Tracking Skills: An Experimental Approach#

There’s always a lot to learn and sometimes it is difficult to figure out where to start. I have quite a lot I want to improve both in music and programming, and I wanted a way to find out where I am, how I am doing, and where to go next. Further, I’d like to devise some way to check that the skills are there when I need them or that my effective abilities are really where I expect them to be.

For the guitar part, I’m already tracking songs and material I can learn, seeking for similarities and ways to move from one piece to the other for free, because I already know something about it (e.g.: the D5 Bb5 C5 progression is there in Helloween’s I want out and in Iron Maiden’s Purgatory).

What about programming? The whole issue is tricky because it lies in between work and, well, personal projects. Most of what I do as a programmer is dictated by the employer’s needs. So, how do we evaluate that?

While testing for keystroke speed and accuracy is something you can measure in a Google search, how about what you know? That’s something I tried. After all, no measure is better than no measure at all. Plus, you can’t start improving what you have no ideas about - not even estimates.

Test to Measure#

So that’s what I did.

I pick a few items I want to test myself on. Then I took pen and paper and start jotting down methods, concepts, commands, etc related to the field. The first idea was to give me 5 minutes for each slot. Then I restricted it to 2 minutes. I did not want to overthink it and I actually wanted to brush through the whole list quite quickly.

I thought that paper beat keyboard typing. I don’t want autocompletion to help me or go against me. I don’t want to lose type on the backspace, etc. And I don’t want the setting to help me more than it should. I want to be able to track down the things I may start saying to dad or out of nowhere, not the stuff I can talk about in a post-stand-up call, with the editor opened and all the tools up and running.

So, there we go. I run the experiment.

I discovered that:

  • two minutes can be more than enough if you pick a too narrow topic
  • sometimes you can have an “ah-ahhh” moment in which you realize that you actually know quite a lot more than you said/wrote while performing the task. I allowed myself to add them down, but I’ve marked the items in a specific way
  • after you read the stuff you jotted down in such a hurry situation you may realize that you put something down but you cannot figure out why or you realize that you have it because you are studying a topic and you know that your word has to be there (“I’ve read that this morning!”). But honestly, you have no idea about that or you realize you cannot fully explain it. Mark these items as well
  • if a topic is too broad, it can be good to start the write down everything session with prefilled columns, especially if you are focused on learning some list of items for an exam preparation and you know you have to write out all 15 methods of something.

What’s next?#

Such a 10 minutes test gave me a lot of inputs on how to consolidate and expand what I know and how to make better use of the things I thought I know. Why there was no trace of the last feature I’ve pushed I was so proud of?

The scribbled concepts are hung on my working table. I’ll go through them, check them for correctness and improvements. In this revision, I should find more inputs to structure this new way to store knowledge for the good and for testing purposes.

How to improve this entry#

  • check with Grammarly
  • proper editing
  • better editing