This is not a college course where you only need to show up for attendance, turn in your homework, cram for some tests, and claim your credit hours. You’re not being graded at all here. You are the judge of how well you have learned a topic and how well you can apply what you have learned in your programming. How then do you know if you’re doing good? How do you know if you are progressing without a number telling you how many credit hours you have completed?

The true measure of effort is being able to do something you could not do before.

You just need to watch as week by week, you are able to do things that you could not do before. The difference between any week and the next will sometimes feel small. We’re all logarithmic creatures.

What?

No, this is not a math lesson although logarithms are a math topic you’ll learn about. What I mean by this is that all of our senses and perceptions are based on logarithms and at the beginning it’s easy to spot new skills. We get excited when we learn a new skill and can use it to build something. But as time progresses, those new skills become harder to spot.

Think of it this way. You’re in a room that is so quiet you can almost hear your own heart beating. You drop a pin onto the hard floor and can hear each bounce clearly. Now some of your friends start talking and the window is opened to sounds from outside and you can no longer hear the pin drop. Does the pin somehow make less noise when the room is full of sound? No it’s just harder to detect because our senses are designed to require larger changes as the input increases. Another example is how car headlights seem much brighter at night than during the day. Are the headlights producing more light at night? No. It’s easier to see a bright light at night just like it’s easier to hear a soft sound when it’s quiet. And it’s easier to spot a new skill when we are just starting out.

Knowing this ahead of time actually helps. Since you’re prepared for it, you’ll now understand that your first lesson or two will be full of discoveries and you will be writing your first program right away and it will all be new and exciting. There will always be new things a month later or a year later. Just remember that our perception shifts as we progress so while you may be learning new skills at the same rate (or sometimes even faster), it can seem like you’re slowing down as time progresses. Don’t focus on the time. Keep trying new things and going after the results.

Make sure you have small steps to judge progress at first and larger steps later.

This will match your measure of progress with your current ability to detect meaningful advances. You should avoid measuring your effort with time or work alone. It’s easy for us to fall into this trap because it is so common for people to equate years of experience with how much ability a person has. This is a shortcut that really has no true meaning beyond a certain point. Would you buy a car just because a salesperson told you it took ten years to design? No. You’re much better to make sure the car fits your needs and meets specific guidelines such as safety.

This doesn’t mean that experience is unimportant. Just that time as a measure of skills is a poor choice. True experience is something that you gain over time by practicing. Some skills take a while for our brains to grow into them. Just like it takes a while for muscles to grow when lifting weights, it takes a while for our neurons to grow new permanent connections.

Think of time more as an opportunity for you to try new designs and see for yourself which ones work and you’ll be getting closer to the true measure of your effort. In order for you to get the most out of your time, you must continue to push yourself to try new things.

The next time somebody asks you how much experience you have, instead of replying with some vague number of years, you’ll be able to list what you have done and how that translates into what you can accomplish. And remember that the size of your steps also says a lot about how far you have progressed. When you’re beginning something and you want to take inventory of your results, the things you list will all be small and it is the number of them that provides a good indication of your skill level. But later, you don’t want to try describing a big achievement with thousands of pin drop examples. Your list of results will shrink in number but grow in overall size.

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