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Book Review: Does “A Mind for Numbers” Apply to Computer Programming?

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Learn to learn code faster, using techniques honed by years of study, neatly packaged into one book: How to Learn Code

In all my blogs you will see I recommend so many resources and books like these.

I tell you its all important and you must learn 1000 things.

But, you are the one choosing what to learn and when.

My goal for you is to read about what exists, what is helpful and in what way.

In the end, reviews, books, learning methodologies and Computer Science posts are meant to serve you.

So, in your list of things to read you can potentially add this book.

And I will tell you why…

What is “A Mind For Numbers”?

A Mind For Numbers is about learning to learn.

Photo by Chris Benson

They are methods self-learning individuals discover and use on a daily basis.

If you were to spend years learning on your own you would naturally re-invent the concepts in this book.

Many seemingly geniuses and fast learners often figure this stuff out early in life.

And it bleeds to all things and is essentially knowing how to think.

They are universal lessons which apply to all learning, including computer programming.

They would improve you not just as a programmer but as a person.

You would have to learn this stuff either way to optimize your speed as a learner.

Book summary

The old sayings of “I can’t code out of a paper bag” or “my mind is just not built that way” are things she actively rebukes in the book.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak

A good summary of the book is; your mind is plastic and you can adapt to any engineering or math-based craft with time & proper practice.

By creating in your craft your mind will adapt.

But, it is impossible to learn at your potential without the proper learning techniques.

By banging your head against a wall trying to learn things you will soon discover these methods as they are essential for higher learning.

But, you can save yourself time and effort by learning these things directly.

The author, Barbara Oakley, then goes into the various methodologies for improving as a learner.

Here is a list of them:

  • Learn through creation
  • Always chunk your learning
  • Avoid overconfidence, recall the basics
  • Recall don’t review (recall is more effective)
  • The smaller details lead to the big picture
  • Aim for understanding not memorization
  • Always learn the terminology
  • Go between diffuse and focused thinking
  • Use multiple senses and mnemonics in memorization
  • Make sure you think the information is important
  • Etc.

There are many more and when summarized in this way they seem trivial.

But, trust me they are not trivial.

By adopting these techniques and making them second nature you essentially learn and absorb information with ease.

Compared to those who never learn these you will look like a smart cookie because of your learning speed.

Why does “A Mind For Numbers” apply to computer programming?

At first glance the book seems more geared to learning math

Photo by Florian Olivo

However, computer programming is an engineering and math-based craft.

This is exactly the kind of craft she is writing about.

Dr. Oakley states in her personal story throughout her youth she believed she could not learn engineering or technical skills.

Her IQ was tested as low as a child and she categorized herself as one whose “mind simply is not built that way”.

Later in life she decided to give learning the field of engineering a good try.

As she continued with her college education she picked up on learning techniques which allowed her to understand math-based engineering.

She states with time her technique and practice gave her a “mind which understands the craft”.

Eventually she got a bachelors in Electrical Engineering, a masters of Computer Engineering and a PhD of Systems Engineering.

I can personally attest after reading this book, many of the techniques listed are essential to absorbing computer science with speed and ease.

When I read this book 4 months ago I found I had already discovered a great majority of these methodologies.

Photo by Daniel Chekalov

After 7 years of learning to code I had naturally put them into practice.

It was nice to finally have words for the things I came up with.

Before I read this book I had no clue if my methodologies were valid for everyone.

They seemed to work for me and when tutoring others people I spoke to often thought my mind just understood programming naturally.

That my brain structure was naturally built for it.

I was actually afraid to talk about these techniques as they may seem condescending when said directly as “it will speed up your learning”.

As your mind adapts you will enjoy computer programming more

At the start of programming some people have a brain structure which naturally begets Computer Science.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai

What is not often said or even believed is your brain structure can change.

There are neurological highways, roads and back paths which must be built through practice.

Whether or not you have these highways at the start does not matter.

What does matter is your desire and technique in learning.

No matter which person, brain structure or not, when you are at the beginning of learning to program you should find you can hardly do anything.

Just making classes, functions and loops should be difficult and seemingly overwhelming at this stage.

Photo by Jolene Faber

As you build concept upon concept you should begin to see a bigger picture of computer programming.

This neurological structure will naturally grow and connect.

And the more you understand computer science the more fun and useful coding will seem.

Underlying fundamentals will become more abstract and your thinking will become broad with greater strokes and ease.

Changing brain structure happens with time

Brain structures change with proper effort and time.

If you focus on learning & implementation say 2 hours where do most people believe neurological change happens?

Photo by Jad Limcaco

Probably in the 2 hours.

But, although you are exercising your mind in 2 hours the rest of the day, 22 hours is where the magic happens.

Upon revisiting computer programming the next day you will find your mind has adapted and learned the material deeper than right after the learning session.

Not only this, the mind built some neuro pathways for you which did not exist before.

Given spaced repetition of learning you mind begins to see patterns and connects your neuroactivity to every day tasks.

The author states it like this, “unfocused thinking connects what you learned while focused to the rest of your mind”.

Photo by Sincerely Media

So if you practice programming 2 hours in the morning then make eggs benedict, all the neuro connections made during practice will connect with those in my cooking?


That sounds strange, but this is exactly what she says creates genius.

She calls it diffuse vs focused thinking.

Between our periods of implementing code we do our daily tasks and our brain structure changes.

It connects our coding ability to the rest of our mind nerologically.

Pretty cool right?

The goal of this book is to change your brain structure even faster.

I recommend it.

Anywho, I hope you learned something…

CTA: Check out my other articles and follow me on medium.

Happy coding!


A Mind For Numbers:

Learning methodologies:

Coding improves brain structure:

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