Using assessments to know and improve yourself

While I was studying at Launch School, in one lesson it’s recommend to students to start a blog, sharing a little bit of what they are learning. After that recommendation, it never came up to me what I should write as the first post. Today I did my first assessment interview at Launch School and although I passed, I got into trouble because I was not minded prepared to what was coming. So I decided to write how was this experience in my perspective and then I hope that maybe it helps those who are going to do the same assessment (109) or other assessments.

Before I tell you about the assessment, a little bit of my background. I am 32 years old (this picture of ‘medium’ is from twitter, and is 10 years old already. Got to change that because I don’t look like that anymore =p), living in São Paulo, Brazil. I have a computer science degree and today I work as a Java programmer. Although I have this degree, I am not really happy with my career as a developer and with my skills. The company I am working for is not very fond of newest technologies and practices, and since I did not gain too many experience before getting there, I am feeling stuck. So I decided that I had to change somethings in my life. I decided to improve my skills. To get ‘good’, because I thought I wasn’t ‘good’ enough (I was kind obsessed with the thoughts of getting ‘good’ without knowing exactly what was it, but that changed a lot today. But this is a topic for another post). That’s when I found Launch School and it matched exactly with what I was looking for.

Before Launch School, I have never seen a piece of code in ruby before, so lots of things were pretty much new for me. Even if I had already programmed before, I tried to use a piece advice from the Mastery book from George Leonard: I started to deal with the course as if I have never seen a line of code in my life. So I read all the content carefully more than once, did the exercises twice or three times and finally watched all the videos. When I was feeling I was confident enough while after I solved the exercises, I decided to schedule the assessment interview.

The day the of the interview came, and half an hour before it, I turned on my computer and decided to try some exercises just to warm up. Man, I was very, very nervous. And maybe because of the stress, while I was trying to solve one of the problems that I had already done during my studies, I wasn’t succeeding too much on getting an answer. I decided then to get an easier one from ruby basics to gain confidence and then to try the harder ones again. Not too much improvement. Then my stress and anxious level got even higher.

When the assessment time finally arrived, and I saw what I had to do, I got very happy because I took a look and thought: “I saw something similar to this before! I can solve this!”. That was my mistake! Because before the assessment I was sure I wouldn’t be able to do anything and then when I saw something similar that I know I actually could do, I didn’t pay attention or focused the way I was supposed to. I just started to solve the problem without even paying too much attention on what was being asked for me to do. And because of that I got all confused and started to make silly mistakes. Eventually I could get out of trouble and complete the task, but I almost failed.

So, with the assessment I learned some weaknesses that I have. One of them is that I don’t stop and try to think very well about the problem I have to solve. I get too anxious (even more when it’s an interview!) and then I start to code too early without analyzing the problem with deep understanding. Do I get to the right answer? Yes, but not always. So that’s something I learned that I have to improve today. Another weakness is that I don’t try the simplest solution first. Ruby has lots of built-in methods. So it’s easy to get confused to use one instead of another in some situations. But why would you try to remember which method is the best if a simple loop would solve it? Of course, when you are practicing, you should use loop and ruby methods and all the other ways you can. But during the assessment, well, I think it’s the best to write the way you know better. In my case, it wasn’t ruby methods that I had to deal with but there was a situation in my that if I tried a much simpler way, maybe I would write more lines of code, but it would be a lot simpler to solve the problem.

Realizing this weaknesses, it came to my mind a conversation I saw on a movie called ‘Fearless’ between Huo Yuanjia (Jet Li) and Tanaka (Mikihiro Ogawa) while they were having tea.

Tanaka asks Huo if no wushu fighting style is better than the other, why there are so many competitions? Huo then answers the following:

“We can further improve through competitions
and to discover one’s true self
Finally the real opponent is ourselves
Only through competition,
can one recognise one’s true self”

So that’s how I see the assessment and the exercises. It’s like competitions, but with yourself. It’s a way to know about yourself better. What are your strengths and weakness. What can you do to improve, passing or not? So, now I see them not only to get to the next lesson, but a way to improve myself in the path to mastery.