Learning, Teaching & Empathy

Every time we learn something new and want to share it, we face these issues all over again — the desire to proclaim, to overturn received wisdom all at once — and the worse the received wisdom, the more vehemently we want to strike out. But if we are generous listeners and attentive teachers, we not only teach better and spread more knowledge, but also learn more, and enjoy ourselves more in the process. — Gershom Bazerman, Letter to a Young Haskell Enthusiast

When I’m not in front of a computer learning to code, you can usually find me outside. I’ve accumulated a long list of hobbies that serve as the impetus for me to get out the door, where, most importantly, the noise and distractions from day-to-day life slip away. Surrounded by fresh air, I can just be. Things make sense. I know what’s important. I am filled with gratitude.

A few years ago, I had a pretty cool opportunity to share my love for the outdoors with urban middle schoolers. I planned and led multi-day camping trips to some of California’s most beautiful public lands with the goal of introducing participants (most had never been camping before) to the wonders of nature. Photos highlights here.

I can’t count the number of times I pointed out something that fascinated me (like, really fascinated me), such as a spider spinning a web under our picnic table, only to be met with anything-but-fascination from the kids. Sure, I think spiders are pretty cool, but not everyone does. Especially if they are unfamiliar and quite possibly very scary! “Imagine how it might feel to experience ______  for the very first time” and “remember the last time you also felt ______” became my mantras. Teaching always went much more smoothly when I started from there.

That brings me to this blog. I started Pen, Meet Keyboard to record my experiences learning to code. My goal is to help my future self, and anyone else who finds it useful, remember what it’s like to be a beginner seeing and working through this stuff for the very first time. I’ve heard many people say that learning to code is easy, and I’d wager that most folks who say that have been at it for a good while now. Maybe they didn’t always feel that way, at least not at every moment every day. Hindsight has a funny way of helping us form generalities.

My experience learning to code over the last two and a half months has been humbling, fun, exciting, frustrating, exhausting, energizing, and exhilarating. Sometimes I feel all of those things in one day, or even in one hour. I used to think programming was magic, at least in the sense that it seemed like something I might not ever be able to do. I know differently now. This stuff is learnable and it’s for everyone who wants to learn it.

I plan to share some things I’m learning here, and I hope you’ll find them useful. Please call me out any time I start sounding like someone who wants to slay all of the false statements in the world. I’d be really grateful for your help.


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