I often go back to my parents house on weekends to visit, and for nearly as long as I can remember my sister and I have enjoyed the occasional game of Counter Strike while I'm there.
Ok, that's not the entire truth. We play it relentlessly and very competitively. Neither of us can imagine the horror of being the one with fewest kills at the end of the 20 minute round. I mean, the shame of it!
About 2 years ago, having both become as good as we could, we invited Mum to play. Of course she wasn't falling over herself to transform into a teenage internet gamer and kindly refused. But my sister and I were persistent, especially once we realised a brand new player would give us a much better chance to one-up each other.
Eventually she cracked and we got her playing. It took her a while to get the mouse movement synchronised with the WSAD keys in order to make coherent movements, and we certainly didn't have friendly fire turned on.
It didn't take her long to get into it though, and after not long she was getting pretttty pissed at being shot in the face – understandably. My sister and I felt much better about not being bottom of the kill count, despite how poorly we did.
Fast-forward to today and we all still play CS regularly. In fact, Dad also plays now. So do the in-laws. After games we get into big debates about how badly one of us screwed up in the last game, or how one of us has let the other one down. CS has become our Monopoly I guess, and it's awesome fun.
But something interesting happened. Now, you have to understand that this is hard for me to talk about. I never thought this could happen, ever. My Mum got better! I don't mean in the ability to turn corners kind of way. I mean she now regularly kicks everyone's ass when we play. Yes, my Mother now gets most kills while my sister and I get whatever she didn't see while playing and peeling potatoes.
And I'm only exaggerating a little here. Compared with the first day she played, she has become way better. This is probably not too surprising since we know that people get better at things over time, right?
But it's not simply the passing of time that makes us better at things, it's what we choose to do in that time. While we may choose to read, to talk, to observe others, nothing can replace the old adage. Practise makes perfect. Sometimes we must read, talk and observe others in order to do better ourselves, but we must also do.
If we want to become better programmers, reading will certainly help by introducing us to the doings of others. Similarly, so will attending frequent user group meetings and talking to other smart people. Likewise, watching hundreds of screencasts will show us how the best do what they do, but absolutely nothing will make us better than actually writing lots of code ourselves.
Two years ago, my Mum would have been delighted if she managed a single kill in a round. Now she isn't happy unless she's in first position, killing most of the opposing team herself. All she did to get there was play.
Do, as often as you can – it's that simple.