97 Things Every Programmer Should Know

(Chris Devlin) #1

Collective Wisdom from the Experts 45

The expertise arrives gradually over time—not all at once in the 10,000th
hour! Nevertheless, 10,000 hours is a lot: about 20 hours per week for 10 years.
Given this level of commitment, you might be worrying that you’re just not
expert material. You are. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice.
Your choice. Research over the last two decades has shown that the main fac-
tor in acquiring expertise is time spent doing deliberate practice. Innate ability
is not the main factor. According to Mary Poppendieck:

There is broad consensus among researchers of expert performance that inborn
talent does not account for much more than a threshold; you have to have a mini-
mum amount of natural ability to get started in a sport or profession. After that,
the people who excel are the ones who work the hardest.

There is little point to deliberately practicing something you are already an
expert at. Deliberate practice means practicing something you are not good at.
Peter Norvig explains:

The key [to developing expertise] is deliberative practice: not just doing it again
and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current abil-
ity, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting
any mistakes.

And Mary Poppendieck writes:

Deliberate practice does not mean doing what you are good at; it means challeng-
ing yourself, doing what you are not good at. So it’s not necessarily fun.

Deliberate practice is about learning—learning that changes you, learning that
changes your behavior. Good luck.

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