Practicing Programming: This article isn’t as focused as I’d like it to be, but it does reinforce the fact that software developers really don’t practice at all — we kind of just learn as we go along and learn from our mistakes.
The fact is, we investigate and pick up new skills (1) as they interest us, or (2) as we need them, but we don’t sit down and resolve to do things specifically to improve our current skills.
Contrary to what you might believe, merely doing your job every day doesn’t qualify as real practice. Going to meetings isn’t practicing your people skills, and replying to mail isn’t practicing your typing. You have to set aside some time once in a while and do focused practice in order to get better at something.
I know a lot of great engineers — that’s one of the best perks of working at Amazon — and if you watch them closely, you’ll see that they practice constantly. As good as they are, they still practice. They have all sorts of ways of doing it, and this essay will cover a few of them.
The great engineers I know are as good as they are because they practice all the time. People in great physical shape only get that way by working out regularly, and they need to keep it up, or they get out of shape. The same goes for programming and engineering.
I was watching Pepper Dennis the other night out of the corner of my eye (funny show, BTW), and there was a quick scene where a weatherperson was in her dressing room doing enunciation exercises while she combed her hair. She was repeating some tongue-twisting phrase over and over again with the assumed goal of improving her ability to deliver her lines on the air (Ron Burgundy did this same thing — “Unique New York, unique New York…”).
When was the last time you did something like that for your profession? For some ideas about how this might actually play out, see my post of a few months ago: A Call for Memorization.
I’ve found quite a few resources lately about practicing your programming skills. I’m going to revisit this topic as often as your Mom told you to clean up your room, so you’ve been warned.