Getting Comfortable With Doing Uncomfortable Things

I recently had a very humbling lesson when I took an assessment for a job application. Part of it involved a language I have zero experience in (Java), so I immediately felt out of my element. It also involved a shorter time limit than I’ve been accustomed to, so I was also dealing with a new pressure on my newly-learned skills. I’m relatively certain that this will be par for the course, but that realization didn’t change the fact that I didn’t feel good about how I performed, or my chances at moving forward with the interview process.

I won’t go into my reaction to the COVID pandemic here, as I’ve already posted another blog on the subject. For a while, I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to do much (if any) coding. At the time, I didn’t realize how much it would affect this particular skill. However, with my mind in crisis mode, I don’t think it could’ve processed that knowledge unexercised is knowledge lost.

Code exercises haven’t been a regular part of my routine. I tend to flashback to math class, which involved “problems” that seemed totally arbitrary and not connected to anything practical. Sure, an argument could be made for the way a young person’s lack of perspective attributes to this, but nonetheless, it stuck in my head.

There are many places online that have a vast list of coding exercises (Hacker Rank being the most well-known), and to some degree, they feel about as arbitrary as the math problems I had in school. After my experience with the assessment, however, their value became crystal clear.

Ask any hockey player how many shots they take in practice versus in the game. Ask an auto-racer how many times they practice on a track before the green flag. Ask an Intel engineer how many designs they tested before they released their first Pentium processor. In all of these cases, I’m willing to bet that the ratio was way more than ten-to-one.

It’s not comfortable to solve a seemingly arbitrary problem that isn’t directly connected to a project. However, leaders like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Alan Turing, and Nikolai Telsa didn’t achieve what they did by being comfortable.

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