From neophyte to guru

August 24, 2014 4:10 am Published by Leave your thoughts

ne·o·phyte /ˈnēəˌfīt/ noun

: a person who has just started learning or doing something

: a person who has recently joined a religious group

I’ve never been such a eager learner. It’s the 21st day of the front-end bootcamp in HackerYou, and the 20th day that I started my morning with frowning eyebrows trying to figure out some code. The bootcamp is scheduled to 8 hours a day for 9 weeks. Quite often, in the end of the day, I would have a slight headache—an indication of a saturated brain trying to process all the fresh learned information—along with great satisfaction. The course has got me immersed in the ocean of codes. Here I am at The Lab, like a novice swimmer who refuses to learn in a pool.

For a worshiper of art, creative expression and emotional excess like me, the world of code is novel or even strange. However, the pleasure I got from coding is somehow familiar. I later recognized, it is the same pleasure of “building” I got from painting and drawing; it is the same motive that drives me to commit and to persist. I am often curious about others’ motives and what brings them to where they are now. One part I love about the bootcamp is that everyone takes a certain level of risk to spare a complete 9 weeks of life to be here. Some brave souls even quit their jobs. Everyone in this cohort is a risk taker, brave and committed. However, I am sure we all have asked ourselves the same question: do I dare expect myself to become a web developer in the end of the program?

I had an answer in mind when reading an article about the science of intuition. The article talks about what makes an “expert” and the possibility of turning new learned skills into “intuition”, knowledge from within. Roughly speaking, when we are acquiring new skills, we tend to go through three phases while we improve our performance. Here are the first two phases:

“During the first phase, the beginner focuses her attention simply on understanding what it is that the task requires and on not making mistakes. In phase two, such conscious attention to the basics of the task is no longer needed, and the individual performs quasi-automatically and with reasonable proficiency.”

If you have the experience of learning a second language, you can probably recall how careful you were to construct a sentence and you still fumble. And in the case of beginner programmers, our brains fumble as well when we hesitate to tap a key and think: “Hmmm, should I type a colon or a semicolon here?” There are tons of mistakes being made, and each time we correct them and solve the problems, we get faster at retrieving solutions. Here comes the phase three:

“Phase three often remains elusive because while the initial improvement was aided by switching control from conscious thought to intuition—as the task became automatic and faster…”

Phase three is where we can call ourselves an “expert” and perform at a very high level in a given field. The difficult part is, in most of the cases, we would just stop in phase two because further improvement to phase three requires mindful attention and intense focus constantly. However, the setting of the bootcamp gives us the great advantage of speeding up the pace we go through the first two phases and scaffold us to the phase three—the committing mindset, the great amount of time we spent on actual coding in one day, the close and immediate contacts with professional mentors. In a way, I feel that the intensity of the program set us to “combat mode”, in which we practice and practice nonstop, to a point that we forget to sleep or eat. At the bottom, intuition is the the brain’s ability to pick up on recurring patterns, and the bootcamp paths that routine and pattern for us to develop the intuition and expertise.

As a neophyte to web development, I am aware of the moments filled by the pleasure of figuring things out and the gratification from improving skills. The concrete steps pacing forward on the ground assures me that becoming a guru of web development in nine weeks is not at all inconceivable.

In conversation with Alex (my coding and movie buddy), she recommends the book Blink of Malcolm Gladwell for further reading about how we think without thinking. See the review here

And See alex’s blog here

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This post was written by keli

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