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Teaching Quickly

By Steve Jones,

I'm a constant learner. I try to regularly experiment and try new things at work and in the rest of my life. For work, sometimes this means working outside of the other hours and commitments I have to get better at manipulating data. Sometimes I go deep and sometimes I just want the general gist of how to solve a problem I'm having. Time constraints come into play at times because there's never enough. Even with limited time, I do want to understand the reasons why things work, or why I should make a choice for some function/method/framework/pattern/etc.

I've been working with R a bit this summer, trying to learn a bit more. I've tried tryr.codeschool.com as a guided tour, but sometimes it doesn't help me understand enough of the details. Even as I experiment, I'm going through the motions. I purchased R in a Nutshell, and just got Stephanie Locke's Working with R. I'm hoping these books will give me a more thorough grounding in R.

As I'm learning, I always want to ensure I understand the implications of how I may write scripts. What do my choices mean for quality, performance, etc. Sometimes trying to understand why slows me down, and I don't get much done. That's fine, and maybe that's for the better. However, I don't want to learn slowly by going through all the pain that someone else went through. I want to know how someone would write code today, and why they do so.

I ran across this post on learning the hard way. It discusses the way some people try to teach others, and I've been through some of this as I've tried to learn various technologies. The teacher sometimes wants to assume I am going through their pain and can sympathize, but often I'm learning something new for the first time. I'm sure I've been guilty of this as well, perhaps trying to level set or show an old (or poor) practice to emphasize why it's better to write code in a new way.

The thing is that my time is precious, and I shouldn't have to work through the mess of the way things used to work to build good habits today. What's new to someone might not be new to all, and certainly at some point, all code isn't new anymore. I'd rather teachers, and me, sometimes focus on giving us good habits today. Teach us the right way now, and spend time on error handling, testing, or other good habits. Certainly there are cases where we need to know about the changes to systems, but explain this is an upgrade section. And then tell me what's different, don't wax nostalgic on the way you once were forced to find innovative solutions.

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