Is it realistic to teach yourself an entire subject like calculus or computer programming? How long on average would it take to go from complete and utter novice to very competent and confident practitioner?


Emily Gover, MSIS, Librarian and Ed Tech Community Manager

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The amount of time it takes to become an expert in a certain subject is debatable. In pop culture, many reference author Malcolm Gladwell's "ten thousand hour rule" from his book Outliers (a fascinating read!). The rule essentially suggests that, to become an expert at seemingly anything, one must dedicate an average of 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" in that discipline. That said, other articles and studies have come out arguing against this theory, and Gladwell himself has further reflected on the discussion around this idea.

Anecdotally speaking, it is entirely plausible to teach yourself computer programming to the point where your expertise makes you a desirable (and employable) programmer. A handful of co-workers at my job are amazing developers, but, say, majored in History or Public Policy in college, and only did programming as a hobby.

There are lots of tutorials and classes available for you to take, either from a higher ed institution, or a more casual environment like General Assembly or, to help you get started.

Scarlet Michaelson, English and Writing Teacher

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There are plenty of autodidacts out there. The only difficulty in answering your question is when you ask "on average" how long it would take someone to go from novice to practitioner, is that there is no average in these situations. To be clear, different peoples' brains are wired differently. Whereas I am wired to pick up new languages quickly, other people find languages very challenging but can do engineering feats in an incredibly fast amount of time. Therefore, it all depends on the subject, the person, and the amount of time & effort they put into teaching themselves.

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