April 14, 2015

Learning Motivations Revisited

I’ve had much to reflect on from my internship with HOT. I think it’s time for me to revisit my motivations in learning to code in tech. At heart I want to build a career out of being a learner. With that in mind my revised career goals are:

		Keep learning with tenacity.  	
		Teach and share what I learn. 
		Help build things to help people. 

Over a year ago now I remember reading how “creating the job you love” is about finding a job where you can use your strengths. I owe a lot to the Gallup StrengthsFinder for introducing me to this idea. I also didn’t realize that learning and exploring new ideas is one of my top strengths before taking the StrengthsFinder assessment. This makes a lot of sense; I get really bored if I am not learning something new and I thrive in environments where I can keep learning and challenging myself with new ideas.

Naturally, I started investigating job environments that would provide endless learning opportunities. I started going to tech meetups and heard that one of the greatest challenges in the field is keeping your skills up to date since there’s such a rapid rate of change. Eureka! I’ve found a field that fits really well with my drive to continually learn new things. My greatest asset in this field is my learning tenacity, which is a persistent and enthusiastic determination to learn.

###Confronting A “Fixed Mindset”

My internship has reminded me that some of my greatest impediments to learning are related to a fixed mindset or the fixation on “proving that I am good enough to learn this material.” Dr. Carol Dweck describes fixed mindset as the belief that ability is “fixed” and can’t be changed through hard work and better learning strategies. Conversely, the growth mindset is founded on the belief that one’s abilities can grow from failures and through hard work and effort. You can test your mindset here.

When I was trying to troubleshoot setting up Travis CI for the learnosm site I encountered several sets of instructions that described the custom setup process as “easy.” I was tempted to believe that I wasn’t “smart” enough to figure it out. Instead of critically reviewing my strategies for working through the problem, I was preoccupied with my own perception of my abilities.

There’s this thinking error at work:

Attribution Error: 
-If something works . . . "I am smart enough for this."
-If something fails . . . "I am not smart enough for this."

###Save Critical Thoughts For Problem Solving!

My antidote to overcome this fixed mindset is to switch my focus to the learning process. In my struggle to get Travis CI setup I learned that the “cut and paste without understanding and see what happens” strategy was not helpful. I didn’t understand enough about the workflow of the configuration files I was using. Once I went through them line by line I had a better understanding of what was missing.

I’ve encountered this “wrong focus” or fixed mindset before from my studies of Russian. I remember when I received a prestigious grant to continue studying Russian and was suddenly surrounded by students far more advanced than I was. I started to wonder if I belonged there. Eventually I decided to focus on my own enjoyment of learning Russian by reciting poetry and studying art history and let go of comparing myself with others to determine if I “deserved” that grant. It worked wonders for my learning.

###New Mantra

Here’s my new mantra: Focus on the learning process and the type of problems you want to solve, what you want to build and learn from them. Let the learning process be a reward in and of itself. Let the ego that wants to prove itself “good enough” shrivel and die from neglect. Enjoying the learning process is way more fun anyway.

I’ve been reading similar ideas and advice online but one of my favorite explanations is from Emma Lindsay via Quora: