Let’s start right away with the premise:
If you have few years of experience in software development, you can learn any programming language or framework in 3 weeks.
In 6 to 12 months no one will ever suspect that this is not your main language. Not your coworkers, not your manager, not even your own mother! Any language you pick today can be added as a skill to your LinkedIn profile 3 weeks from now!
While the target audience for this article is mainly front-end developers with at least few years of experience, it is not really a technical one. Despite the abundance of software terminology and abbreviations, it is in fact a motivational one. I encourage you to read through it and skip the parts that make no sense to you. Happy reading!
For 10 years I’ve been doing Android almost exclusively. OOP was my religion. I had Clean Code under my pillow and a picture of Uncle Bob on my wall. Sure, I’ve switched from Java to Kotlin in 3 days, but Kotlin is pretty much the same, just fancier, synthetic sugar without calories. And sure, I’ve written some scripts to batch rename files or automate birthday wishing to my mom, but never Java Script, not even a single line. That would be blasphemy. Utter chaos. Never even did Right Click -> Inspect Element. The web is a black box to me. No hablo inglés.
In this article we’ll go through 5 specific steps that will make you an “expert” in the language you choose to learn. Expert of course has quotation marks, but it is also not an over statement. You will create a decent solution. It will look like is done by an expert. It will feel like is done by an expert. Why you may ask? Check this photo below:
Now, you don’t need to be an architect or an interior designer to understand that this is not a proper door placement, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Similarly, you don’t need to be an artist to appreciate a beautiful piece of art. Even if you don’t know details about light, shapes, color, composition and perspective, millions of years of evolution shaped our brains to appreciate the beauty of aesthetics. It is embedded in nature. It is universal.
So, if you ever wrote a piece of code that you thought it is beautiful in your primary language, you will write somewhat equally beautiful code in the language you will learn. Not just that, you will also be able to recognize beautiful code when you are googling stuff. You will be selective in your copy pasting.
Before we dive right into the 5 steps, let us first tell:
A short backstory
Few months ago I started my own company. As an entrepreneur, the most important decisions you will make is the choice between I will do this myself for a fraction of the cost and I will pay for a service. Few examples:
- Build your own website or use Wix
- Deploy your own backend or use Firebase
- Do your own paperwork or use Red Flag
- Create your own content or use GPT-3
While #1 and #2 are a matter of preference and largely depend on your existing skill set, #4 is a human’s denial that creativity is related to consciousness and there is no way that an algorithm can easily replace us, #3 is something absolutely no one wants to do!
Your idea is going to change the world and you cannot change the world if you are stuck filing in the receipt for the new PS5 console for your kids as a business purchase. You don’t want to learn the tax system, so you hire an accountant to deal with all that.
Soon, you discover that accountant also deal with expensive, clunky legacy systems that require a great deal of manual work. Pasting stuff in excel sheets, organizing folders on cloud storage, exporting reports in obscure formats. Naturally, you want to help with all of that, you want to provide a solution that will make life a bit easier for your accountant and find your first client in the process. Business is fun!
1. Find your motivation
The backstory leads us to step number one: Find your motivation. This is imperative for your learning process. Following basic tutorials or reading articles about best practices is a good place to start, but in order to truly progress, you need to get your hands dirty working on a real life problem, providing a real life solution.
So, go ahead and find your motivation. Your pet project that needs a revamp, that app your cousin insists is going to be the next unicorn, a simple tool to connect with your grandma that features two big emojis and a parallax header of you being little and eating her meals, a beautiful app featuring a map and a gallery of misplaced electric scooters,… Anything works.
Not motivated by random examples? Just ask a person you interact with about a problem they have and try to solve it with software. Make someone redundant. Have fun.
Still nothing? There is an app for that! You can even build an app idea generator yourself.
Bonus step: Find your time
Motivation is nice and all, however you do need to find time to express yourself creatively. If your partner or child is screaming for attention while you navigate tight deadlines, maybe learning a new language will add fuel to the fire. But on the other hand, you get ahead in life by over promising and hopefully over delivering, so feel free to skip this step, who needs time!
2. Understand your motivation
Congratulations, you found your motivation and have a nice thing you can build. Now go ahead and light a scented candle, play some relaxing music, assume a meditative posture and look deep inside yourself to understand why are you doing this.
Few common reasons:
- You are bored during the pandemics
- You feel like you are lagging behind with your skillet and feel a need to stay relevant
- You are helping out a family member, a friend or an associate
- You secretly hope that this will scale one day, you will become ultra rich and beat the CEOs of tech companies in their quest to colonize the solar system
- You accept the reality that no human will ever need to code 10-ish years from now and you want to enjoy it while it lasts
Understanding the reason behind your willingness to learn a new language or a framework will help you tremendously in making the right decisions. It will do this by revealing the constraints.
For example, to solve the problem my accountant was facing we needed to make a solution that is:
- free or extremely cheap – we try to optimize, not introduce more cost
- multi platform – mobile apps and a web admin tool
- complete – you are trying to solve a problem after all
- doable within a month or two – your time is precious
- not terrible – functional and stable, but not too fancy
Bonus step: Doubt your understanding
3. Start from the top
Contrary to the popular belief, masterfully expressed in one of the Drake’s songs,
you really don’t need to start from the bottom. You don’t need to understand the basics of JS syntax, the difference between undefined and null or flexbox magic. You don’t even need to dread the lack type safety and consider Type Script. None of that. You only need to add the current year to your web searches. For example: “How to build a React Native App 2020” or “Free web admin templates React 2020” and start from there.
React introduced hooks in 16.8 so goodbye classes! You will never ever have to learn that part of history, unless for some reason you decide to work on legacy code. What about state management? Redux seems like a super boilerplate-y answer to your needs. Add 2020 to that search and you’ll discover a toolkit. Start from there. What about Recoil. Maybe none of that. Hooks will do the job.
What about UI that looks consistent on all platforms? Check out Material or Paper, all apps and all web pages look alike nowadays, no need to reinvent the wheel. Everything that you want to achieve is already done, you just need to put it together. Oh wait, Adobe made Spectrum. By the time this article gets published 20 more frameworks will pop out. It is obsolete already.
Anyways, start from the top and google your way down. It is impossible to understand every single concept you will encounter, every underlying mechanism or language sugar. It is also unnecessary, you have your mission, just search for the thing you are trying to figure out, add the current year to the query and read away.
Bonus step: Go strict
Establish a strict policy. Consider lint warnings as errors. Make your code pretty. Add style hooks to your commits. If you are starting from zero might as well go all in. In the next 3 weeks you will practice expressing yourself in a different manner, it only makes sense to try to express yourself flawlessly. Or it doesn’t. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Skip this step, it introduces too much friction.
4. Connect with your inner child
You know who is especially good at learning? Kids. They are awesome at learning. No wonder half of the spiritual advice you can get nowadays is to connect with your inner child if you want to grow and experience the world in a more profound way.
Kids don’t understand the rules of football. They have no idea what offside is. They have a ball and a goal and they kick the ball in the general direction of the goal. Over time they learn all known tricks that increase the likelihood of having the ball in the goal and over even more time they introduce new, previously unheard of tricks that get them ahead in the game.
This is the best way to approach this. Not just this, anything new you want to learn in life. You don’t need to understand everything or discover all the tricks, you just need to aim for the goal and commit to kicking the ball towards it. A little bit closer every day.
Connect with your inner child. Explore your curiosity. Ask questions, but don’t stop when you don’t get a proper answer. Be undefined. Choose what value you want to assign yourself as you go. Don’t let a static compiler check to determine who you are. Play. Have fun. Make bold claims and amend them the next day. By the time you are close to a shooting distance, you can scissor kick the ball, publish your app, update your LinkedIn profile with the new skill and write a blog post explaining how you shot for the stars and landed on the moon.
Bonus step: Scrape everything and start over
OK, don’t do that just yet. Scrape everything and start over. Your code is bad. It will never scale. Your view layer is tangled with your business logic. You don’t even downscale the images you upload to your storage and will soon reach the quota limits of your free plan. People will hate it. There are much better solutions out there. You were right from the start to doubt yourself. Again with the overthinking. Is this a part of the normal development process? Silence the internal critic and skip this step as well, you made something awesome!
5. Go public
You have to. Going public is the best way yo make a commitment. You don’t have to publish the app on the App Store or Google Play and go through cumbersome submission processes, but go public somehow. Send an email to your friends asking for feedback, write a semi-humorous blog post to justify your efforts, push your code to GitHub, answer a question on Stack Overflow with your new gained expertise, make a PR on the library you used, motivate your surrounding to learn something new as well,…
Get creative, contribute somehow to the big data, make it easier for the algorithms to understand how humans learn, they may suggest improvements in the future based on your experience.
You may feel a strong urge not to go public, especially if you did not manage to produce something tangible in these 3 weeks. But, before you go ahead and associate work with measurable output, ask yourself these two questions:
- What did you learn?
- Did you have fun?
If you learned something you did not know before and you had fun doing it, than you’ve successfully completed this tutorial and you’ve proven yourself that what sounds improbable is in fact quite possible. You are awesome, give yourself some love ❤️
A short summary
That’s all. Well, probably there is lot more to it, but this is the level of insight you can expect from a random blog post on the Internet about learning something that differs only slightly from what you already know. Not a lot of new information, nothing too profound or insightful.
Just a gentle reminder that you are not defined by your past choices. You are not limited by your existing knowledge. You are not stuck with a technology. You are free. You can learn pretty much anything at any time and have an amazing time doing it.
So, go ahead and do it! 🎉
Medo is an entrepreneur with extensive experience in software development and team leadership. He engages in projects ranging from hacked together proof of concepts to distributed solutions serving millions of users.
Medo loves sharing, he believes it is the optimal way of learning. He often speaks at events and social media on topics varying from technical solutions to inspirational talks. His enthusiasm for exchanging knowledge goes from vegan food recipes and body hacks, to quantum physics and the origin of the Universe.
At the moment, he is pursuing a dream to create a better workplace for everyone, helping individuals and organizations embrace a more mindful and heart based approach to leadership. He would love if you connect with him on LinkedIn.