When Does Learning Stop Being So Hard

(Written in 2011)
As the non-technical co-founder of thecityswig.com, I realized that no matter how hard I worked, when the product at it’s core needed fixing or changing, there was nothing I could do to push the company forward. Sure I could go out and talk to more users, offer customer service, attempt to make sales leads, but ultimately when all of those things were relying on updates to the service, I was a founder who at his core could not help my own company.

So about 6 months ago I made a decision: I would never be a non-technical co-founder again. I was going to learn to code. I started building a simple website, doing lessons on Codecademy, and finally trying challenges on r/dailyprogrammer. I do this about 1-2 hours a day, more when I’m really into it.

1 problem: this shit is HARD! My programmer friends seem to love writing code and learning new coding techniques, and while I find the pursuit endlessly fascinating and occasionally rewarding, this beginning stage seemed mostly to just, well, suck. A little discouraged one day a few weeks ago, I finally wrote a simple game in Python that I felt was elegant and actually kind of fun. Then I realized why this had been so frustrating: I couldn’t play any interesting music yet.

Let me explain:

When I was 10, my family got a piano from my Aunt in North Carolina that she didn’t have room for anymore. I fell in love with it immediately. I HAD to learn to play it. So my mother signed me up for lessons, and I went off prepared to learn to play that wondrous beast sitting in my living room. And for 2 years, it sucked. i didn’t quit, but forcing me to practice was like pulling teeth for my poor mother.

Then one day, I finished learning a piece that I really loved. I actually liked this song. Holy shit! I could play something I really enjoyed! Next I could learn things other people found impressive, then learn any piece, and then even write my own songs. Finally, after about 6 years, I could write songs that songs I loved.

It was when I wrote songs I loved that learning stopped being hard at all. I now spend hours, days pouring over Beatles song charts trying to understand the chord and melody choices they made and then putting them into my own songs. When I pick up a new instrument, I know the building blocks so intimately that learning how to play it isn’t hard: it’s fun. If you locked me in a room with a bunch of musical instruments for 3 days, it wouldn’t be torture: it would be heaven.

And so it is with programming. Now that I can design basic websites and write basic code, learning new things is finally seeming mildly exciting. When I can actually build parts of the things I imagine, it will become fun. When I can build the whole thing, it will be awesome. When I can do it fast and at a high level, then I’ll be the one drinking beer until 4 in the morning writing code instead of playing guitar.


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