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Derrick Koon
Derrick Koon

Posted on

Why I'm studying math at 39 years old.

Hangover Math Scene

I remember high school not fondly as most people do, but as a place where I was constantly under pressure. See, I was a terrible student and when I say terrible I mean C's D's and F's almost exclusively. The issue was not a learning disability, ADD or anything else it was that I was lazy. I wanted to do the things I wanted to do and homework wasn't it. I wanted to focus on the subjects that I found interesting. Unfortunately, mathematics was not on that list.

I ended up barely getting out of high school with a C average. I tried to go to college and for an entire year I tried to fake interest and ended up flunking out. Once again math was something that put the nail in the coffin so to speak on my college life.

So, how is it that you are reading this from a person who has been developing websites and applications for 10 years. 9 years after I flunked out of college I woke up one morning and was fired from my job in a warehouse stacking boxes. The lady who fired me had a 10th grade education and could barely read the invoices for the materials we were loading. I had two kids at the time.... and I was unemployed. The next day I realized what I needed to do.

I started by carving out 2 hours of my day and devoted it to learning. I had always been good with computers so I started there. I went online and found The New Boston and started watching his videos. I understood nothing.... and then I understood a little... and then a little more. And it finally clicked what my teachers were trying to get through to me years before. Any subject can be interesting if you study it and don't expect to know it immediately.

Flash forward to today. Yesterday on Hacker News a blurb about a new book caught my eye. Its called A Programmers Introduction to Mathematics and once again that feeling of regret at all the times I drooled on my notebook in Algebra came back to me. So I bought it.. and now I am sitting here in my big chair with a cup of coffee trying to grok polynomials. Something I should know have learned 20 years ago... But better late than never right?

Top comments (15)

thebadgateway profile image
Will F

Same story here. The book you mention above— I recommend starting with chapter 10, linear algebra. Moving on toward and through chapter 12 will definitely help motivate chapter 1, and the greater ideas of the polynomial. Linear algebra is verbose, but straightforward and wildly enlightening for programmers and scientists. Taking linear algebra in college is how I came to love and obsess over math.

Also, check out “Numerical Mathematics and Computing” by award and Cheney; it’s loaded with pseudocode (Horner’s algorithm for computing polynomials for instance).

thebadgateway profile image
Will F

*Ward and Cheney

jacobherrington profile image
Jacob Herrington (he/him)

Hi, fellow Arkansan :D

I totally failed to develop a strong foundation in math as a child and it followed me into adulthood.

In fact, I veered away from CS in college because I wasn't confident in my ability to learn math.

Spending my free-time learning to write software was eye-opening for me as well. I found that if I put in the time I could understand subjects that initially felt beyond my grasp.

I dropped out of college to accept a full-time offer as a Software Engineer and I've always wanted to go back and study those subjects that where I struggled in school.

That book is on my reading list now. Thanks!

alin_air profile image
Alin Andrei

It's nice to see people having habbits, personalities,and doing stuff not so different from yours. It's also cool to see there are people who don't give up.

I'm currently on a learning path towards programming (slippery 😄) and I have found your post very comforting. Or should I better say, inspiring.

Thanks for sharing! Best wishes!

crongm profile image
Carlos Garcia ★

Thanks for sharing Derrick. I was not that bad at math in college, but I've not practiced it since and I could really use a refresher course on everything. I'll check out the book you recommended to help me in this journey.

dance2die profile image
Sung M. Kim

Thanks for the inspiration Derrick.
And the book sounds interesting as the math is targeted for devs.

Would you have a plan to share the learning progress on 😉

dakoon2003 profile image
Derrick Koon

I will do my best to try and keep the community up to date on my progress I hope hearing this will help someone.

dance2die profile image
Sung M. Kim

Thanks Derrick :)

jeub profile image

Thanks for sharing Derrick! As a person who graduated with a bachelors in Mathematics, I have to say that even when you learn one area of math (linear algebra, discrete modeling, etc.), you absolutely have to keep practicing and applying it or you will lose the skill. It's not like riding a bike unfortunately. I hope your journey into the world of mathematics is a good one!

joeberetta profile image
Joe Beretta

Haha)) Now I'm 21 and I'm student who does'nt like math too. I think I'll do the same. But after 5-10 years. Because I think that we must understand why we need for this knowledges and I hope that I'll understand it some later))

antonrich profile image

Playing poker helps. That was my first real encounter with mathematics.
I learned through pokerstrategy. The website was even created by a German mathematician.
But to go through the theory on the website itself you have to have membership.
Maybe a book on the mathematics of poker would help.

It's just so fun when you know the equity of your hand relative to what the cards are on the table. And it's even more fun to tip the scales in your direction.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Good luck! I fall into the same boat as a rather lazy academic and I’d like to start studying math more as well. 30 year old checking in, unclear whether I’ll get to this in the next ten nine years.

rhymes profile image

Thanks for the inspiration and for the book suggestion!

exadra37 profile image
Paulo Renato

Why, but why did I clicked on this blog post...

Now I have one more book to read :)

carlosalfarodev profile image
Carlos Alfaro

Inspiring, I want to learn math myself