Programming Languages are tools. Learning a tool doesn’t make you a developer.

If you learn how to use a saw and a hammer, that doesn’t mean you are able to build a house. Saws, hammers, screwdrivers – these are all tools. How you apply them to solve a problem (when and where) are techniques. There are multiple techniques you need to learn in order to understand how to build a house. While you still need to know how to use your tools, there’s fundamental concepts that you need to learn first, such as carpentry, masonry, and plumbing. Similarly, learning a programming language like JavaScript does not make you a programmer. You need to learn techniques for how to apply the tool to solve problems, not just learning the tool.

Tools can help you apply techniques and concepts, usually either in saving time or effort, or making a task easier than performing the task with your bare hands. Without a knowledge of these fundamental concepts you could certainly attempt to build a house (“I know what a house looks like so I know how to build one, right?”) and while you might end up with an end result that looks like a house, it will probably won’t be safe to live in. After the first winter storm you’ll probably find your roof leaks and you’ll be lucky if it’s still standing after being subject to strong winds.

Practice Makes Perfect

Knowledge of tools, concepts and techniques still does not mean you can apply them competently. Following with the house building analogy, if you read a book on house construction, could you successfully (and safely) build a house? Maybe. If you get your first job on a construction site and get some experience in house building and learn how to apply the techniques you’ve picked up from studying your house building book, it’s more likely for your next construction job you’ll be able to apply the knowledge and skills you’ve learned. Over time you’ll get advice, see what works and what doesn’t work, pick up tips and techniques that can save you time, growing your experience and competency.

Software development is no different. To improve your skills you need to get feedback on your work, you need to get advice on areas where you can improve, but just as importantly you need to practice your skills.

There’s commonly quoted advice that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become and expert at anything. This has to be deliberate practice with the goal of improving your skills. For software development, spending 10,000 hours writing the same line of code over and over is not going to help you at all in becoming a better developer.

Don’t get caught up in comparing the pros and cons of different languages, or wanting to learn a specific language because you read it’s the ‘best’. Once you’ve learnt one you can more easily learn others. Spend time learning techniques and approaches to solve common problems. Learning a tool can be beneficial, but it’s not particularly useful if you don’t know how to apply it effectively.

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