There’s a lot you can learn about programming. But do you need to know it all?

I’ve been reading a lot about the Pareto principle. You’ve probably heard it as the 80/20 rule. It says that you get 80% of your results from just 20% of your effort. And it goes beyond that. It applies to anything with positive reinforcement. That’s where you get rewarded for doing well which causes you to do even better which results in an even bigger reward and it just keeps going.

If we try to improve our skills evenly, then this rule applies and says that most of our efforts will result in small improvements overall. Those are the kinds of things you can focus on later. Spending more time learning the most critical skills in programming will lead to the most benefit. I think it’s a great way to start.

Listen to this episode or read the full transcript below for advice on how this applies to you as you learn how to code. I recommend that you listen to some of the previous episodes that will help you the most.

Transcript

I’ve been reading a lot about the Pareto principle. You’ve probably heard it as the 80/20 rule. It says that you get 80% of your results from just 20% of your effort. And it goes beyond that. It applies to anything with positive reinforcement. That’s where you get rewarded for doing well which causes you to do even better which results in an even bigger reward and it just keeps going.

If we try to improve our skills evenly, then this rule applies and says that most of our efforts will result in small improvements overall. Those are the kinds of things you can focus on later. Spending more time learning the most critical skills in programming will lead to the most benefit. I think it’s a great way to start.

Now, it may not be exactly 80/20. That’s not really what this is all about. Don’t get too caught up in the numbers. There’s three main points to understand.

• The first, I’ve already mentioned. This applies to anything with positive reinforcement. If you’re learning a new skill and seeing that you can write software that keeps getting better, that’s positive reinforcement.
• The second is that 80/20 is just a guideline. Sometimes, it can be 70/30 or sometimes 95/5.
• And the third is something I’ve only recently become aware of after reading the book 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall. In this book, the author describes how the 80/20 rule applies to itself. And to itself again and again as long as you have the numbers to support it. So if you get 80% of your results from just 20% of your effort, then you get 64% of your results from just 4% of your effort. That’s the 80/20 rule applied to itself.

What’s this have to do with you?

Well, if you’re learning how to program in school, chances are very high that you’ll be learning a little bit of everything. If you’re learning on your own, you might have already figured this out but probably struggle picking through all the topics and deciding how important each one is right now. And if you’re attending a bootcamp, then you’re getting swamped with a lot of information in a short time about a few topics.

This podcast has always been focused on short topics with examples you can relate to. But I probably could do a lot better about helping you to pick out just the important things. Even if it just means that I call out what are the most important ideas in each episode.

What do you think about this? I’d love to get your feedback and ideas. You can visit takeupcode.com and leave a comment at the bottom of episode 239. Just click on the menu at the top that says Podcast and then find episode 239. All the episodes have a comment form at the bottom where you can leave your thoughts and suggestions. You can even use your mobile phone to visit and leave a comment.

This podcast is also different than a lot of podcasts out there. Each episode builds on previous episodes. I try to avoid repeating topics and instead refer you to earlier episodes where something has already been explained. The best way to get all the episodes is to subscribe to the podcast.

So taking this new approach, I’d like to start out by identifying some past episodes that I think are particularly valuable to you and will help you the most. Feel free to listen to any of the past episodes that catch your interest. Some of the ones you’ll want to definitely listen to are:

• Pointers starting with episode #8. This is a topic that will serve you well in any language. A lot of people think pointers are scary. I’ll show you just how natural they can be.
• Methods starting with episode #11. Whether you’re programming with objects or procedures, you’ll need methods.
• Big-O notation starting with episode #37 will give you a way to understand how well your software design really works.
• Collections starting at episode #39 and especially the Array and Dictionary collections will help you hold information in memory and work with it so your program can actually do something.
• Recursion is discussed in episode #54 and will help you to solve difficult problems by making the problem smaller and smaller until it’s simple and then working back up to the final result.
• And I’ll end with the series on design patterns starting at #59 and datatypes beginning at #107. These two series will show you how to solve common problems and all the simple data types you can use to build more complicated solutions.