The Process of Learning a New Skill

July 20, 2020

I saw this tweet a few weeks ago and it stuck with me:

I think this is really good advice for moving through life, but it’s very applicable to moving through a career as a developer too.

Do learning new skills help you become a better developer? I think so.

A big part of being a developer is being a learner.

I have a lot of interests outside of coding. Most of those interests stretch me to learn and hone new skills and I like to think they help me to become a better learner and also more empathetic to new learners for skills I have some experience with.

Recently I started learning how to bake sourdough bread.

A friend gave me a sourdough starter along with some basic instructions for how to keep it alive and links to resources to continue my education.

The anxiety I felt the first time I baked sourdough is still fresh in my mind. I was pretty sure I killed my starter as soon as I fed it. I spent the majority of the day googling what the starter should look like when it’s ripe and ready for baking.

There are tons of websites out there dedicated to the art (or science?) of sourdough baking, much like the art (or science?) of front-end web development.

And every website I consulted had slightly different advice for determining when the starter is ready for baking. Sound familiar?

As a newbie, I felt confused and overwhelmed trying to solve the problem on my own.

Eventually, I reached out to the friend who had given me the starter to ask for her more experienced opinion. She suggested I just go for it and see what happens – and that was great advice.

I reminded myself it’s my first time doing this and it’s ok if turns out less than great. I’ll learn something and then I’ll try it again.

The first sourdough bread I baked
The first sourdough bread I baked

I’ve baked six loaves of sourdough since then and today as I was preparing my starter to bake my seventh loaf, I finally saw my starter rise like in pictures I’d seen on the Internet.

Suddenly, it “clicked” and all of the descriptions I had read on different websites about what a ripe sourdough starter should look or feel like now made sense to me.

Ripe sourdough starter
My ripe sourdough starter

It’s a great feeling when the new concept you’re trying to understand finally makes sense for you. I also find it helpful to remember that everyone learns at different speeds – what took me seven loaves of bread to figure out, someone else may pick up in only three tries.

As a developer, you will probably come across advice to work on side projects to keep up your dev skills. If that’s how you like to spend your free time outside of work, by all means, do it! But if there are other interests tugging at you to try out, absolutely pursue those because they will make you a better developer (and human being) too!

Tammy Ritterskamp

Hey there! I'm a front-end web developer living and working in St. Louis, MO. Let's connect in these social places: