finding the time and finding direction (what to study).

Finding time

I originally set a goal of something like 20 hours per week to study. It did not seem like that would be difficult to accomplish. At the time, I did not have kids, a house, or any responsibility outside of my 9 to 5 job. The problem was that I envisioned long periods of study time throughout the week. I did not think that I would accomplish anything unless I was putting in 3 or 4 hours at a time.

In reality, finding large blocks of time was extremely difficult, and when they did come up, I was either too tired, or it was too nice outside, or something else distracting. I could not get into the habit. After countless times telling myself “Ok, this week I am going to start and get at least 20 hours of study time in” and even planning out my entire week, I changed my approach.

10 Minutes. I set a goal of 10 minutes per day. That was all it took. It was very easy to find 10 minutes to sit down and read an article, or a few paragraphs of a book, or try out what I had learned the day before. What happened was that once I was in front of my computer, 10 minutes would often turn into 30, or an hour, or 3 hours. There were days where it was only 10 minutes, but forcing myself to do at least 10 minutes every day made the habit-building work and kept it on my mind.

Finding direction

Once I found the time and started, I was not studying or learning anything. I spent hours just planning what I was going to learn. I looked into various college curriculums, looked at book reviews, found online courses, researched ‘most popular programming languages to start with’, and compiled lists and lists of plans. On occasion, I would think “Ok. I am going to start now” and dig into item 1 on my current list. Maybe it was “Introduction to Java”. I would fall back into “planning” again the next day, and then a few days later I would again think “Ok. I’m starting today” and jump into “Introduction to C++”. Plan. Read the first chapter of some “Math for Computer Science” book. Plan. Read the first chapter of some “Python for Beginners” book. Plan. I was getting nowhere, again.

Once I realized what I was doing, it was fairly easy to correct. I threw out all my lists. Moved all the material I compiled into a folder hidden on my computer. Removed all the sites I had bookmarked. And picked up a free online course on Python. That is all I did. If I was going to study, that was the material I went to. Occasionally I would stray, but only to supplement that Python material when I wanted more info on a specific topic or needed help. I stuck to it and finished that course. I took it slowly and made sure I understood it, not just rushing through to advance to the next chapter.

It’s probably been about 8 years since getting started with Python. Do you know how many times I have used Python since then? Maybe 3. All very small 1 or 2 day projects. And every time I have to google how to even get started. But I do not regret starting with a language I rarely use. It got me started. It got me learning. That is all that matters.

Summary

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