Use the Source: how to numb your mind faster than a lobotomy

Perhaps it’s just naturally a trait of mine, a coincidence growing up, or perhaps I more broadly reflect societies supposedly shrinking attention span; regardless of the cause, I have very little patience for reading documentation. Instead, I often like to open a sample project, usually the placeholder created by default, and see what happens when changing things around, or how information is passed between files. As such, I oftentimes find roundabout ways of completing tasks in a new language or framework. This results in less than ideal code, even if functioning, that does not follow best practice or any convention the language/framework may have. So therefore, the “Use the Source” spoke to a weakness I have in software development.

It states that one should choose a complex, and necessarily open source, project in the language you are hoping to learn to fork and pore over. In doing so, one can internalize as many of the lessons this code may have to teach, the ways experts write in this language, the “tricks of the trade” if you will; and, as a result, be inspired to apply these concepts in ones own project. This unfortunately, sounds terribly boring. It’s hard enough for me, and many other students I know, to pick apart our own code only months after writing it. I can’t imagine trying to parse years of work by developers with an incredible knowledge of their chosen language. This seems like a recipe for frustration. I could easily see a student not unlike myself throwing themselves at a new language in this fashion and coming away discouraged and maybe even completely overwhelmed; to the point where they may shy away from learning that language at all.

Instead, I would propose a healthier middle ground. I find that in messing with the code you can find little victories where your exploration paid off – victories that, for myself at least, keep me motivated. However, as mentioned previously, learning completely on ones own may waste valuable time and internalize bad or inefficient habits. As such, I think one should push their abilities as far as they can manage, then seek guidance from communities online. There exist thousands of YouTube tutorials and stack overflow threads where more than one solution is reached to nearly every problem; so, unlike the open source project, you can pick a solution that has a logic you understand best and can implement. I may have no patience to dig through years of documentation, but I don’t lack the patience to instead experiment and ultimately learn the language/framework.

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