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Cover image for The Single Most Important Thing You Can Learn As a Software Engineer
Tyler Hawkins
Tyler Hawkins

Posted on • Originally published at Medium

The Single Most Important Thing You Can Learn As a Software Engineer

The web is filled with self-help articles showcasing titles like “How to become a senior software engineer” or “Top 10 technologies you must know in 2020”. There are literally thousands of them.

While many of these articles contain helpful advice, I believe all of them can be distilled into a single lesson:

The single most important thing you can learn as a software engineer is to learn how to learn.



Photo by Josh Riemer on Unsplash

Learning how to learn is a meta-skill, which means it’s an ability that will enable you to grow in more than just one area. To name a few examples:

Learning React is a skill. Learning how to quickly pick up new UI frameworks and libraries is a meta-skill.

Learning to communicate effectively with your manager and peers is a skill. Learning how to best develop your emotional intelligence is a meta-skill.

Learning How to Learn

Students taking notes

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

So, how do you learn best? Yes, you.

Do you learn from reading articles online? Do you go old-school and read physical copies of actual programming textbooks? Maybe you even spend hours scouring pages of documentation from W3C or MDN.

Do you watch videos online? Maybe you have a favorite YouTube channel or an account on a learning platform like Pluralsight, LinkedIn Learning, or Egghead.

Do you learn by doing? Do you enjoy building pet projects just to try out a new language, library, or framework? Do you practice with coding exercises on a platform like HackerRank or Codewars?

Do you learn from in-person presentations? Do you attend local meetups and conferences? Does your company have lunch-and-learn presentations where you can learn from your co-workers?

I personally use a combination of resources. I read a lot, write a lot, watch video courses, and build side projects. In the end though, it really doesn’t matter how you approach learning. What matters is that you find what works for you.

Benefits of Learning How to Learn

Watching a video online

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

If you can master the meta-skill of learning how to learn, the world is full of possibilities. Not only can you pick up new skills, you can do so efficiently.

Need to learn a new programming language? No problem — you know how to understand the basic concepts and quirks of the language quickly.

Starting at a new company with an unfamiliar codebase? No problem — you know what you need to do to get up to speed and hit the ground running.

Looking for a career change? No problem — you know how to develop new abilities and teach yourself the material and skillset you need.

Learn how to learn. Everything else will follow.

Top comments (7)

berufius profile image

Good read! There is a lot to say about this topic. Many people, including myself, have little clue about how learning actually works. We spend decades in school, yet the meta-skill of learning itself is not a regular topic. But there is hope!
I recently completed the Coursera course 'Learning how to learn' by prof Oakley. The course is all about how the brain works and how you can learn new stuff in a way that is in line with it. Loads of helpful tips, but most importantly: a solid foundation for all the learning you will do for the rest of your life!

incrementis profile image
Akin C.

Hello Tyler Hawkins,

Thank you for your article.
It is a good read in my opinion :).

I would also like to add that learning how to learn successfully also depends on people social skills in my view.
Examples could be asking kindly a colleague for help, communicating what personally pleases and what not, or paying compliments and showing respect for the success of others, as is done here or on other web media platforms.

This makes the exchange of knowledge more willing :)

thawkin3 profile image
Tyler Hawkins

Good insight!

deveshlashkari profile image
Devesh Lashkari

Really good read. Thanks for sharing :)

thawkin3 profile image
Tyler Hawkins

Thank you!

ppezaris profile image

When I saw the title I expected the entirety of the article was "use google." ;)

thawkin3 profile image
Tyler Hawkins

Haha! Admittedly, that is at least half of our job. ;)

Googling the error message