How to Code (or How to become an Addict)

How to Code (or How to become an Addict)

I am a Failure. I don’t know to how to code. That is how a loquacious 8-year old me would describe me today. My first memories of childhood were looking at the first issue of the comic “2000AD”. The first issue came out in 1979. It featured aliens, spaceships, damsels-in-distress and, of course, the most beautiful thing I could think of; Computers. Not just any computers, Super Computers. The kind of computers that knew everything. That controlled the ships lasers and weapons systems. The ones that ran protocols that protected the crew on the starship (except the computer on “Alien”. Evidently, there were a few accidents.) I spent many days drawing and imaging computers and what they could do. Finally, in 1983, I had my first experience with a computer. It was shopping center in London.

The guy there was very friendly and let me have to computer. I was stunned I finally had access to a real-life and computer. I wondered what I could do with it. So, I thought I would ask it a question. So I typed in “What is inside a car?” Of course, I did not press enter. I didn’t know how to use a computer but nothing happened. The words were just displayed on the screen. I didn’t know how computers worked. I just thought it would flash the answer and show the schematics the way K.I.T.T. would. I kept visiting the computer but there was a new manager and he did not appreciate my relationship with the computer and shooed me away.  Imagine my disappointment. Luckily, years later, I got toys such as Texas Instruments “Speak and Spell” and Grandstand’s “My First Talking Computer”. A Tandy Computer as well but that one was as dumb as a brick (Actually all the computers were for my sisters but that’s community property.) This was always fun I love the games and trivia questions (Except for the dumb Tandy).

As I got into secondary school, I was a fan of computer games. But, the introduction of computers in secondary school was a big disappointment. It entailed a day when we were all allowed to look and touch a computer like we were cave-men seeing fire for the first time. Next, we had to take a class and deliver an assignment after some lessons in BASIC. Being a bad and disappointed student, I failed the class.  I still feel salty about the cheap approach to computer education but that’s just me. University and beyond was when it really went downhill.

In University, I used to come to computer village to sell computers I would get from people and make a commission for doing the deal. This was fine and I also did phone business. But, there was still a big thing I had not achieved. I had not learnt to talk to computers. Programming is essentially talking to a computer and telling it what you want to it today. I tried to learn it but I had very bad habit to stopping and starting. Something would come up. I would lose money in a bad deal. I would get attacked by armed robbers. Lots of wanderlust and wasted time and opportunities. My senior sister bought me a computer. I used to it a lot but I was never that proficient. I was better than most people I knew using computers. But, then again, I didn’t know that many people. I had some books but I would easily get stuck at a particular point and stop. This was the story of my life. I have always been regarded as someone who understood computers but inside I did not believe that was true. I had not assembled a computer from scratch. I had not programmed in any language. I had dabbled in HTML but, even I knew that was mediocre. I did not make the sacrifice to become good.

Even, at work, I knew more about computers than some people but people that knew what they were doing were far better than me. I wondered if I could ever catch up. I knew Microsoft Office but sometimes even using Excel and Word made me feel insecure and very uncomfortable. I rarely had time to delve into studying and looking for many ways to learn. I researched on-line and came across a lot of ideas on YouTube. The main channels I watched were Alex Becker, John Sonmez, and Eli the Computer Guyy. Then, I knew I had to make a choice. I decided no matter how old I was I would begin to learn to code. Years of dilly-dallying gave me some ideas of where to start. I wanted to have Full-Stack ability. That is to program a whole web application from what people saw to the background such as the database. But, first I would start with a programming language that would be used for both the front and the backend, Python. Then, I came across Alex Becker advice: Become an Addict.

Alex Becker had an idea that the brain is made in a way that could make one addict of anything. Similar to ideas from evolutionary psychology and biology, he thinks that the brain is very much controlled by the animal part. The part that wants instant gratification and pleasure and runs away from pain and discomfort. That is, if there is cake or ice-cream the brain says yes. If there is pain such as exercise or studying, the brain says no. But, what about goals? His theory is that brain does not care about goals. There is little to motivate the brain in the actual accomplishment of the goal just in the achievement and striving towards the goal and if they striving is painful or uncomfortable, the brain would abandon those in a hot second. Maybe that could explain my constant failure in achieving my goal of learning to program. But, if we understand that is how the brain works, can’t we do something about it? Alex says “Yes!” Become an addict. 

The brain produces a pleasure chemical called dopamine to reward any pleasure inducing behavior food, video-games, even drugs. Dopamine is much stronger than most narcotics and is produced in the brain. So the trick is how to get the dopamine to be produced by activities that are beneficial such as studying or learning something hard. First of all, his advice is to get remove or greatly reduce other dopamine sources such as food, drink, social media, bad habits, and other pleasurable activities and start introducing the new ones. Mind you, these activities are new and would not feel pleasurable at first at all. But, the fact the ready supply of dopamine is being stopped is a very important start. It would help you get the new habit to have a space and take root. 

The next part is to socialize the new habit. Have an accountability partner and become a progressing member in the group. Having an accountability partner is having someone who would hold you accountable to what you set out to do. They would ask “have done it?” “What have you achieved?” The mere declaration of your goal is a start but the partner checks in to see what progress has been made. This sounds simple but you would be surprised how well it works. It’s literally how I went from having third class degree to getting an MBA. This could also turn into having a mentor or expert feedback. This is also a vital part of Deliberate Practice: a process for achieving mastery in a difficult but valuable ability.

The last social part of addiction is the progressing member of the group. Addicts identify as addicts and usually form groups either while in or quitting the addiction. The social component accelerates the learning process and makes it much easier because our social interactions also produces dopamine. The fact that, in the community, we are contributing in some way, makes the activities more enjoyable. You study so you can answer a question or get accolades of being within that group. It becomes almost like the hormones that give us pleasure when we going higher in a hierarchy. Yes, social status is a drug. 

The last part is getting some sleep. Learning a new skill, no matter what time in life, requires rest and recovery. I will have to make out time to study effectively but also sleep sufficiently. The research is out. You need sleep to learn. It’s been decades overdue and it’s about time I can program. I am a Failure. But, being a Failure is not permanent. I will just succeed anyway.

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