Using spaced repetition to learn software development.

How does one learn software engineering after 40?

After starting this journey to become a software engineer, I came to realize that I didn’t understand fully how to learn. But learning comes naturally, right? We all do it from learning how to read, talk, ride a bike etc.

Periodically, we might learn a new route to work or school or a stranger’s name, but what about learning complex material like software development or advanced mathematics?

What if you have been away from school or a learning environment for decades? How do you learn after 4o?

When I was in high school and college, I was not a great student. I didn’t know how to learn and quite frankly I became distracted easily. I had poor study habits and didn’t understand some basic concepts about learning and retention.

It wasn’t until I became confident with myself and discovered what I wanted to do with my life that I really began the journey to learn. First, knowing your weaknesses is a great start. I knew that I was not a great student in the past.

I knew that I wanted to become a software engineer and make a career change. It was daunting and little overwhelming thinking about the unknown and about taking on such a immense task.

People may tell you that you can’t learn at an advanced age. Ever heard the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” This is just not true.

Treat learning software development like you are in a real class, regardless if it’s an online tutorial, bootcamp, or even just a book.

For me, learning starts with taking large quantities of notes. Review what you don’t know before moving too far forward. It’s easier to learn and faster if you slow down, review the material and quiz yourself. I know this doesn’t make sense, but think about it. If you don’t fully understand most of the material at least to proficiency, what will happen when you get over your head and can’t find your way? Will you give up? Get frustrated and quit? Will you have to go back and re-learn the material?

Why not learn it the right way the first time so you can avoid retracing your steps.

My solution was to find a good note taking app like ‘evernote’ and in conjunction use a spaced repetition software like ‘brainscape’ or ‘studyblue’.

I then take notes on what I don’t fully understand, then I rewrite those notes in ‘brainscape’ and then I study and review the material at spaced intervals. It has been proven that reviewing material over and over at periodic intervals is one of the best ways to force the long term memory process to take ahold.

Of course, then take the material and build something with your knowledge. Write some methods, ‘if’ statements, and better yet build an app no matter how small. Get a project that you are passionate about and just start building it with the material that you have learned. Proficient practice makes perfect.

Once you have made notes and note cards in the software and reviewed them, quizzed yourself, etc. and practiced using your knowledge building something, it’s time to move on to the next material. In a few days, review the material in the ‘studyblue’ or ‘brainscape’ app again. Then repeat the process over and over again.

Following this process may seem slow, but understanding something to proficiency versus just knowing something is entirely different. Really understanding the material is what will set you apart in an interview and on the job when difficult problems arise and your employers will thank you for it.