Learn How You Fail

One of the many proverbs which I was raised on that I think about to this day when I am trying (and often struggling) to learn something new and master it, is “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”. And while perfection is an impossible goal to set for oneself, the idea that it is important to analyze how you are practicing is instrumental in developing your skills.

This apprenticeship pattern “Learn How You Fail” speaks volumes to this idea. The main idea the authors are trying to impart is to not only accept that perfection is an impractical goal to strive towards, but to analyze and remember the qualities or areas that make you fail. By applying the practice of becoming aware of what you don’t know that you don’t know, my perspective and ultimate success will be much better for it.

Specifically, the authors make it a point to demonstrate this practice by suggesting to create an implementation of a common problem, in this case binary search, in a simple text editor. Once the problem is implemented we are to design tests and iterate the code until we believe it is perfect and only then can we compile and run the tests. The focus of this exercise is to illustrate that even when we think something is complete or as perfect as possible, there will be gaps in our knowledge that we are not aware of, and applying this practice will make you more familiar with the holes in our understanding, allowing us to get a better view of ourselves and our limitations, with the goal of overcoming them.

This apprenticeship pattern definitely spoke to me, because I am very interested with not only the concrete skills in software development, but also the process of learning and finding new ways to learn more efficiently. One quote from this section of the book which stuck with me because of its blunt honesty was “someone who has never failed at anything has either avoided pushing the boundaries of their abilities or has learned to overlook their own mistakes”. I will definitely be taking this lesson to heart and do my best to get as accurate of a self-assessment as possible, so I can practice honing my skills as perfectly as possible.

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