Teaching an old bioinformatician new tricks

The old adage is that you can't teach an old dog new tricks because it is usually difficult to change people's habits, traits or mindset. One reason may be because an "old dog" has done enough exploration and they want to exploit/reap the benefits of their previous ground work. They have dedicated a lot of time towards learning a particular skill/software/etc. and now it's time to apply those skills to problem solving instead. To convince someone to use something new will require a lot of work because you need to show them that the new way is not only better but immensely better! If it's only slightly better, it's not worth the trouble to learn a new skill.

Another reason may be that while the new approach is clearly a huge improvement, it's difficult to learn and requires a strong dedication. At this point, I'd like to point out that the "old dog" I'm referring to in this post is myself. Many times I've wanted to learn a new way of doing things and I get started with it but hit a wall along the way and that ended my exploration.

This is an excerpt from Learn Ruby the Hard Way (and is also included in the other Learn X the Hard Way series):

As you study this book, and continue with programming, remember that anything worth doing is difficult at first. Maybe you are the kind of person who is afraid of failure, so you give up at the first sign of difficulty. Maybe you never learned self-discipline, so you can't do anything that's "boring." Maybe you were told that you are "gifted," so you never attempt anything that might make you seem stupid or not a prodigy. Maybe you are competitive and unfairly compare yourself to someone like me who's been programming for more than 20 years.

I will always remember that paragraph because the first time I read it, I was like "Wow, this perfectly describes me in every way!". Well, I'm glad to say that I have been making changes and for the last couple of years, I've been working towards changing my (bad) habits by learning new things. I wrote about some new things I was doing in my blog post that marked the tenth anniversary of this blog.

The approach I'm currently taking towards learning new tricks is via progressive learning, even if it is in tiny bits. Because what I realised is that little by little, a little becomes a lot. One day I saw a post on the bird app that I'll illustrate by using bc.

Doing nothing at all for a year.

bc -l<<<1^365

Putting in a small but consistent effort every day.

bc -l<<<1.01^365

So that's exactly what I'm trying to do, learn a little each day! And I really think that you can teach an old bioinformatician, such as myself, new things!

(I share most of the new things I learn on GitHub, so take a look if you're interested! I'm probably interested in too many things but a lot of them overlap, at least conceptually.)

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2 comments Add yours
  1. Thank you for the wonderful reminder that self-improvement is indeed both a matter of mindset and iteration. I’ve found the same to be true for myself, especially when it matters. This article is a nice return to those thoughts. Much appreciated.

    1. Hi Bret,

      I’m glad the post resonates with someone other than myself! Thanks for reading and for the comment!


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