Empathy, thoughtfulness, and learning: Being an Intern at Big Nerd Ranch
Six months ago, I decided to learn how to program in iOS. I have a relationship with my iPhone that psychologists would probably want to study, and I couldn’t handle the curiosity anymore—I wanted to know how it worked. A friend recommended the Big Nerd Ranch guides, but I was skeptical of the playful company name. After all, learning an entirely new language is rarely that fun in the beginning.
Empathy and Thoughtfulness
In spite of my skepticism, I gave Big Nerd Ranch a shot, and in one week over the holiday break, I worked through Big Nerd Ranch’s Objective-C Programming and iOS Programming guides. It was immediately obvious that the authors cared deeply for the reader’s understanding of the content. This sense of empathy and thoughtfulness aided the learning process, and allowed me to start my first iOS application immediately.
Focus on learning
And now, just half a year later, I am settling into a developer internship with Big Nerd Ranch. On our first day, each member of the intern team was given an office tour, a workstation, a mentor, and a MacBook Pro. As a first assignment, I was asked to review an internal iOS application, and to introduce some additional features using Test-Driven Development (TDD), a concept that was new to me. My instructions were to borrow books from the Big Nerd Ranch library, try things, ask questions of anybody, make mistakes, and learn. There was no deadline, no threat of penalty if I didn’t perform—the utmost concern was that I learn.
And learn I have. My mentor and a few other experienced developers review my code and provide comments, questions and challenges. This simple process has been very powerful, exposing me to the tools and techniques of experienced iOS developers, and I receive feedback at the right place and time. I’m continuing to work on that application, and have been invited by another developer to research and implement automated testing on a major project.
There are lots of nerdy perks at the Ranch: coffee, standing desks, breakfast, a ping-pong table, a massage therapist, Tech Talks—but what has been most meaningful to me is the same thing I felt while reading the Big Nerd Ranch guides: an overwhelming sense that learning is what matters.
In my opinion Big Nerd Ranch’s strength lies in this focus on learning. It is applied to their guides, classes, and app development process. This may be what they mean by Nerdvana, a sense that there should be few barriers between you and the knowledge you seek. Nerdvana, for me, is not knowing what Objective-C was six months ago, but now being able to read an expert’s code comments and understand them.