We’ve all heard about the 10,000 hours it takes to get good at something. Maybe it’s 10k blog posts or 10k lines of code for you. The point is that you aren’t great till you’ve been doing it a long time and produced a bunch of terrible work.

A great article takes this idea of sucking at the beginning in writing and gives us permission to suck. Of course you’re not good, you’re learning.

I’m not sure that we extend this ‘beginner grace’ to new programmers though.

Becoming a ‘Blogger’

Being a ‘learning’ blogger is pretty accepted you just put your content out there and people read it (well if you’re lucky they read it). Really the first people to read your blog are probably your Mom and a few friends. That’s hardly a critical audience.

You’re starting and you suck and they know it and that’s alright.

You know what? My second blog post sucks, too; and the third. In fact, I have tons of sucky blog posts. Even today, I have a pile of documents full of sucky writing that will never see the light of day, and I’ll be adding to it tomorrow with more half-baked suckery.

There is a difference when you start putting code out there though. It’s unlikely that your Mom or Dad is a programmer. Your friends probably have no idea what you’re talking about as you try to discuss Object Oriented development versus Procedural Programming.

The first place you are putting some code out in the public is probably a forum, or on Github. The people looking at it are often experienced programmers. Many have done their 10k lines of bad code. This is hardly a non-critical audience and they are unlikely to remember that they sucked once.

My First Online Discussion about Code

Many years ago now I was a fledgling programmer who didn’t know how much I didn’t know. I had plugged in to a local Ruby programming club. Talking with one of the fellow members the topic of script ordering and optimization came up.

I was told that you just always put javascript in the footer of a site. See it’s a blocker, which means that other resources aren’t getting downloaded while JS is getting downloaded. I was even given 2 books to read on the topic.

With my new found knowledge I took a look at WordPress only to find that most scripts were being loaded at the top of the page. Just like you, I was aghast and set about trying to figure out how to load scripts in the footer.

Naturally I asked in some forums where I felt a bit safe, and what happened? Well I got ‘blasted’ by a recognized member of the WordPress community for worrying about premature optimization. I was ‘wasting my time’.


In all honesty I felt like a total idiot and really was unsure if I wanted to stay with this coding thing. Heck it didn’t feel good to be told I was an idiot. I already knew I was a beginner, I knew there were lots of things I didn’t know.

I only stuck around with WordPress because people like @andrea_r found me and encouraged me to stick with it.

Giving some more grace

Some of the most arrogant people I’ve met are programmers. To be a good programmer you need to have a certain level of confidence in what you do. A tentative programmer won’t ever really solve issues, they’ll just beat around them a bunch.

Without confidence we would just talk about coding and building software, but never have any results. It’s confidence that takes you from talking to actually writing code.

We need to remember to temper that confidence with a realization that when we started, we sucked. We need to extend that grace (read permission to suck) to those we encounter that are beginners.

No that doesn’t mean we don’t correct bad code, but we need to be careful of the tone we use. It’s so easy to read the wrong tone in to online conversation.

But I’m just being honest or I’m just being me you say. Well go be ‘honest’ and ‘you’ and a jerk somewhere else. Almost every time I encounter those statments it really just seems to be a justification for poor behaviour. 2 year olds feel entitled to act poorly without regard for anyone else’s feelings as well, and you are probably just acting like a 2 year old.

I know that if grace wasn’t extended to me as I learned, I wouldn’t be building stuff with WordPress today. Maybe I would be programming, maybe I’d be cutting lawns, but I wouldn’t be in the WordPress community.

Let’s not chase our next potential stars away.

photo credit: thesaltr via photopin cc

8 responses to “Programming and Extending Grace”

  1. John Saddington Avatar

    it’s a sad but it’s incurable; it’s just a fact of being part of the human race. people are snooty, arrogant, prideful, and full of egomaniacs. like you, i’m glad i didn’t stop because someone thought i was an idiot when i first started.

    1. John Saddington Avatar

      man, this comment is so full of grammatical errors. oh well. call me a noob.

      1. Curtis McHale Avatar
        Curtis McHale

        And now I can refer to your grammar errors forever. 😛

    2. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      One of the best books I read about it referred to it as ‘lifeboat’ mentality. We view ourselves as the last few people on a life boat, and we keep trying to prove that we should not be be pushed off. Essentially we work to prove that we are more valuable than the others around us.

  2. Brian Hogg Avatar

    Well said! If you’re going to offer help to someone, put your ego aside and just try to be helpful, without using the situation as a way to prove how much better you are. Asking questions to get them on the road to finding the solution on their own is even better.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      It’s hard for many, including myself sometimes. Humans have a fairly natural ‘need’ to show that they are ahead of someone else. We all need to fight that ‘need’ though.

  3. Len Avatar

    The same applies to all areas of life. Even in my field, experienced guy asks a rookie to get a particular tool or piece of material then flies off the handle when the rookie doesn’t quite understand what he wants. Some people need to remember that before they were great they sucked.

    Anyway, I’m glad you stuck with it. I see your name popping up in various places more and more. 🙂

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      Thanks. I still feel like it’s an uphill battle to get recognized (as my wife and I had a long discussion about last night). One sentence encouragements I get here and there totally make my day.