100 Hours

How long does it take someone to learn to be good at building software in some language? I’m sure many of you have heard of the 10,000 rule that notes the truly gifted in a field need 10,000 hours of practice to become experts and master their craft. There’s some debate about how true that is, but certainly becoming an expert takes tremendous dedication, certainly years of time.

I ran across a piece that referenced a slightly shorter rule, the 100 hour rule. The rule is fairly simple: “for most disciplines, it only takes one hundred hours of active learning to become much more competent than an absolute beginner.”

One hundred hours is nothing. That’s a long week or two of active learning to get good at something. But how good? If we look at software development, what can you accomplish in 100 hours? After all, absolute beginner is a low bar. That’s the level my Mom is at and I’m not sure how much I could teach her beyond “Hello, world” in a few hours. Even in 100 hours, I’m not sure she could solve many problems.

The good thing is that most of us aren’t absolute beginners, especially in software. We have frames of reference for many parts of how computers work. I suspect that 100 hours of deliberate, guided, practical (meaning typing and practicing skills), would turn lots of people into a good junior developer, maybe even a mid level developer. I think many senior developers would be very competent in a new language in a few hundred hours, because they’d learn the syntax translation quickly and then start understanding the tips, tricks, and gotchas that experts in that language might know. The algorithms and problem solving skills are often the same between languages.

For most of us looking to grow our careers and improve our technology skills, I would guess we could learn a new skill every year, becoming competent, with 100 hours of practice. Reading books and articles is good, but the hands on practice is most important, and that’s what really drives home active learning. That’s something I’d encourage many of you do, with exercises, puzzles, or maybe even start a small project that help you learn. It will help your career, by improving skills, and might even be fun along the way.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

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