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Word of Advice for Beginners

I received this email from @Dan at Real Python from

Hey there,

When I was 15-years old I'd set my mind on becoming the world's greatest guitarist.

I was already a huge nerd at the time—so one beautiful Sunday morning I sat down for a few hours and mapped out a learning plan for this endeavour.

My ingenious plan to turn me into a virtuoso guitarist looked like this:

"Here's a stack of CDs from bands that I like. I’m just going to rotate through these 5 different genres every day and practice for a few hours. That’ll give me maximum exposure and I’ll be able to rock it out in no time."

Come Monday, off I went and bought a nice stack of practice books and magazine lessons for the top 20 blues, jazz, and metal songs I liked.

Pretty sure I also threw in some 16 minute Pink Floyd solos for good measure...

I dragged home the haul—and without even knowing how to fret a basic power chord, I dove into lessons for these wildly differing styles.

And, guess what happened...

Two months later I had made exactly ZERO progress and was ready to give up the guitar altogether. Whoops.

Looking back, I know now what doomed my "ingenious" plan to fail:

Practicing all these different styles of music at the same time confused my brain and mixed up my muscle memory.

All this "mental context switching" didn’t help. It just added overhead and made sure I spun my wheels aimlessly.

Here's why I'm telling you this:

It's easy to make the same mistake when it comes to learning Python.

There's no point denying it—modern software development is super complex.

And it's getting more complicated by the hour...

What looks like a relatively clearly skill set from the outside, turns into a fractal topic as soon as you look closer:

Setting up a development environment, grasping the basic syntax of the language, knowing standard data structures and algorithms and when to apply them, understanding Git and source control, TDD and writing automated tests, designing programs for maintainability, ...

(Taking a deep breath here.)

... learning how to organize your source code, error handling, what frameworks to use and when, interacting with PostgreSQL and MySQL databases, object-oriented programming, static code analysis, Django, Flask, web applications, APIs, design patterns, linters, code coverage, continuous integration, ...

Whoa, buddy.

There's simply A TON of stuff you need to pick up—and it get's more difficult if you try to cover it all at the same time.

If you find yourself in that situation, my advice would be to keep "mental context switches" at a minimum.

Don’t repeat my mistake by trying to learn blues, jazz, and metal at the same time.

It’s too easy to get frazzled and to lose motivation that way. It can drag your learning progress to a halt.

Instead, I found it helps to deliberately limit your choices. Putting some constraints in place will help enhance your creativity and focus:

Concentrate on getting good at one programming language (e.g. Python.)

Learn how to set up and work with just one database (e.g. PostgreSQL.)

Learn how to use one web framework (e.g. Django.)

Use one source control tool (e.g. Git.)

And so on.

Focus on each thing you add to the mix exclusively for some time. Solve problems with the tools and techniques you already know.

Let things settle a bit before you start working on a new skill. It's tough, but I know you can see through it and succeed.

Good luck, and...

Happy Pythoning!

— Dan Bader