Apprenticeship Patterns: Use the Source

This week, I’m reflecting on the Use the Source pattern from Chapter 5: Perpetual Learning. We all know the best way to gain expertise in programming is to actually program. However, it’s tough to know what tools are the best ones to learn from. This pattern suggests learning concepts by viewing the works of others — you’ll pick up on tips and tricks and can directly understand how to solve difficult problems if you learn from material from those who are great at solving problems. Even if the work you read isn’t from master software craftsman — just reading code vastly improves your ability to utilize code in your future.

I like this pattern a lot for a few reasons. I have always been timid about contributing to open source projects due to a lack of feeling comfort with handling others’ code. However, recently I started looking at a few open source projects and felt as though I could really contribute to the projects if I wanted to. I get the sense that this comfort has come from me handling and reading code more regularly on a daily basis. Another reason I enjoyed this pattern was reassurance. I’m starting in a Software Engineering position at Stratus Technologies in a month and a half’s time. I’m feeling extremely fortunate that I got hired, and I also know that I have a tremendous amount to learn — both when start the job (about the code they have in place) and beforehand. Their codebase is vast and complex, and in order to be an effective team member, I’m going to need to get used to dealing with large, multilayered, and complex systems.

In the arts, there’s a learning concept where the artist does “Master Studies”. Essentially, the idea is to choose a piece of art from a great artist and try to recreate it from scratch, by using the work as reference. This puts the artist’s skills to the test, but it gives them a framework to work within. I see this pattern and the concept of “Master Studies” as related, in a way. By examining the work of those who have made a name for themselves in the field, we get insight into how their mind works. There are many brilliant “Master” engineers out there, and they’ve written a tremendous amount of code that I can conduct my own “master studies” of. It’s like reading great literature — it will impact your work for the rest of your career.

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