Process / March 2017

Surviving Information Overload as a New Developer

When I started my code journey to becoming a developer, one thing that really stood out to me was how many different types of technologies I needed to learn. At first, I started with a simple list: HTML and CSS. Coming from a background in journalism, it was an adjustment to wrap my mind around coding and all the challenges that come with it. Once I successfully built my first webpage, however, I was so excited.

And then, I noticed the list of what I needed to learn kept growing. After HTML and CSS came an array of new languages, tools, software, and coding techniques such as Javascript, command line, version control, and more. I found myself feeling overwhelmed because the list of new technologies seemed never-ending. Although I understood that being in this industry meant always having to learn something new, I began to feel like I would never catch up. Coding went from being a fun activity to a stressful burden.

Does this sound familiar?

There’s only so much information a single person can consume at one time. In a fast-moving industry like technology, it can feel nearly impossible to keep up with the pace. This constant “speed learning” can be hard for new developers and those who are experimenting with cutting-edge technologies in an effort to get more results in less time.

This can lead to Information Overload (IO), or the feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious when encountering large amounts of information. IO can hurt your self-esteem and productivity, but it doesn’t have to be all consuming. In fact, there are ways to manage and prevent IO completely.

I first encountered IO when I was enrolled in a web development program. I took a Javascript course and one of the projects was to build a miles per gallon calculator. I remember feeling frustrated with myself because the programming language was new to me and my code wasn’t working. The few solutions I tried failed to fix the problem. The longer I sat in front of the computer working without a break, the more stressed and worried I became. One day, it was around 9:00pm and I had been working for over four hours straight. I wasn’t making any progress and I was feeling completely overwhelmed. I thought about trying for at least one more hour, but I decided not to continue. Instead, I shut-down the computer and went to bed. The next morning, I felt rested and much calmer. I picked up where I left off with the project and, within an hour, and much to my surprise, the code was functioning and producing results the teacher instructed. I couldn’t believe that in under an hour I had solved the coding problem that caused me so much stress and frustration. This is how I discovered the effects of IO. Once I incorporated different techniques to combat it, I became more focused and patient with myself, which allowed me to enjoy coding again.

Here are some solutions that have helped me with IO.

Ways to combat IO

Try to stick to one technology, then move on only when you are comfortable with what you’re learning. Cramming a lot of information at once can do more harm than good. For example, you can confuse yourself and make coding mistakes. You may also burn out from the speed and amount of information being received. Focusing on one technology at a time can prevent these negative side effects and help you become more productive.

Keeping up to date is expected in the tech field, but you don’t have to be an expert in everything. Pick a particular set of languages in which you aim to be proficient. This will help you narrow down what’s most useful to you and your interests, as well as cancel out all of the irrelevant background noise. If you need help selecting which programming languages to learn, here are some resources:

How to Decide Which Programming Language to Learn

A Simple Guide to Figuring Out Which Programming Language to Learn (includes infographics)

Also, take breaks in between learning and coding. This is especially important if you’re having a hard time grasping new information and are getting frustrated at the process. At some point, every developer has the experience of being stuck when all you want to do is fix the problem and move to the next item on the list. However, continuously working for hours and hours without a break doesn’t help anyone become a better coder, and it will only leave you in cloud of anxiety, exhausted and producing less than desired results. Even taking a short 15 minute break once an hour can make a huge difference in your ability to absorb information and efficiently apply what you are learning to your code or project.

One last tip, learn at your own pace. The drive to learn as much as information as possible can be tempting, but keep in mind that everyone consumes and processes information differently. Knowing the method that works best for you will allow you to reap benefits in the long run.

The Interactive Mechanics Fellowship Program aims to build capacity for representation and inclusion in the technology field. We see it as a mutual learning experience for the fellows and for our existing team, so we’ve asked our fellows to share some of their expertise on our blog.

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About the Author

photo of Candace Worthen

Candace Worthen

2017 Fellow