Learning Means Making Mistakes

Whenever programmers get a new toy, they play with it. They push it to see how far it will go, and that means that they always misuse it. This is how they learn how to use it. When programmers first learn OOP, they overuse inheritance. When programmers first read DesignPatterns, they try to make every method into a Strategy and build a Facade for the smallest subsystem. When programmers first use a system for graphically connecting components (VisualAge is what comes to mind for me), they try to implement the whole application using it, leading to a dense network that is impossible to follow. In all cases, the problem is not with the technique, it is with overusing the technique. All benefits have a cost. But the only way to find out the limits of a technique is to go beyond them.

Ideally, we'd learn the limits of a new technique before we started using it "for real". But that would require more training time than we usually want to spend. So, we always end up learning on the job.

As BrianFoote says: "Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement."


For an interesting (although at times overblown) essay on this concept in the civil and mechanical engineering worlds, have a look at HenryPetroski?'s book ToEngineerIsHuman: The Role of Failure in Successful Design. Much of the book resonates powerfully with the issues facing software developers. --DavidThomas

This is one of the first principles of teaching GameOfChess, GameOfGo or most any other skill that values accuracy. Don't be afraid to make make mistakes when learning even if the eventual goal is perfection.

One thing to note: you do need to recognize your mistakes in order to learn from them, otherwise you just reinforce bad habits. For most endeavors this means having an experienced coach or some other means of quality feedback. For programmers, this could be the compiler if the error messages and warnings are high quality, or one's pair when PairProgramming or reviewing code for the more subtle stylistic and design mistakes.


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