Hacker School, Friday, July 11th, 2014

On Friday for interview preparation practice, we worked on recursion problems. These were fun, but I also got stuck a few times. Getting stuck on these was emotionally difficult for me. I think it amounts to some kind of performance anxiety. I'm glad to notice this, because it seems like the best antidote for it is to practise. Hacker School is a good place for practising skills.

Once again, though, I feel the strain of choice pressure. There are so many paths to pursue. In my first couple of weeks here, I thought that I needed to have a fixed set of goals and plan them carefully, and stick to them. Then I realised that even if I filter myself to 2 or 3 favourite projects, I will generate another full set of ideas within a few days. It doesn't make sense to rule them out in advance.

My current feeling is that it is ok to change focus, and leave a path if it seems less rewarding than it was. On the other hand, sometimes achieving a goal requires persisting through times of tedium. I value persistence, and it has served me well in some things. For instance, I managed to get my master's degree after many years of illness and family struggles, by not giving up, and by committing myself to it over and over. Also, I like to make measureable progress, at least in some areas, so it is nice to have a few things that I come back to regularly over time.

To prioritise, I sometimes ask myself these questions:

  • What projects give highest return on time investment?
  • What projects left undone represent the greatest threat?
  • On a long-term basis, which will make me feel best if achieved?

The question Stacey Sern uses in her goal setting workshop is most like the second one. I appear to have failed to write it down verbatim, but it was something like:

  • What is the minimum outcome that you would be disappointed with not achieving?

At one point in my life, I decided I wanted to have most of my choices be among really good things, rather than the more zero sum type, where each choice has some negative, and you are choosing the least bad one. (Of course, there is always opportunity cost.) I am extremely fortunate to have this situation in many areas of my life now. I didn't realise, when wishing for it, the inherent agony of it, but I still prefer it.

I like using Fridays to focus on skill problems that sharpen my abilities, even though there are other exciting projects that must be put aside to do so, and even though they don't directly result in libraries or applications to share later.

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