Stop Stumbling Around in React Learning Darkness

Kent C. Dodds
Kent C. Dodds

At the end of a long day when the lights are out and I lie down in bed ready to fall into a blissful sleep, sometimes my wife will remind me that I forgot to lock the back door. When this happens, for some reason I often decide (irrationally) to take a chance in the darkness rather than turn on my phone's flashlight. Maybe it's because I like living on the edge. Maybe I'm not thinking. Whatever the reason, doing this is... dangerous.

It's dangerous because I have four children and a dog who's as black as night. If I'm lucky, I'll return to the sanctuary of my bed unscathed with nothing more than an increased heart rate (what a rush!). But often I'll also have stepped on some toys, kicked a door frame, bumped into the banister, and on really unfortunate nights, stepped on my snoozing dog (sorry Gemma!).

Learning can be a lot like stumbling around in the darkness. Except not only is there no illumination to guide you, you're also in someone else's house and their kids are less clean than yours and their dogs are darker and less forgiving than yours. Sound terrifying? If you've ever learned something new, you know it is.

The big problem is you don't know what you don't know. This means you don't know what to look for. You try something and it "works" but you don't know why it works or whether there's a better or easier (less painful) way to do it. You're trying to lock the back door and you walk around the couch 8 times because you're not sure whether there's a more direct route to get there. If you're lucky, you've got other co-workers alongside you.

If you're really lucky they've done this before and can guide you along. But more often they're either too busy or they're just as inexperienced as you are and all they can do is hold your hand and tell you "it's going to be ok." While this is appreciated, it's not directly helpful.

When you're learning something new, you're stumbling in the sea of things you don't know you don't know. Perhaps you've cobbled together API docs from here, a tutorial from there, an online course from way over there, and a tweet or two from back there. You attempt to piece those things together in your mind to try to give you something that resembles knowledge and experience, but often you'll find you've tried to shove a round peg in a square hole. There's no cohesion. And in your rush to create a candle to light your way, you've forgotten the wick.

The other day I tweeted this:

I had several people make the suggestion that "learning isn't suffering." I actually agree with this. "Suffering" is the wrong word for what learning should be. Learning is a struggle, but it should be guided struggle where you are presented with problems, but also the right tools and information you need to identify and implement the solution.

Far too many online courses posing as "learning resources" completely take away that struggle. They sit you in a high chair and attempt to spoon feed you knowledge. Unfortunately, leaving out the struggle is basically like forgetting to put food on the spoon 🥄. All the movements are there, but none of the sustenance. They show you the happy path of what you're trying to do and leave you to fend for yourself on error messages (or worse, silent errors) only to later realize that the solution they've given you won't work for the problem you're facing.

There's different kind of struggles though. There's the struggle of working through a problem with a solution that you've been guided into by experience. This first kind of struggle is what creates retention so you can use that as a gained skill later. And then there's the struggle of hitting a wall on some unrelated problem that's simply a road block to what you're really trying to learn.

Maybe you haven't experienced the first, but you've probably experienced the second. That wall-hitting struggle is so often (and unfortunately) unavoidable. Eventually you'll bust down that wall and you'll leave victorious with knowledge of how to bust down that wall in the future, but the victory is hollow because you'll never hit that wall again anyway. It's a side-quest with all the challenge, but none of the reward. Maybe it's fun in the moment, but when you're done your product is not shipped and your manager is not sure you deserve the raise you asked for.

Another struggle involves the struggle of "holding it wrong" or "using the wrong tool for the job." This often comes from learning about the tools that are available, but not learning how the tools work, how they should be used, what problems they're intended to solve, and (just as important) what problems they're not intended to solve. For example, maybe you heard once that using React.useCallback, React.useMemo, and React.memo will improve performance, so you start applying those tools everywhere. And now you're struggling because your code is more complex than it needs to be and in the back of your mind you're worried about that one time the component didn't re-render when it should have.

Learning can be suffering if you're doing the wrong kind of struggling. Stumbling around in the learning darkness is not fun or productive. It's frustrating and far too many people give up completely when that's their experience when struggling to learn.

But there's a way to avoid suffering when learning: Have a complete and cohesive guide that provides the right kind of struggle and a support system to help you avoid the wrong kind.

This is EpicReact.Dev

It's not a candle. It's a freaking spotlight.

EpicReact is not just a "happy path" video course that will leave you with all the pieces, no instructions, and no support telephone number. EpicReact is a series of workshops that shows you the tools you can use, how to use them, and gives you experience with the right kind of struggle. The kind that helps you side-step distracting and wasteful side-quests and promotes the reward bearing ones. The kind of struggle that requires work on your part, but work that gives you actual learning retention. It's the kind of struggle that gives you a support system for those times when you're really stuck and things aren't quite clicking for you.

Stop stumbling around in React learning darkness. I've got a spotlight for you so you don't step on any legos or poor innocent dogs. I'm excited to give you the right kind of learning struggle on EpicReact.Dev.

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