I have often wondered, why out of all the things I could study and learn, I chose to embrace computer science? Why didn't I choose math, physics, chemistry, literature, politics, economics, biology, etc.? Why specifically this?
Initially, I thought that had something to do with talent, personality or genetic predisposition. You know what they say, that some people are more left-brain oriented, and thus prone to science, some are more right-brain oriented and prone to arts. To be honest, I always doubted this "born-this-way" explanation, especially when it comes to something as complex as a career. Yes, one might be more genetically inclined to violence or to some specific food or whatever, but I don't think that we humans are born with a brain formed in such a way, that it would allow us to more easily learn some set of skills in comparison to others, say science versus arts. Such a thing is simply to complex to be born with and requires years of training and development. That's why it is more related to our education and upbringing.
My personal story begins in the year 1987. My parents bought their first computer in 1994 when I was only 7 years old. They were accountants, so having a computer meant for them an easier and more efficient work environment. They were also clueless about operating a computer, because this was also the first time in their lives when they saw one. Me and my parents learned to use the computer at the same time, but since I was young and foolish, I learned it way faster then they did, because I wasn't afraid to break it, repair it, break it some more and then repair it again.
I was introduced for the first time to a programming language in 2002 when I started high school. The programs developed during my lessons were highly mathematical and I found them really boring. I wanted to do real software, the kind that has screens and buttons that can be clicked on and that is helpful in some kind of way to an actual person. I started reading books, wanting to know more about building larger programs. I learned that for this kind of software, the algorithms that need to be deployed are not so important anymore. What matters now are maintenance issues: how to keep the code nicely separated, how to make it legible and reusable. In a word, software engineering.
And by looking back at this period, I realized that the conditions of my life were set up in the perfect way that would allow me to learn this trade. First, I was allowed to practice it (I had a computer back home and I studied computer science in high school) and, more importantly, I was allowed to fail at it, to make mistakes.
Interestingly, I remember that I wasn't even aware of making mistakes. And, oh boy, I made lots and lots of them. The reason is that the adults that were supposed to give me feedback didn't knew what a mistake looked like. My parents never saw a computer before in their lives. They were so scared of it, they hardly even touched it, let alone try to learn how to program and tell me what was good or wrong. My high school computer science teacher used to teach mathematics, and good as she was with the theory, she had actually no clue whatsoever about working with actual computers (I remember she was telling us she had an Intel-AMD processor back home).
So for me, programming was more like a game, an exploration project. It wasn't a task that I had to be good at, or a subject for which I had to get good marks. It was simply fun. And fun wasn't something that I had much access to in my life. My parents are perfectionistic to the bone. Coming from poor backgrounds, working hard to go through higher-education, they always believed in study, work, good grades and a stable job. They didn't thought that work can also mean fun. They are also very smart. They know maths, physics, chemistry, biology, literature and mostly everything else except computer science. And they pushed me, and pushed me really hard to be the best I can be. I had to get the best marks, I had to be the best. They never allowed room for mistakes.
And from this deep fear of failure that I was living in, I realized the following: I'm now good at the thing I was allowed to bad at. While I learned all the other subjects out of fear of failure, I studied computer science out of pleasure. I've never had the (miss)fortune to associate the concept of failure with this particular domain. This also explains why I like the practical software engineering part more and the theoretical part less. The latter resembles math, and my teacher was actually quite skilled at teaching it and of course she taught it the way most subjects are taught during high school, that is under the fear of receiving bad grades. So when it comes to theoretical computer science, I do have the concept of fear of failure and as a consequence I find it now both boring and scary.
This realization is astonishing to me. The things I'm good at are exactly the things I was allowed to be bad at. This also applies to other areas in my life. For example, English is not my native language, however I learned it very easily during my childhood years. Again, there was no one able to correct me since back then all the adults in my country learned either Russian or French. In comparison, I've struggled to learn German. And even though I'm now quite proficient, I never have pleasure in speaking this language and I also tend to make a lot of mistakes. The reason? My aunt lives in Austria, she knows German. My parents thought that it would be a good idea if I knew it as well. They sent me to a German-speaking kindergarten, where the only thing I've learned was to associate the concept of fear of failure to it.
This idea has 2 very interesting consequences. First, there exist only a single way to master something, and that is if you are able to fail at it. Rewards or punishments, such as money, exams, diplomas, or grades can only take you so far, and many are actually detrimental, especially those that make us afraid. Second, it doesn't even matter what that something is. As long as we can find a way to not be afraid of failing, if we can stay hungry, stay foolish, I'm convinced that we can be able to learn absolutely everything.
And this is the secret to success.