The most valuable skill that I know is programming. It’s paying the bills through an awesome job, and it’s filling my spare time through personal projects that I enjoy working on and articles that I enjoy reading. I have no idea where I’d be right now if it wasn’t for programming, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’d be worse off.
It’s a skill that I never would have picked up had I not had an absurd amount of freetime somewhere around 2012. I was going through school to become a Stenographer (I went on a pretty decent rant about Stenography two posts down), and the school only met for two five hour days a week. They expected you to practice in your spare time, but truth be told, I never felt the need to. Stenography came naturally to me, and 10 hours a week was more than enough for me to graduate half a year earlier than expected. I had a part time job at Staples, but that didn’t eat up too much of my time either. I began looking for things to do with this free time and decided to take up programming, I’m not even quite sure why. I guess I had a vague idea that I wanted to make create things for the computer.
Learning it was hard. I remember buying huge books, reading them slowly, and then rereading chapters which I didn’t quite get on the first pass. I remember working on a lot of small projects where I bit off more than I could chew and churned out some awful code. I don’t consider myself a particularly good programmer, and I guess it’s funny how that works out – I was unnaturally good at Stenography, something that I thought I’d do for a career but it turns out I’m never going to have a valid use for in life, but I very much struggled with programming, the thing my actual career requires I be good at.
I’m very lucky that I had that free time in 2012. I would not be where I am right now without it. I would have been able to put in the time it required for me to reach a certain level of competency. I would not have even known that programming is something that I enjoy, something that is valuable, indeed more valuable than anything else that I had known prior to that.
And there’s the point. I feel like you need free time in order to figure out who you are and what it is you want to do with your life. Hell, you need free time to figure out what it is you even want to do with your free time. I feel like most people don’t have the luxury of free time. They’re working paycheck to paycheck to survive, or they’re putting in too many hours for school on a major that they picked on a whim.
I remember being interested in learning how to program in 2010. I was in college at the time, and thought I’d sign up for an intro to programming course and see what it was like. There wasn’t any at my school. But I did find a course on making basic websites, I think it was an intro to HTML or some other nonsense. I came out of that class knowing less about how to make a website than I had when I came in. The lectures they had didn’t explain much or give any context to anything. What they did teach was how to copy website code from an ancient HTML book, and the code wasn’t even good. The book had websites which were constructed with tables and frames, it probably came straight out of 1996.
And there’s the other point. You are the only person you can rely on to learn what you want to learn. Yes, you’ll need to use guides and resources provided by others, but it’s really up to you to research that what you’re learning is good practice and the proper way to do whatever it is you want to do. And to tie it back into the previous point, you need free time in order to do this. I have no doubt in my mind that I would have came out miles ahead had I put in my own time and research into learning how to make websites instead of essentially taking a gamble and signing up for a course hoping that whoever was the instructor knew what they were talking about.