Quinn Dunki Discusses Learning

By Ngoc Bui, Research and Content Generator for she++

Blondihacks, Quinn Dunki’s blog. http://quinndunki.com/blondihacks/

Quinn Dunki, a Lead Engineer at Scopely, has spent the last four years designing and building her own computer — from scratch. Every step of her incredible journey is documented on her blog, “Blondihacks.” From this experience and her 35-plus years as a software engineer, she has accumulated a sizable collection of essential lessons about hacking, Computer Science, and life in general. Here are five of the most profound pieces of advice she has to share in her own words.

  1. Learn your tools

Tools are force-multipliers. Every hour you spend getting better with your tools will pay dividends six or seven-fold down the road. For example, moment to moment in the various IDEs and editors that I use, learning every keyboard shortcut will do wonders for your efficiency. On the bigger end of things, understanding your tools gives you options for solving problems.

2. Make a little progress everyday

Any tough challenge will have good days and bad days. Visible progress is never linear. If you judge your progress solely by how many lines of code you have, or how many features you’ve added, you’ll get discouraged when getting stuck on something. However, the time spent is never wasted. As long as you are focused, engaged, and working on the project, you are making progress whether you realize it or not. The process is the project!

3. Don’t give up

If you’re working on hard problems (which you should be), you will absolutely get stuck along the way. Don’t be afraid to walk away from it when that happens. Walking away is very often the single best thing you can do to make progress. Coming back to the problem a day or a week or a month later gives your subconscious time to chew on things. I’m constantly amazed how the solution to something I’ve been really stuck on simply flashes into mind long after I’ve stopped consciously working on it. Your subconscious is a champ at thinking laterally and unconventionally. Trust that it’s okay to walk away from a problem and that your brain will keep working on it whether you realize it or not.

4. Pursue problems that excite you and that are just past what you think you can do

If you aren’t excited by the potential of the end result, you won’t likely have the motivation to push through the difficult times. Scoping the problem is also important. Much like long-distance runners set intermediate goals, engineers should also define success in achievable pieces. For example, lots of programmers are interested in writing games. However, if you set out to write Halo your first time out, you’ll probably fail. This can be discouraging and make you hesitate about trying another project in the same vein. For a first game project, write Pong!

sandbox.yoyogames.com

There’s more to it than you think, and you’ll learn more by FINISHING a simple project than half-baking a complex one. By “finish”, I mean finish! Polish it and make it nice. Add music, sound effects, menus, multiplayer, and AI control. Make the nicest Pong ever. That way, you’ll have something complete to hang on the mantle, feel good about yourself, and be ready for a new slightly larger project. Setting goals just a little bit past what you think you can achieve is key. If you don’t push yourself a bit, you won’t learn. If you push yourself too hard, you’ll give up and become demoralized.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail

Failure is where all the learning happens. Humanity has failed its way from campfires to space stations over 10,000 years, and you’re no different. The trick is taking what you learn from the failure, and immediately applying it to the next thing. The more you fail at things, the better you get at anticipating the next failure in order to prevent it. This is what “experience” really means, and it’s the most valuable thing in the world. The more you fail, the quicker you gain experience, so embrace the suck and laugh at how much you’re learning when things blow up in your face.

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To put in plainly, learning is not just something that ends in the classroom. Learning is a way of life. The moment you stop learning new skills, new tools, new languages, you might as well retire.

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