The Personal Growth Cycle: Learning How To Learn

By: Lauren Tan

For the longest time, I’ve felt like an imposter in the ever-increasingly complex world that is the tech industry. New terminology and best practices emerge every other day at a relentless pace. Frameworks come and go, new ideas become standard, and thought-leaders discover that yet another thing is considered harmful.

With an intense culture unlike any other, it’s no surprise that feelings of inadequacy are commonplace. Prior to joining DockYard, I was just another Australian developer enjoying internet anonymity. The startup I worked with (2014) then used Ember on the front-end, and my colleagues and I found it difficult to work with. This was prior to Ember 1.13, so things were a lot different back then!

The first step is admitting it

I started my blog during that time, mostly writing about “cool” things we had done with Ember like drag and drop, flash messages, and so on. I didn’t think too much of it then. After all, I was still considered relatively junior, it being my first real job outside of my own startup.

Starting out as a self-taught designer, I learnt front-end development while working on my startup, and in my time at my first job. Coding was unlike anything I had ever done before, but I loved it, and kept at it even when I was frustrated.

My writing was a way to document (and learn from) how I tried to solve a particular problem. To my surprise, some of the more prominent members of the Ember community started to take notice, and I was asked to try my hand at submitting a talk to EmberConf.

Get out of your comfort zone

Public speaking was (and still is) my greatest fear, so it took a little convincing before I decided I would try submitting a proposal. My talk ended up being accepted, and despite being absolutely terrified, I walked up on stage facing hundreds of people, and delivered the talk I had prepared so hard for.

Brian reached out to me shortly after, and I joined DockYard in March last year. He saw the potential in me I couldn’t, and in the past year or so, I’ve grown in many ways. There are amazing people here who constantly push you to become better, and it’s no exaggeration when I say that DockYard is one of the best places I’ve been fortunate enough to work at.

When I first started, I was terrified. I didn’t think I could do it, because I had little experience. Despite that fear, I kept at it – things started making sense, and I could even explain to others.

This year, I worked solo on a project for a client – an API built using Elixir / Phoenix. I was terrified, again. I didn’t think I could do it, because I had only read a book and wrote a tiny bit of Elixir. Despite that fear, I kept at it – things started making sense, and now I’m a self-taught full stack developer.

The cycle of growth

I’m not going to tell you that getting good at something takes 10,000 hours, but it does take time and effort. Learning a new skill or improving one is rewarding, but learning to learn will reward you many times over.

Unfortunately, I can’t teach you how to learn. Everyone learns differently, and you must discover it for yourself. What I can tell you, is that how you learn (visual, experiential, etc) is merely an implementation detail. What’s important is the cycle:

  1. Reflect – Know where you stand
  2. Do – Get out of your comfort zone
  3. Learn – Fail and try again

If you’re familiar with the Lean Startup, you’ll notice that the steps are the same. The cycle is your real world REPL, and just like programming, is an excellent way to take a more exploratory approach to learning.

Help someone else to grow

When you find yourself in a position to mentor, embrace it. Although the cycle is personally rewarding, being able to help someone else to “learn how to learn” is even more so.

It’s bittersweet, but this month will be my last month working with this amazing team. DockYard has been the perfect environment to put this in practice, and I am eternally grateful that I had the chance to be a part of something special.

Here’s to more growth!