Ira Glass quote:
> Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
- My first programs (I thought `super` gave you access to the UI component's hierarchical owner)
- My first music videos (wow super cringey teen stuff)
- My first 3D animations (oh so you're supposed to use "textures"?)
- Why I never got good at guitar (constantly focused on how my whole family had to suffer how awful I was)
All formative experiences I may have never dove so deeply into if I was consciously aware of just how far off the mark I was. I can't even look at any of these examples today because I cringe so hard at myself.
Later that next year for my birthday (today actually, but a few years ago!), my family gave me one of those "Learn Guitar" books with an included DVD. At this point I had been playing for about 8 months and they actually said they had bought it way back in March or April because I was so bad they wanted me to get better for their own sanity. However, they said they almost felt bad giving it to me then because it didn't seem like I needed it anymore.
I had progressed far enough that it didn't sound like terrible screeching anymore and was mostly passable music. Simple chords and basic strumming patterns sure, but music nonetheless. :)
So if you've still got your guitar, I urge you to pull it out and give it another shot. Find some songs you like that are simple and just keep at it. Making music should always be about expressing yourself first and pleasing others second.
Good luck :)
I'm not an amazing piano player, but with a MIDI keyboard and headphones I can gameify it, enjoy the process of practice and learning, measure progress even when it's sometimes hard to see, and do this all even if I'm still skittish about actually performing any of it for others.
With something like art - I have trouble seeing my progress, gamifying it, I have a certain vicious judgement of my own work beyond what I judge the art of others by, and I'm not particularly into the process for it's own sake. I haven't made any progress there since high school!
I almost got teary eyed thinking about how amazing adult me considered the work of child me and all of the free time and creative energy that came with it. I'd do anything to be able to get that kind of creativity back. But I suspect it was a function of both youth and not having a job that draws upon my mental resources so heavily.
On the whole, I agree with his sentiment that hard work will get you success, but the idea he magically started out with some kind of innate talent for telling whether or not things are good is the same type of illogical thinking he's talking about being discouraging to beginners.
He's not writing an essay on the relationship between taste, skill and creativity and how they feed back into each other. I think he's just saying stick in there. It's tough for everyone in the beginning, and this is one reason why.
It'd still all ring true, and be more general, in the sense that one's taste is linked to who one is (your unique background and life experience). So in general this condition of relative uniqueness, saying nothing of it's subjective quality or goodness, could still be enough to make one's creative efforts worth something, inasmuch they'll probably be relatively unique.
Something that's not mentioned in the quote but that I think is really important is the fact that the media he was consuming in training his "ear" was - in our culture of mass-media - predominately produced by some of the very best of the very best (by some metric). Of course your early efforts are going to pale by comparison.
Several of the shows producers (and Ira’s mentees) have gone on to create other famous shows:
- Sarah Koenig created Serial, one of the first truly mainstream podcasts (1M listeners in its first week) for telling, in the first season, the story of a murder of Haymen Lee and investigating whether the man convicted, Adnan Syed, was likely innocent.
- Alex Blumberg created Planet Money, a short radio show that explores economics and explains it by looking at what’s happening, culturally, around the world. Later, Blumberg founded Gimlet, a podcast company that recently sold to Spotify for $100M, ostensibly to create content with that, now famous, NPR _sound_. Some of the bigger/more famous work from Gimlet is Startup (now also a TV show in the US), Homecoming (now also a show on Amazon Prime Video), Reply All, and Conviction.
Anyway, Ira Glass has hosted This American Life since the beginning, and Blumberg recently interviewed him for a show Gimlet produces called Without Fail. If you’re looking to understand his impact in this space, I think that’s a wonderful place to start.
*edited to correct where the Homecoming TV show airs.
First time I saw his interview, I did some light googling and as far as I could tell, he was some kind of host/writer. I'd gander most non-Americans haven't even heard of NPR and thus cannot really understand the impact it had/has. Much less his mentees and their various offshoots.
Shouldn't you listen to it because it's good advice, regardless of who the guy is?
And isn't it a Google search away from knowing everything about the person?
It's like leaving comments in code. I know what the code does, but I don't know why you did it this particular way. Google tells me he's a famous/important person, it rarely doesn't explain why he's more famous/important than other famous/important people.
This volume of work coupled with a closed feedback loop (Do - observe - measure - tweak - Do) allows for achieving astonishing results. Also taking a skill apart, practicing and improving individual skills and then putting it all together is the basis of acquiring and mastering skill.
I do not believe a mentor can help with acquiring skill. But a good mentor can quickly identify and guide you to the parts that need attention and practice.
The actual concept for people who create is that your hand is behind your eye.
Edit: To the asshole downvoter. This is actually serious advice that myself and many others have found very important in our lives doing creative work. Censoring it is a total shit thing to do. Especially when you appear to have nothing additional to add.
There is even another comment in this thread that continues to discuss "taste". Which is the absolute 100% worst way to think about creative work. Taste is like the bootcamp for creative work. It will get you shallow quick results that will not extend anywhere past the introductory levels. At which point your work will stagnate.
(FYI, your comment could have come across as implying that Ira Glass is a fraud who's just a "curator" pretending to be a "creator," so that could be why someone took offense.)
In a more metaphorical sense, you can't correct for a fault you can't recognise. So a writer can only avoid cliches if they can recognise them, a photographer has to be able to recognise what will make a good photo in order to take a good photo, and so on.
Of course you can avoid faults you can't recognise by random chance, imitating things that avoid those faults, or tools that take care of it without you noticing.
> For some reason Bangalore is crawling with people who first want to form a community and then start learning/working/whatever. These efforts almost invariably peter out uselessly. First do the work. Then if you feel like "communing" talk to others who are also working hard.
It's just human nature to want to sit around and chat rather than actually spend hours of your time on hard work which may or may not pan out into something useful.
It's sad that we have such a terrible education system.
It's an insult to injury that the "BigCo" consistently fuel these learning groups as a marketing stunt.
I can't begin to describe the sheer amount of bright peers that think using the GCP/Amazon web interface is equivalent to real programming.
I went to a meetup around where I live that was meant for developers on my area. What ended up happening was half the group were practicing developers who wanted to socialize a bit more, and the other half were people who were "super passionate" about programming and wanted to talk nonstop about their ideas. Unfortunately I got stuck with the latter half, due to seating, so I had to field all kinds of "Do you think this is a good idea?" questions the whole time. It sucked.
For example, I tried X, the manual said it should do Y, but Z happened instead, what's going on?
I have mentored people for many years and I recognise what you are saying here.
This is the part where the person being mentored have to do their homework first. If you want to have useful mentoring advise, you should read books, experiment and even google first. Asking stupid questions (lack of insight) are okey, but asking simple questions (lack of research) is just lazy.
As a mentor, you need to move on to mentor people who you find it interesting to mentor. You are usually not forced to mentor someone, it is your choice. So choose wisely. When you find someone who is thirsty for your knowledge, the mentoring process is very rewarding. It is like being an intellectual parent. You help someone grow, you watch them excel and you feel pride. You grow yourself from the experience.
A mentor's counterpart used to their "protege". However, since that word has not been devalued, we've invented "mentee".
I'm not claiming this is a good or bad development, but it's interesting how quickly the meanings of even quite important words can change.
From experience, this is probably a good thing organizationally- I've successfully coached and mentored people I wouldn't sponsor, leading to a net benefit.
It seems to me that the current meaning of "mentor" is the result of the term's (mis)use by VCs and accelerator programs to make coaching sessions seem like something more than they really are.
I've never heard the term "sponsee" used in this context, but like I said, meanings change pretty fast, don't they?
Be bold and make a claim. Nothing wrong with that. Even if you are wrong, you will be so with skin in the game, so come out knowing. With couched claims, you can always duck behind being right, but not understood. And never know.
It's honestly not double-speak. I'm a descriptivist rather than a prescriptivist. Words are defined by how people use them. I consider it a waste of time to complain that "everyone is using a word wrong" as long as the meaning is clear, which it is in this case.
Words can change. True. Calling the change of some words as important is an opinion. Clearly label in some words imparts a value judgement. To claim otherwise is to try and shift the claim to the receiver. "I'm not claiming it is good or bad, but look at the evidence."
Seattle is the same. Probably the same everywhere. It's easier to talk and drink coffee than to challenge yourself way outside your comfort zone for hours at a time, day after day.
I agree with the author though that this path rarely works. A better way is to first you dive into something that interest you and then you go find other people with the same interest.
When I was a fresh MBA, I was looking all over for things to do. I looked into the local startup scene, especially those in the extremely early stages - and discovered that the _actual_ startups are a very small part of any local startup scene.
The majority of people seemed to just sit around and talk about their ideas with like-minded people, but with close to zero experience or critical skills.
You could go this weekday entrepreneurship workshop, and not a single person in the room had started a venture, or worked for any - not even the speakers.
I observed a few common threads:
1. A lot of beginners don't know exactly WHY they want to do XYZ. Why do you want to learn to code? Or play guitar? Or be an entrepreneur? Or make video games? It is perfectly okay to want to do something because it is potentially lucrative. But there really needs to be more to it. If you are passionate about XYZ - which parts specifically? Do you like building things to solve problems? Or writing songs? Or telling stories?
2. Most beginners have done very little basic research about what is involved in actually doing XYZ. I always asked beginner devs if they thought they could be happy spending 6+ hours a day thinking/writing/debugging code. Nobody else had ever mentioned that to them - they'd just been told "learn to code".
If you can get through those beginner questions the advice is always a variation on the same theme: do XYZ to whatever degree you can. Don't get distracted by meetings or tools or blog posts.
Mentor is of greek and latin extraction directly, there's no -er suffix added to a verb, it is a noun outright.
It is ... inappropriate to match mentor with mentee because the former doesn't have the -er suffix.
Obviously all words are "made up" but mentor/mentee doesn't follow existing patterns, it was just created by people who don't know or care and has persisted.
In the Odyssey, Mentor was a sort of advisor to Odysseus and that is presumably where the word comes from.
I spent quite a lot of time trying to help people who were asking for general advice, and my take is that very, very few of them actually did anything with it.
Soon, I realized that answering these question privately is a complete waste of time, and switched to answering them publicly. At least then if the person ignores it, it's still there for someone else to benefit from.
Eventually, I realized that all these questions have been answered hundreds or thousands of times in the same general ways, and that anyone who cared would just use Google and find all of them. The people who are now asking the question either lack the basic awareness to use Google, or think their situation is somehow special and only very pointed advice can help them. They're wrong, of course, which means you can't really help them.
Now, I only answer questions that I feel are actually unique somehow, or that I haven't answered in a while and just want to do a little good and maybe inspire some people.
In no circumstance do I react negatively to them. I just ignore questions that bother me, rather than tell them to "Just Google It" or whatever. If they haven't figured that out, my negativity won't actually help them or anyone else.
Here are some tricks that I find make learning process less inefficient (as applied to programming of course):
- Formulate specific questions. This is kind of silly but many times you will have a feeling of being vaguely stuck and will just zone out instead of making progress. Instead try to precisely and succinctly formulate the problem. You can then search the Internet, ask a question on stackoverflow (or ask a mentor :) or you can look through some good open source code and see how the problem is solved there. Formulating the question focuses you. It is important to condense the question as much as you can because this way people will have to do less work to understand it and the probability that you will get an answer goes up.
- Find a way to test your stuff. I don't mean specifically unit tests, it can be "testing in production" with the real users (it is standard startup wisdom to get user feedback as quickly as possible) or at least solving toy problems with your code, or creating a benchmarking harness and seeing where the performance bottlenecks are. First, seeing that your stuff is actually working is incredibly motivating. Second, your taste (what the Ira Glass quote in the sibling comment talks about) is subjective and can mislead you (especially if you are a beginner) and making your code confront reality is much more objective and is going to uncover problems with your work that you weren't aware of and maybe show that some problem that you thought very important is actually not a problem at all.
- Watch programming streams. This thing is getting more popular these days. Much of mentoring consists of you observing how your mentor actually does stuff - how they approach problems and what are those little tricks that help them do the work - and then copying it. Watching people programming sounds silly but it is the way to observe those tricks if you are not lucky to have easy access to someone competent.
> So a few days later, I sent along a detailed algorithm that expanded his idea, with a formal proof of correctness and a code implementation and he suddenly switched to a more expansive mode, sending friendly emails with long and detailed corrections and ideas for me to explore.
And then the whole internet stood up and clapped.
So, obviously, this answer is wrong beacuse that would mean that there cannot be any mentoring.
Another observation of mine is what is mentoring for. A person that isn't interested in learning something will not learn it no matter if the do or don't have a mentor. A person that wants to learn something will also learn it regardless of whether they have mentor.
The role of mentor is to expedite the process, help avoid dead ends or bad habits and generally make the end result better and faster than without mentor.
I can learn to be Enterprise Architect or play flute on my own, but having a mentor makes it easier for me.
I pay for a flautist to teach me but really I don't want him to teach me. I teach flute myself and the flautist is to point out errors, tips that help me learn it faster, his experience of how he learned it, all to let me reach goals that I set with less effort.
The problem people have is the moment they get a "teacher" they assume some kind of shared responsibility or even expectation that the student will somehow offload part of the effort onto the "teacher". That is simply wrong.
The person being asked has no idea where the asking person is at or even if they should be doing that thing at all.
If there is nothing to show.... you have no clue.
I mean, how's a student going to pay the hourly rate of an average mid-career FAANG employee - to say nothing of a CEO, VC or famous coder?
A CEO shouldn't be the ideal target of a student. There is a lot to offer the student but little for the CEO unless they are related or doing a favour. A junior exec makes more sense.
Someone 10 years away makes a better mentor relationship than 50 years.