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"I'll get to it when..." considered harmful.

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This was something I wrote in one of the many "which language should I learn" threads. (link)

I wrote it last night, and I still think it's good, so I'm going to put it here. This is in response to someone who said, paraphrasing, "I'll learn C++ now, and I'll come back to the C later on."

I recognize this, I've said it myself. Here's what I have to say about that:


I can almost guarantee you will not come back to straight C. You'll mean to, but you won't. Do it now, or write it off. How do I know this? It's not hard:
1. Everyone has a to-do list, and if something hits the top of that list, it's likely to get done. The top might be the top three or maybe five, but it's not more than that. I'm speaking here of serious undertakings, measured in months, not "do the dishes and balance the checkbook" obligations.
2. However, you're adding to that to-do list all the time, and it's not a queue, it's a priority queue. For any person worth bothering with, you're going to find more than one new points of curiosity in anything you explore, therefore your queue will increase faster than you reduce it, no matter how fast you attack it.
3. Furthermore, as time passes, you never have more time to spare. You always think, I'll do that when I get around to it, but every year of your life there will be more time sinks to deal with, not fewer. This means that anything that's not important enough to get around to today is not going to be important enough tomorrow or next year or ever.
4. The only way this changes is if you undergo some radical reorganization of your priorities. Don't count on this one, though, because what you're doing then is betting that at some point you're going to decide that you were wrong all along, or that at some point you will suddenly need the knowledge. In either case, it made more sense to do it back then than it does when the need suddenly arises.

So, make a decision. If you think straight C will matter to you, do it now. If you think it won't matter, let it go. Don't write yourself an IOU for it, though. It's very unlikely you will ever redeem it, and that will only happen if circumstances change in a way that you cannot predict today.


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This is the post as I wrote it, unedited. I don't think there's much I'd change about it, but I'd add that there's nothing wrong with not doing everything on your list. The "considered harmful" part is simply that when you defer learning something, it's almost always forever. If you want to do it, do it now or don't.

Of course I'm curious to know what others might think about this.

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fromTheSprawl Icon

12 September 2012 - 03:41 AM
Wow, I was thinking about something in the lines of this. I never get to finish learning anything since something new always pops out and adds to my list, or an old thing comes at the top of the list again only to be buried by another thing. That's when I decided to just stick to one, do something big with it, then that's the time to move on.
Example: I was beginning to learn the Python language a few months back, even reaching the point where I create scripts that I can use for my work. Then one day, I didn't know what happened, I just stopped learning and doing stuff with Python. Then a few days ago, maybe just this Monday, there's this thread where the thread starter asked what other languages should he learn coming from Java. I tried looking up a new language and Haskell intrigued me. I started going through the online tutorial and their site and I noticed it is somewhat similar to Python, so it got me thinking why didn't I ever continue Python? Now, I shelved Haskell and got back to Python. I will finish first whats on my list and just add stuff below, but make sure that the ones that got in front are the ones I'll finish first. I hope this works, for my sake. ^^
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