I Want To Be Lost In Space, or, What I Love About Programming
Remember the 1998 remake of Lost In Space?
That's not what this post is about. Let me start again.
This past Friday, we at the Flatiron School graduated another cohort of developers.
This is a group of 26 people who threw themselves headfirst into a marathon of learning for three months, and came out the other side literally throwing their arms in the air for joy.
So, what makes a person like that? Who can put their life on hold for three months, spend 16 hours a day learning and struggling and building, and at the end of it all, be so ecstatic? And further, how can we get 26 such people all going through that together?
Here's my two cents:
It's all about figuring out how to get lost in space.
What we've been able to do, as teachers at Flatiron, is take a group of talented, dedicated and intelligent people, and teach them how to love being confused.
As developers, we thrive on that moment when our program is broken and we don't know why. That moment when what you really want to do is crack your computer in half at the hinges and throw it out a window. That moment when you don't know the answer, or how to fix it.
We thrive on that moment because that feeling of frustration and even anger is the feeling that propels us to breakthroughs. It's the feeling that pushes us to learn more and build better than we ever do when things are going smoothly. It's the feeling that we teach our students to chase. And the breakthroughs and innovations that are borne from that feeling are more satisfying by far than anything we feel from just following a tutorial or otherwise staying in our comfort zone.
At Flatiron, we push our students, and ourselves, hard. We push them into the deep end of new topics and technologies, sometimes only just on the heels of our own hard-won understanding of new approaches and frameworks.
This semester, I and my fellow instructors found ourselves racing to learn and master all the React + Redux so that we could turn around and teach it to 26 other people. Instead of "mastering" it ourselves (which isn't to say we didn't come close), we found ourselves learning together with all of these other amazing and dedicated people, each of us pushing the others just a little bit further beyond the pale of our understanding, every day.
Each and every student walked away from this program with incredible Rails API, React + Redux applications (you know, the kind of applications that allow for real-time video players, Magic the Gathering collection management and collaborative literature writing, among other things). More than that though, every single person walked away with a love of the struggle. A love of that 12 a.m. problem solving, falling asleep over the computer and dreaming of code, waking up and fixing the bug feeling. Each and every student that passed through this program will always chase that next bug, that next lost-in-space code problem, so that they can keep learning.
So yea, I want to get lost in space. I want to hit a wall and break through it with a wrecking ball of understanding. And I love teaching because every time one of my students goes through that experience, it reminds me all over again that lost in space is where I want to be––that's where all the beautiful things are.
photo courtesy of NASA