The air is still and silent, save for the spirited plastic clicks rising from my laptop keyboard as I feverishly name and rename variables. My restless mind woke me with what seemed to be a devilishly clever way to solve a logic problem I had been wrestling with for a few days.
In the beginning of my time at Nashville Software School, the scenario above had become the norm for me: I would wake up extra early to code for a few hours before it was time to get ready to leave the house for class. I was nestled comfortably in the honeymoon phase of my journey into the world of software development (and in honeymoon phase of my journey with my new and beloved wife, who lovingly added this parenthesis): new concepts felt natural and syntax rules were easy to stomach. However, this season of bliss and clarity would be short lived.
I hit a roadblock…
At first, when faced with a new idea or rule, everything seemed to click into place. With every newly, easily learned concept, my confidence and security grew. Suddenly, for reasons unbeknownst to me, my brain fumbled and stumbled over commonplace concepts and blocks of code. Learning wasn’t so easy anymore, and my confidence was quickly dwindling. I was tumbling into the dreaded pit that I had been warned about so many times in the past.
The Pit of Despair. The Desert of Desperation. The Valley of Puzzlement. It is known by many names, but is representative of a single, fairly simple concept. When learning something new - whether it be to play the piccolo or to write Python - there is an inevitable period of time where one will feel hopelessly lost and overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable task at hand. I experienced it; my classmates experienced it; our teachers and leaders before us experienced it. You will experience it, too. And that is okay.
The wonderful thing about valleys is that if you continue to journey through them, they will to lead to higher ground - a place to survey the surroundings and add some context to the hardship that has been endured.
I have learned that it is not only inevitable to spend some amount of time in the valley during the learning process, it is also an integral stage; a necessary growing pain. In times of confusion or bewilderment, we become keenly aware of our areas of weaknesses and of gaps in our knowledge. If we truly aim to be lifelong learners, it would seem that these opportunities should be embraced and not avoided. If it had not been for the friendship, shared experiences, reassurance, and guidance of my fellow cohort, our teachers, and the teaching assistants who walked through that valley with me, I would not have made it through.
I will always be grateful for the guidance that I was given by the NSS community and staff, and I was elated to be given the opportunity to join them as a teaching assistant. I want to contribute to the community and to the effort of inspiring & guiding other students through the “valley of despair” with as much kindness and sincerity as I had been given by others. You won’t learn every single language or solution to every problem after you graduate from NSS. What you will leave with is the ability to learn effectively. You will learn how to rely on others and how to continue through difficulties even when the answer is not immediately apparent. You will learn how to ask good questions and break a complex problem down into small & manageable pieces. Most importantly, you will learn what it means to be a good teammate, and how to support your peers as you walk the journey together - through the valleys and on to higher ground.
Steven Holmes is a graduate of Cohort 16 and is currently a teaching assistant for Cohort 20.