“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.“
I recently went down a rabbit hole of learning. Unlike the hole that Alice crawled into in Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it didn’t lead to a garden. Rather, it led to a world of functions, semicolons and brackets. Last year, I started learning to code.
(If your eyes just glazed over for a second, that’s okay. If I talk to my wife about code for more than 30 seconds, I can see her attention slowly shift to things that interest her more…like lint, or our ceiling fan. I’m discovering that my newfound interest isn’t necessarily everyone else’s.)
In typical multipod fashion, I ran with my reignited interest in coding without looking behind me. I soon found myself mired in YouTube tutorials and tech forums. There are so many directions to go, and each path leads to another path, which leads to another, and so on. I won’t describe all these paths to you in detail, because I want you to keep reading. Suffice to say, there are subjects within subjects. It becomes tempting to choose the latest EAT ME or DRINK ME treat without considering the consequences. The distractions multiply exponentially and soon I forget where I was headed in the first place.
“Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if only I knew how to begin.” For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.
I thought it would help to meet people who might understand my runaway learning addiction. I turned to tech Twitter, which sometimes feels like a Mad Tea Party. Hardly anything made sense to me, but everything seemed perfectly sensible to the more experienced coding community:
“What is Laravel?” I would ask.
“It’s a framework.”
“Why do I need a framework?”
“You don’t. But it’s always good to use one.”
It reminded me of the Mad Hatter’s riddle, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
The answer to this riddle, of course, is that there is no answer. I’ve learned that experts in many different areas talk in riddles about their subject.
I also started seeing lots of unsolicited advice from seasoned developers, such as:
“PHP is dead.”
“There’s no point in studying Python, there are no jobs.”
“Off with their heads!”
Okay, that last one was from the Queen. But every time I read the latest proclamation, I started questioning my path and even my presence in Coding Wonderland.
I started wondering if I would ever make it out of Coding Wonderland with my confidence intact. Still, I’ve received some good advice from a blue caterpillar or two and I’ve found that the journey is easier with friends.
Over the course of a year exploring this new world, I’ve managed to narrow my focus to a few key languages and one semi-stable direction—for the time being, anyway. I realized that there are some advantages to staying the course in a subject so I can learn it well. It doesn’t mean that I don’t often find myself distracted by invitations to explore new things, but I seldom need a grinning cat to show me the way out.
This has just been my own recent experience exploring programming languages. There are always rabbit holes to go down in any pursuit. Take art, for example.
If you decided to explore “art,” you could find yourself immersed in collage one day, then decide that a touch of watercolor would really make the piece. Suddenly, you’re surrounded by watercolor books, trying to make your dog sit still in front of your easel while you paint puppy portrait number seven. Then, maybe, what the painting really needs as a final touch is a beautiful quote in calligraphy along the bottom.
You see where this is heading.
Rabbit-holing can happen with any pursuit. An interest in ships takes you down the rabbit hole of deep sea oceanography. Exploring vintage shoes becomes a diversion into 1920s dust bowl fashion. Studying the best application techniques for sealing wax turns into a new website project about printmaking.
Multipods are particularly susceptible to falling down rabbit holes.
There’s nothing wrong with going down rabbit holes. In fact, I now recommend it early and often. I’ve found that exploring every little nook and cranny of an interest can be a clarifying exercise. You find out what you love, what bores you and what you really don’t like at all.
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
Along my journey through Coding Wonderland, I’ve often berated myself for not sticking to one path or another. I disliked the fact that I was taking little nibbles here and tiny sips there. I’ve felt that maybe I wasn’t actually getting anywhere. However, as my friend Neil reminds me, the knowledge I’ve gained from all these different languages will only make me a better developer in the end.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
I’ve also learned not to paint the roses red in anticipation of what others might view as important. If I stick to my own path, I will get where I’m going eventually—and I’ll probably have more fun along the way.
What kinds of multipotentialite rabbit holes have you fallen down lately? Do you have tips for navigating the intense desire to learn & do EVERYTHING? Share with the community in the comments.
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