Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Do Your Get To Carnegie Hall?

It's an old joke:

A man stops a New Yorker on the sidewalk and asks him, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" The native answers: "Practice, practice, practice!"

Except it's not quite true. Practice is necessary, but not sufficient.

It's perfect practice that makes perfect. It won't do to simply burn bad habits into your muscle and brain memories. You have to repeat the right behavior to be able to recall it at a moment's notice.

I knew this after years of doing scales and arpeggio studies on the classical guitar. Sometimes I felt like I was practicing in my bad habits, because I wasn't focused enough on what I was doing.

Peter Norvig made me aware of the rule of 10,000 hours in his "Teach Yourself Programming In Ten Years". He presents five citations, including Malcolm Gladwell.

Now the Freakonomics guys have added their two cents: "The how of learning is deliberate practice."

This is true in sports, music, math, programming - everything. Technique matters; it's how you do it.

I've found that to be true in my new running venture. My new-found techniques learned by running barefoot have made it possible for me to run the Manchester Road Race without pain or stiffness. I was able to run the next day without any discomfort, although I will confess that my legs were tired. The only after-effect that consistently follows a run is tiredness in my feet. They're finally waking up after years of slumbering in their shoe cocoons. I think I've succeeded in learning how to run injury-free in middle age.

I have to remember that more when I work on my programming skills. I need to identify objectives better and be more aggressive about conquering them and making them mine.

profile for duffymo at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

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