December 09, 2013

Learning curves overcome — The Hard Way (or not)

We all had a mental block when replaced our nice and all-doable-with-the-mouse operating system called Windows by this users-must-be-crazy operating system called Linux (and Unices too). If you did not have this problem, maybe you are one of these people who are able to change their habits from one day to the next without any problem.

As far as i am concerned, it took a long, long time before i switched completely to Linux. Here i talk about all the changes, not only about Windows-to-Linux switching but about tools i was using too.

Windows to Linux: OMG ! I did it :o

As many people of the 90’s generation, i discovered computers with Windows systems. I started with Windows XP when was 6 years old, played lot of PC Games, used Windows Vista, then came back to Windows XP. And the last Windows system i used was Seven.

Those days, i thought their was only two operating systems: Windows and Mac OS. Then, one day like any other, my brother talked me about Ubuntu, that himself was using since few months. My answer to that “change-your-life” proposition was: «Your are a just a geek ! Why do you want to complicate your life ?» … or something like that. But i tried it anyway, when my Windows crashed. My brother told me i could get a free installation CD. Imagine my reaction when i received a free OS, shipped to Senegal (West Africa) for free !

So, i installed my new OS as a dual-boot with Windows Seven. It was Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope), those days. Cool installation, not what i expected to see (an old and hard console), then the desktop revolution, this good ol’ Gnome. The only thing i missed was games, that’s why i keeped a Windows installation.

From this day, i always worked with dual-boots. More time spent on Windows in the first year, then maybe equal time, then i became a Ubuntu user and Linux systems evangelist. It made my brother laugh.

From “classic” IDEs to Vim: Wait ! Whaaaaaat ?

Being a Linux user got me interested in computer science more than i already was. Yet when using Windows and learning programming languages, i was using IDEs like Code Blocks for C, or Dreamweaver for HTML/CSS. When i entered university cursus, i discovered Sublime Text 2. I used it for 2 years, even for languages requiring a compilator because i compiled from the terminal. Handmade forever !

It was like that until my internship at Kozea. All the team’s members was using either Vim or Emacs. My tutor proposed me to try Vim or Emacs. I choosed Vim, mainly because Vi was installed on almost, if not all, Linux systems. It was hard the first week. Then i realized that working everyday with a tool, even if it’s different from all tools you was used to work with, makes you overcome the learning curve.

So, after only 2 weeks as an intern, i replaced my Sublime Text by GVim, first. I used some settings to have it working as classic IDEs (copy-paste with Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V). As time passes, i removed some of these “hacks” and beginned using Vim as it was originally shipped. Finally, in the end of my first month, i went from saying «You are crazy using Vim.» during 2 years to «You should use Vim. It will boost your productivity to an unexpected level.»

Everybody has his method for overcoming learning curves. Here is mine.

In the last 6 months, i practically changed all my habits as an aspiring sysadmin and developer. But it was not easy.

The most suitable exemple is with Vim. I started with custom configuration to help me use the mouse, copy-paste like in other editors like Sublime Text, change the colorscheme with the mouse in GVim … Then i removed some of these settings, one by one to my rythm. And now i’m using Vim in the console without particular problems.

Once i found my learning curve overcoming method, i applied it to almost all tools i wanted to learn. It started with Zsh, that i have heard a lot of good. For this case, i started with Oh-My-Zsh, then uninstalled it and tried to set some of the stuffs that i liked myself (Git branch displaying, Shell prompt settings …). Now, we can say that it helped me learn an extraordinary Shell.

The Closing Thoughts

Learning curves are not same for all people. And it will never be, whatever tool you want to use. Some people can trade their super awesome IDEs in a week, some other in a month, like it took me. But, if their is something i learned during my last 6 months, it is that accepting that the tool you want to use is «different from what you was using» is the most difficult part. The real learning is just after that.

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