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A Story About Python Mastery

A couple of years ago I’d become quite interested in martial arts. Hours upon hours of watching “The Karate Kid” growing up must’ve taken their toll on me…

And so, I found myself at this smelly little gym, joining my first couple of karate practice sessions.

(By the way, my “Mr. Miyagi” wasn’t the fatherly philosopher from the Karate Kid movies—our sensei was a complete geek, working a day job as a Borland Delphi programmer somewhere. I liked him.)

So anyway, here I was at this dingy gym, working hard to learn how to count in Japanese and getting my hand-eye coordination under control…

(You know, karate practice actually feels more like learning to dance than learning how to fight. At least when you’re a beginner.)

Moments later my friend kicks me in the face because I turned left when I should’ve turned right—

My interested in karate waned quickly after that.

Yeah…I’m a lover, not a fighter.

Why am I telling you this? Well, the question came up in a recent email exchange:

“How does one MASTER the skill of programming Python?”

I like to think mastering programming as a skill is quite similar to mastering a physical skill like karate. (Although I’ve had more success with the former.)

Here, let me explain.

With both, it takes a long time to build up the right foundation. But once “muscle memory” starts kicking in, your progress can skyrocket. It’s all about making it through that first rough patch of slow learning progress without losing your motivation.

Mastering a programming language means lifelong learning. The topic is fractal—there’s always a way to expand your knowledge in some obscure way. One can hit critical mass in terms of knowledge and be called an expert, but it’s unlikely a single person will “know it all.”

A seasoned programmer acts deliberately and with an economy of movement that a beginner can’t yet understand. Biological differences like age, “IQ”, play less of a role. The more experienced dev still codes circles around the eager newcomer.

There’s road maps but no “one true path” to mastery. Learning progress will depend highly on the motivation and drive of the individual, and the peers they surround themselves with. Mentorship and community play the biggest role in becoming successful.

Like martial “arts” programming is more of an art than a science. It’s a creative endeavour rather than a strictly mechanical affair. Brute force and applying 10,000 “IF this THEN that” rules might get one a job, but doesn’t lead to the true joy of programming.

(I swear one day I will create a Bob Ross-like show called The Joy of Programming: “Let’s put some little curly braces over here…and here…and there.”)

Mastering a skill like programming seeps into all areas of your life. Just like building physical skills will increase confidence, so will mastering programming. It leads to a sense of accomplishment, a deep satisfaction, and confidence through recognition.

Alright, that’s my (philosophical) update for the week.

If you’d like to avoid getting kicked in the head learning Python, then check out some of the Python training products I offer here on dbader.org.

<strong>5 Thoughts On<br><em>Mastering Python</em></strong>

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This article was filed under: craftsmanship, and python.

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