The Tutorial Trap

By Dave Ceddia

What do you do when the going gets tough?

An error pops up, or maybe you find yourself at a fork in the road where you could proceed one of five different ways and you’re just not sure.

What do you do in that moment?

If you’re like a lot of people (myself included!), you reach for Google.

“What’s the best UI framework” (I don’t want to choose the wrong one!).

“Should I use Redux or Context” (Sure I could just try one but I want to be safe. What did everyone else do here?)

“How long does it take to learn React” (It’s not making sense and I just want to know how to make it stop. Maybe there’s a shortcut?)

When problems arise, it’s easy and natural to go looking for help. But this knee-jerk reaction to look for help is a double-edged sword. I think it’s a bit of a trap sometimes.

I’m not saying that asking for help is bad, or that you shouldn’t do it. There’s a ton of useful information out in the world and it’s silly to sit around inventing things from first principles when we could be getting work done.

What I’m suggesting is that the act of searching for help is sometimes actually just procrastination in disguise, and to watch out for it. It’s tricksy.

I’m guilty of this myself, in a lot of areas, not just programming. It’s always tempting to look for more information instead of sitting down and doing the thing

Like woodworking. I’ll watch some project videos instead of going down to the shop and breaking out the saw.

Or guitar. YouTube recommended a video on The Best Way To Get Better At Soloing? I’m sure the advice is just “practice”, but, hey, maybe there’s a secret or something!

Or, oh boy, business. I spent an embarrassingly long time reading and watching and hoping and planning before I finally sat down and started. And starting isn’t the only hard part, because then you have to keep going!

The siren song of “more, better information” is ever present. But at some point it becomes a distraction from doing the work. The trick is knowing when and where to draw that line, and I don’t really know the answer. In my own experience, this problem is never truly solved; it can always come back. You’ve got to be vigilant.

But Sometimes It Helps

The trouble with looking for help is that sometimes it… does actually help.

I picked up a few tips from that video about guitar solos, and it made me feel happy that I watched it. That reinforced the idea that sometimes, looking for shortcuts pays off. And it makes me more likely to click on the next one (instead of picking up my guitar).

The internet is like one big Skinner box. Sometimes the clicks pay off, and a lot of times they don’t. No matter, though. Our human brains love to try and try again, just in case we’ll get the reward this time.

Where am I going with all this? What’s the point?

I think I’m trying to say that, for the purpose of learning a thing (like, say, React), you’ll have better results if you spend most of your time doing the thing and less time reading or watching stuff about doing the thing.

Be aware of the tendency to procrastinate by “learning more” instead of building things.

It’s tough. I think it’s a muscle that requires continual effort to maintain. And it definitely gets weaker every time you go searching for help and actually stumble on something useful.

Eventually you know enough. When it starts to seem like the tutorials are repeating themselves, but you’re watching & reading & hoping to find one more nugget of info that’ll make everything easier? It’s time to get to work :)

Learning React can be a struggle — so many libraries and tools!
My advice? Ignore all of them :)
For a step-by-step approach, check out my Pure React workshop.

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Dave Ceddia’s Pure React is a work of enormous clarity and depth. Hats off. I'm a React trainer in London and would thoroughly recommend this to all front end devs wanting to upskill or consolidate.

Alan Lavender
Alan Lavender