Threading The Needle Of Interesting And Informative While You Learn To Code


October 5th, 2020

56 mins 29 secs

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About this Episode


Learning to code is a neverending journey, which is why it’s important to find a way to stay motivated. A common refrain is to just find a project that you’re interested in building and use that goal to keep you on track. The problem with that advice is that as a new programmer, you don’t have the knowledge required to know which projects are reasonable, which are difficult, and which are effectively impossible. Steven Lott has been sharing his programming expertise as a consultant, author, and trainer for years. In this episode he shares his insights on how to help readers, students, and colleagues interested enough to learn the fundamentals without losing sight of the long term gains. He also uses his own difficulties in learning to maintain, repair, and captain his sailboat as relatable examples of the learning process and how the lessons he has learned can be translated to the process of learning a new technology or skill. This was a great conversation about the various aspects of how to learn, how to stay motivated, and how to help newcomers bridge the gap between what they want to create and what is within their grasp.


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  • Your host as usual is Tobias Macey and today I’m interviewing Steven F. Lott about finding a project that you care about to aid in learning to program


  • Introductions
  • How did you get introduced to Python?
  • Can you start by outlining your experiences working with and teaching Python?
  • Does your day-to-day experience at work suggest ways to help newcomers learn about Python?
  • How have your experiences as an author influenced your perspective on how to help newcomers become motivated to learn programming?
  • One of the common pieces of advice that I and others have given to people learning Python or other languages is to find a project that they want to build, but that’s not necessarily a practical approach. What are some of the difficulties that might come of that approach?
    • What are some strategies that you have tried for helping learners identify what kinds of project are possible and practical?
  • Beyond the difficulty of understanding what is possible and what is going to require a dedicated team of engineers to even attempt, there is the question of remaining motivated for long enough to follow through on a project in the face of syntax errors and design challenges. What can language developers and ecosystems do to improve the newcomer experience in exploring possibilities?
    • How can we make syntax errors educational and recoverable, rather than needing accrued knowledge, or hours of web searches?
  • As an author, there are complementary goals that may lead to conflict in the form of wanting to provide structured guidance and progression while allowing for creativity and experimentation. How have you approached those objectives in your books?
  • What are some of the projects that have motivated you to learn new skills?
  • What advice do you have for anyone who is working on or considering writing a book to teach a technical skill?
  • What advice do you have for anyone who is trying to learn programming or acquire a skill in a new language, platform, or framework?
  • Why are both of you movie picks black and white? Are you a film noir fan?

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The intro and outro music is from Requiem for a Fish The Freak Fandango Orchestra / CC BY-SA