You are a programmer or you want to become a programmer, but when you are at this stage in your life, it doesn’t stop there all of a sudden. You have to – and hopefully, want to – improve your skills all the time.
Yes, this life-long-learning thing is real.
You don’t get your degree, finish a boot camp, online course or tutorial and just say: “That’s it, I’m a programmer now.” It doesn’t work that way.
But is there a magic formula that helps you to improve your programming skills? In my opinion, yes there is. It’s the product of consistency and focus. And it’s not easy to get there.
Actually, you can never really get “there”. Improvement never ends. It’s the process that makes you better.
Before you can actually improve particular skills, you need crystal clear focus. This time it’s not about the focus you have when you flow in the zone. It’s about the general focus in your life and career. As Weldon Long states in his book The Power of Consistency, focus is about the following:
- What you want in life and business
- What you want to become in life and business
- What you want to contribute in life and business
- What you need to do to accomplish these things in life and business
So it really is about your goals in life. Too many people wander around and don’t really have a defined goal. Being a programmer and having the wish to improve one’s skills is actually pretty vague. What exactly do you want to become better at? Or what kind of programmer do you want to become? What is your actual goal?
For me, a long time in my life, I wanted to become an indie game developer. I wanted to create my own game, completely done by myself, in my spare time, put it on Steam and present it at Gamescom. I did not only want to do all that, I had to do it. This desire to achieve that dream was so intense, that it just had to happen – and it did.
So I had this clear vision of what I wanted to do and become next in my life. That way, you don’t ask any questions anymore. You don’t wander around and think about what to do tonight. You just do it.
Let’s say you know how to write code. Any kind of code. Great!
Now with some time, you feel that front-end development is something you’d rather like to do than back-end development. Awesome! You are getting there. You slowly find your goal.
With that in mind, you will move on in that direction. You’ll find articles, books, eventually job offers or other situations that provide you opportunities to improve your skills on this topic.
Your goals become clear.
With your goals in mind, you actually have to become active. And not only once. You have to do the things you need to do until you achieve your goal. And please do them regularly.
When I wanted to make a game in my spare time, I just had to develop features almost every single day. I came home after work, made something to eat and then got back in front of the keyboard and just wrote code.
Well, I did not only write code. I also defined new features, tested them, fixed bugs, you know what I mean.
So I had a deadline, I knew what features had to be implemented and there were actual people who expected a finished game. This whole thing could only work out when I worked on the game consistently. This is a very important part of this equation. And now I know how to make a game by myself.
You probably have a side project. Maybe not only one. And you would love to put in more time into your side hustle but you don’t. You may work on it a little bit, then it’s lying around and you find something else you want to start. In the end, you glimpsed at many topics a little, but you did not really make progress with any of them.
It’s the same with developing better skills. Of course, you could try out different things and you might even learn a bit. But real improvement comes with a clear focus on what you want to improve and working on that single thing consistently.
When you work as a software developer, you might actually do this all the time.
Let’s say you have a certain task.
Now you might find yourself in two situations. Either you already know how to do it, or you have to learn how to solve it first.
The latter situation leads to new skills, the first one might deepen the ones you already have. You improve your skills automatically by simply doing your work. You have a task which is some kind of goal and a deadline that forces you to consistently work towards that goal.
Similar to your schedule at your job, it helps tremendously when you also schedule your “skill-improvement-time”. With fixed time slots in your week, it’s more likely that you sit down and use that time to get better.
It’s similar to going to the gym. Doing it only once, you won’t see any effect. But if you do your pushups consistently over months or even years, you will see great results in the long run.
So think about your goals, work on them consistently and – not to forget – always be patient.
With time you will get better and better.
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