"Pragmatic Thinking and Learning"

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware by Andy Hunt is yet another classic from The Pragmatic Bookshelf. This is not your typical programming / technical book, where you focus on a specific technology, methodology or toolset. Instead, with this book you take a much higher-level approach, learning how the brain learns, so that you can be more efficient and effective in all that you do.

As a software developer I have to be continually learning each day. I’m either learning new things about the current programming languages and tools that I use, or else I’m learning new programming languages and tools. It never ends, and that is part of the reason why I love working in this field. It keeps things interesting and exciting, constantly pushing you out of your comfort zone and challenging you to keep progressing.

I found this book to be a great help to this process, as it helps you understand how you learn and thus optimize the learning we do, getting more value out of our already busy schedules.

So often it’s easy to continue with less effecient practices because we never take the time to step back and think about what we are doing. We think we are saving time and energy because we are doing what we find comfortable, but so often our practices could be dramatically improved. This book challenges our tendency to get comfortable and urges the reader to think critically about everything they do. Improving now only how we learn but also how we execute our knowledge throughout our daily routines.

Refactor Your Wetware

The subtitle of the book is refactor your wetware, which is a fantastic summary of the book’s purpose. As a programmer, I know only too well how over time a codebase will develop cruft that makes it less efficient and less manageable. We also know how important regular refactoring of a codebase is, and how much better and more efficient it not only makes the codebase, but also how it makes our lives easier as we work with it.

Our minds are really not much different and so we need to be regularly examining our practices and thinking how we can refactor them. Many times it’s simply a matter of stopping what you are doing and taking a couple minutes to think about how it could be done better. Maybe it involves creating a mind map or sketching out the process on a piece of paper, looking for optimizations. The hard part for me is stopping and thinking, but I’m getting better at that, thanks in part to this book.

The Dreyfus Model

The book begins by giving a helpful overview of the Dreyfus Model of skill acquisition. The Dreyfus Model is a helpful way to think about the learning process and it proposes five specific stages: Novice, Advanced beginner, Competent, Proficient, and Expert. I found this to be a helpful way to think about my current skill set, and it allowed me to categorize my skills into the various stages. From there you can plan out what skills you want to target for improvement, and in determining the current stage you are at, you can then work out a plan to get to your desired stage.

Subsequent chapters dive into an exploration of the brain and how we can optimize our brains for learning. My biggest takeaway from this section is that I need to engage my creative side (the “R-mode”) more often. I really appreciated some of the strategies that the book gave to help facilitate and encourage R-mode involvement. It could be something as simple as taking a walk to think through a problem, we just need to be continually thinking outside the box and looking for ways to see a problem from multiple angles.

Learn Deliberately

My favourite chapter of the book is called Learn Deliberately. This chapter was incredible helpful, especially as it unpacked the use of targeted SMART Objectives and it encouraged thinking about learning as an investment. Like any financial investment, you need to regularly contribute in order to increase your portfolio over time. I found the discussion on the use of Mind Maps to be especially helpful. This is a chapter I will be going back to regularly so I can really internalize the contents and completely integrate these practices into my routine.

I’m really just scratching the surface of the book’s contents in this brief review. There is so much more, it’s jam packed with useful information and so I would highly recommend it. If you have not yet read it, I would encourage you head over to The Pragmatic Bookshelf and grab a copy.