Code Fanatic | Linux Enthusiast | Retrogaming Freak - I love solving problems with code

skills senior engineers need, beyond coding

I've found this list very insightful.

Personal observation: I noticed that I acquired/exercised some of those skills while contributing to open source projects and interacting with the communities around such projects.
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Deliberate practice (or Not all practice matters)

Really interesting article by Anders Ericsson detailing his researches about deliberate practice (in the text he calls it purposeful practice).

In his experiment a lad learned to memorize sequences of 82 random digits.

In the first weeks he could only memorize 8 (or 9 when lucky). But after using some techniques he was able to improve.
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The "game changer" in the progress happened when they decided to change from "memorize as many digits as you can" to "focus on memorizing +X digits than you memorized in the last session (and don't move forward until you're comfortably memorizing this amount)". This also reminds me that thing about SMART Goals.

Here are my main takeaways:

  • Once you have reached a satisfactory skill level and automated your performance, you have stopped improving.
  • Generally speaking, once a person reaches that level of "acceptable" performance and automaticity, the additional years of practice don't lead to improvement (he calls it naive practice).
  • Moving from naive to purposeful practice can dramatically increase performance.
  • If anything, the doctor (or driver or whatever) who's been at it for 20 years is likely to be a bit worse than the one who's been doing it for only five, because these automated abilities gradually deteriorate in the absence of deliberate efforts to improve.

Anecdotal conversation

Music instructor and yong music student:

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ« - Your practice sheet says that you practice an hour a day, but your playing test was only a C. Can you explain why?
πŸ§‘β€ - I don't know what happened! I could play the test last night!
πŸ‘¨β€πŸ« - How many times did you play it?
πŸ§‘β€ - Ten or 20.
πŸ‘¨β€πŸ« - How many times did you play it correctly?
πŸ§‘β€ - Umm, I dunno... Once or twice...
πŸ‘¨β€πŸ« - Hmm... How did you practice it?
πŸ§‘β€ - I dunno. I just played it.

Purposeful practice characteristics

Purposeful practice...
  • ... has well-defined, specific goals.
    • it's all about putting a bunch of babysteps together to reach a longer-term goal.
    • break it down and make a plan

  • ... is focused
    • you seldom improve much without giving the task your full attention.

  • ... involves feedback
    • without feedback - either from yourself or from outside observers - you cannot figure out what you need to improve on or how close you are to achieving your goals.

  • ... requires getting out of one's comfort zone
    • it means tryint to do something that you couldn't do before.
    • sometimes you may find it relatively easy, but sometimes you run into something that stops you cold. Finding ways around these barriers is one of the hidden keys.
    • try harder != try differently
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