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How to Get Out of (or Completely Avoid) the Tutorial Trap

andrewlundydev profile image Andrew Lundy ・4 min read

Exordium

This post comes from my 2.5-year experience in the Tutorial Trap. This is an experience where new programmers continuously complete tutorial after tutorial, but never break out of their comfort zone to build something on their own. It can be scary to stop following the ‘pros’ and try things for yourself — but this is where the real growth happens.

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My Experience

My experience with the Tutorial Trap, or Tutorial Hell, lasted much longer than I wish on any programmer. I’m sharing this experience to help others get out of, or avoid, this loop. During my 2.5 years in the Tutorial Trap, I dabbled in front-end, back-end, game, and mobile development. I used many sources, such as DevSlopes, Udemy, Udacity, Treehouse, Flatiron, and YouTube.

I followed tens of hours of hand-holding projects, and yet, most of this information had not been retained. How could it be? I never took the training wheels of the bicycle.

Test the Waters

When you’re new to code, there are a lot of paths that you can take. I suggest ‘testing the waters’ and dipping your toes in whatever area of development that you are naturally drawn to or interested in. I started with websites — and consequently was introduced to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. This is the path that many people take, but it’s certainly not the only way you can go. (Plus, where you start doesn’t have to be where you’ll end up — I started with web, but currently, focus more on iOS). This is called front-end web development and involves the use of JavaScript frameworks such as React, Vue, and Angular. (If you go the front-end route, you’re going to want to stick to JavaScript before learning any frameworks, as it’s crucial to understand how the underlying language works).

There are other paths you can take, such as back-end development (Python, Java, Ruby, PHP), iOS (Swift) or Android (Kotlin) development, game development (C#, C++), Data Science (Python) and more.

There is no ‘right’ answer here. Everybody is interested in different things, and you should really just go with what you want to do. I encourage you to test out different areas before settling on one and focusing on it for a while. Which leads me to the next point — as a starter, you don’t want to try to learn everything at once. Read more about different software development areas and get an idea as to where you’d like to start.

Don’t Try to Learn it All

Once you settle on an area of software development, stick with that area of development for a while. One major thing that helped me break out of the Tutorial Trap was telling myself, “I am going to learn whatever I need to be able to build anything for the Apple ecosystem.” This was at the end of 2018, and in January 2019, I set out to accomplish this goal. I was no longer looking for all kinds of tutorials that wouldn’t provide real value to my programming skillset. I began to only consume iOS content, and specifically followed the projects from Paul Hudson’s Hacking with Swift.

Within 5 months, I started building my first project on my own. It was a password management application that I called ‘Keys.’ It used a back-end powered by Google Firebase, and I was able to focus on pure iOS development during this time. The only possible way I could build an app on my own was by focusing on one area of development, and doing what it took to build my idea. This took a lot of Googling and reading documentation. I like to understand why things work the way they work and believe this is the key to a solid foundation of any topic or skill.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

Failure is a huge part of success, and the only way to figure out what works is by understanding what doesn’t. One reason I didn’t build anything on my own was that I was simply afraid to fail. Fear will paralyze you — it’s that simple.

If you’re afraid to fail, then I suggest not learning how to program. Learning how to code is a process, and you’re not going to be a pro in 30 days. You really have to learn to deal with failure and understand that you’re just learning more and adding to your skillset each time you fail.

Be patient with yourself and don’t give up. Programming is hard, but you can definitely do it. When you get stuck, ask questions. Don’t be afraid to use Google. Seriously. Senior-level developers use Google every single day, and there is no shame in looking up information that you do not yet know.
It is not important to know everything. It is important to know where to obtain the information you need.

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The Tutorial Trap is not a pleasant experience to go through — but a lot of people do. If you’re in the Tutorial Trap, you must know that only you have the power to break out of it. It’s really a mindset, and it’s frequently driven by fear. It can certainly be scary to try to build something without the hand-holding of someone else — but it’s in this environment that you will learn and grow the most.

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Discussion

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If you must, just try out the hello world projects of new tech to get an overview of how it works and so that you don't get lost in conversations. Move on from there. If the tech dies later, you didn't waste your time on it. (Else) if you need to use that tech later on, you'd already have a fair knowledge on it and you'd possibly be able to hit the ground running.

 
 

Excellent advice. I've been in this tutorial trap myself for about a year, but I think it's been important to find out what I like and don't like. Still, I think it's time to take off the training wheels and get into some real projects.

 

I agree. You don’t want to go deep with something that you’re not interested in. Find your thing, then go full speed. You’ve got this man!

 

a question for you and any other experienced devs out there! I'm also in the same boat of tutorial hell and I found out that I don't like front end development much... I don't mind working on front end if there is a ready design for it but I don't like the design aspect of it since I'm not a designer; I enjoy backend and full-stack projects that does not require designing front end; and on multiple occasions I've been told to start a career in backend I will have to go through front end first and I just want to know if that statement is true ... I'm definitely not a wizard with backend but I'm learning and I always find myself trying to learn front-end just because there is that voice in the back of my head telling me that's where I have to start!!

 

Just remember you eat a elephant one bite at a time. Learn backend development and use frontend templates from CreativeTim to overcome your lack of understanding and reduce your time in building the frontend. You can always pick it up later when you need it.

 

Thanks Max I like the elephant analogy 😁

 

Hello Neenus, this is a great question. In my opinion, it doesn't matter.

If you like backend, then go all-in on backend. From what I understand, fullstack will always involve frontend, as fullstack = frontend + backend. Go with what you enjoy more and what you're naturally inclined to.

 

I depended on tutorials when I start learning iOS. But, it didn't improve my skills.
I admire this article. When I started working as developer, work is different from learning.
After losing job, I choose making app myself. It takes one weeks to start project.
It's better than past.

 

That is awesome that you’ve seen progress. It really is about diving in, and staying focused even when things get hard. Keep coding!

 

😨 scared? Yea.
But I think it's time I took the leap of faith.
I hope to thank you later.

 

Thanks for that nice summary and gentle reminder to get out of the tutorial trap!

 

Glad you found some value! 🙏