Learning curves in tech are an upward sin curve
Trigonometry not included.
At a recent event somebody asked me “I am a beginner and feel really unsure of myself, at what point does it start to feel like you know what you’re doing.” In the moments that I put the mic to my mouth and considered the answer, I think the audience already knew where this was going. All I had to say was “I am sorry to tell you…” before there was laughter.
But it got me thinking what learning curves in product design (and perhaps tech at large) actually look like.
This is what a traditional learning curve is supposed to look like:
At the event, this is the sinusoidal curve I drew in the air to explain my experience
You learn one part or level, become skilled in it, start to feel confident, then you challenge yourself, push your boundaries and dive back into uncertainty and need to upskill. And on it goes. And this is good. Pushing ourselves is good. Growth happens outside the comfort zone, etc.
But that’s not the whole picture still. The learning curve actually looks like this:
And it’s good for me to remember that. Because when I’m learning new things and dealing with the discomforts, it’s too easy to forget just how many stacked crests, the current troughs are riding on top of—just how many underlying skillsets and hard-earned confidence, the currently uncomfortable growth is accumulating on top of.
As an example, I’m currently learning how to build a design system with tokens and it’s…complex. It’s easy to forget how much more complex it would feel without the years of building and using component libraries, the fundamentals of programming and variables, and the knowledge from experience of what a product and a team at different scales needs. Not to mention the soft skills of learning a new thing, of team collaboration, project management etc etc.
So even though when it comes to tokens, right now I have no idea what I’m doing, overall, I have a whole lot more confidence and even skill than a beginner. I wish I had communicated this advantage of experience to the guy at the event, and drawn him the more optimistic curve.
Somewhere in there is an analogy for resonating wavefunctions, but I zoned out in trigonometry too much because I knew I was gonna go into design. Joke’s on me I guess.