Photo by MK Hamilton on Unsplash

So, you’ve spent countless hours watching coding tutorials, meticulously following along with every example. Yet, when it’s time to sit down to start your own project, you feel completely lost and don’t know where to begin. Seeking the comfortable feeling of continual progress, you find another tutorial and start the cycle all over again. This is the frustrating “tutorial hell” — a phase almost every aspiring developer experiences.

By opening this article, you’ve probably already acknowledged that you’re in “tutorial hell ”— great work! Recognition is the most difficult step in overcoming this nasty habit.

In this article, we’ll explore how you can escape “tutorial hell” by shifting your mindset from passive consumption to active problem-solving. By doing this, you can transform that endless sea of free tutorials online into tangible skills and impactful projects.

Trapped In An Academic Mindset

In school, we are continually rewarded for incremental learning. We enroll in a course because it is intriguing or possibly relevant to our career. We’re then spoon-fed a curriculum that encompasses a wide variety of topics. Some concepts will be retained, but most will be forgotten after we put our pencils down and kick back at the end of a final exam.

This habit of passive learning is built over literal decades of schooling, where displaying knowledge through exams is enough to get endless praise in the form of A+s, Dean’s List, or even summa cum laude. However, this notion can be damaging to aspiring software engineers because in software engineering, there is no reward for knowledge without using it to create impact.

Change Why You Approach Tutorials

Many residents of “tutorial hell” want to learn a new skill or framework because it interests them or they think that it’ll boost their résumé. That’s an okay mindset to have every once in a while, but it’s unsustainable when it’s the only reason you’re branching out and learning something new.

Instead, try coming up with a small project idea that you genuinely find interesting. The most impactful way to do this is to look at hobbies you’re already passionate about and ask yourself if technology can enhance or innovate within those interests.

This was the motivation behind my first two projects. My hobby of drawing motivated my final project in history class, where I created a Where’s Waldo-style game covering iconic moments in scientific history using React.js. Playing in a wedding quartet during my high school years motivated me to create Ensembler, a proof-of-concept MERN-stack application that could help musicians create ensembles and find job opportunities. Building my passion for software engineering off of things that I was already passionate about set the framework for my lifelong appreciation of software and the ease at which impact can be created with it.

From Learning To Building

So is the solution to unsubscribe from Traversy Media, open up VSCode, and start building? No! Tutorials are still vital resources that provide direction when learning a topic — direction that constantly perusing docs will not supply. Instead, the best way to escape “tutorial hell” is to change your motivation behind selecting a tutorial to watch in the first place.

First and foremost, you need to come up with a project concept that interests you. I will acknowledge that ideating a project worth dedicating a week or two to is no easy task and can take a bit of time. However when it comes to you, the excitement and motivation will make it well worth the effort.

Once an idea is in place, determine what technologies you need to learn to help realize it. Does the project involve gathering a bunch of information the web? Learn about web scraping and browser automation. Does the idea require add-ons to a browser experience? Learn how to build a chrome extension.

That being said, your initial projects cannot be crazily ambitious. We’re not going to build the next Facebook in one try, or achieve artificial general intelligence over Thanksgiving break. In the beginning, your projects should be something that could be extended off of a tutor ial— either a tutorial that you’ve already watched or recently came across. For instance, the skeleton of Ensembler was based off of MERN Social from the book “Full-Stack React Projects, Second Edition.” After building out core features in reference to this book, I started branching out and learning new things to build out even more features I wanted. Additional features included location search with the Google Maps API and deploying the application onto an AWS EC2 instance. Coming up with an initial idea, finding tutorials to help realize that idea, then building new features with new learnings creates a snowballing effect of continual learning and building. This continuity will not only help you escape tutorial hell, but also start creating real projects that you’re truly excited to work on!

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, escaping “tutorial hell” is really about reclaiming your journey in software development. It’s about remembering to embrace the mindset of a problem solver, a creator, and a lifelong learner. By integrating hobbies and passions into your software projects, you’ll not only become a more skilled developer but also find greater fulfillment in the code you write every day.

If you found this article helpful, you’re welcome to subscribe here as I aim to continue to share learnings for aspiring software engineers that I can’t find online.

Breaking Out of Tutorial Hell was originally published in Level Up Coding on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

​ Level Up Coding – Medium

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