The Two Practices of Learning to Program

As a Software Engineer, at some point you’ll understand the basics. If/then, looping, objects, a language or two, and how to run and debug your programs. Once those basics are covered, which usually takes only a couple of months of concerted effort, there are only two next steps required to improve: read a lot of code and write a lot of code. That’s it. These two activities will set you up with the deliberate practices required to improve as a coder.

Read a Lot of Code

Reading a lot of code can take a lot of different forms. Books, blog posts, video lessons, source code in open source repositories, colleague’s work, code review, and documentation can all count. If you are taking in resources that help you better understand programming, you’re reading code. This is where you’ll learn about new approaches to problems. By steeping yourself in code you’ll take in knowledge. This knowledge will make you a better programmer over time. You won’t be able to avoid it.

Write a Lot of Code

Taking in the knowledge isn’t enough. You need to apply the knowledge to make it stick and add it to your tool chest. Writing a lot of code may be programming for a job, working on an open source project, creating your own programs, or automating stuff in your own work or life. It could be research. You could be building yourself toy programs just to play with. It doesn’t matter what, in particular, that you build, but you must build something. This is the deliberate practice where you apply what you have learned.

Open a book. Open an Editor. Build something.

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