Many of the courses in my degree have a large programming assignment portion. These assignments are tough and time consuming, but I know that if I spend enough effort, I’ll figure it out eventually.
The process isn’t pretty. It’s a lot of stumbling through. It’s almost like an adventure, where I’d try one path and if that doesn’t work I’ll try another. Even if that path doesn’t work, I know I’m making progress towards my final destination. Until finally, something clicks, I get an idea, and it works.
It’s incredibly rewarding to finally solve an assignment especially after struggling through it. I end up knowing the content well and I can confidently help out a friend after.
But on the other hand, there are some assignments, in which I get lazy and ask a friend how to do it. I didn’t take the time to truly understand the assignment or to try out different approaches. I may of completed the lab but it wasn’t as rewarding and I don’t understand the content as much.
This is the difference between learning things from stumbling through it versus being told how to do it.
In Constance Reid’s biography on the famous mathematician, David Hilbert, she writes on Hilbert’s view that formal education in mathematics too often just tells us the answer:
Hilbert had no patience with mathematical lectures which filled the students with facts but did not teach them how to frame a problem and solve it. He often used to tell them that “a perfect formulation of a problem is already half its solution.
Stepping outside of the classroom, a popular question is what advice would you give to your younger self.
It’s a great question that gets the person in a reflective mood and I wrote about it myself a few months back.
But the greatest lessons I’ve learned are because I stumbled through and learned them the hard way. Arriving to the answer was like an adventure, one that becomes a learning experience. But if I’m told the answer right away the lesson ceases to become an adventure but rather into a cold hard fact.
If I had the option to go back in time and tell my younger self these lessons, it’s likely that maybe they won’t be the greatest lesson for me anymore. I’m not sure if I’d take that away from myself.
Maybe there are certain things out there that are better to stumble through rather than seeking out the playbook.