Perceptual Learning == More Ruby Experts?, by Stefanni Brasil

How do you become an expert? Why some Ruby developers can't explain what they know? Why some developers don't develop expert skills? What does it mean to be a Ruby expert?

To discuss these questions, we'll explore Perceptual Learning (PL) research. PL is a natural learning process that complements traditional Education. It accelerates expertise by speeding pattern recognition, intuition and fluency on a given subject.

In this talk, we'll learn how to create expertise based on PL's techniques, and how you can apply them to become an expert Ruby developer.


Intended audience

This talk is for developers interested in honing their learning skills so they can learn more effectively. They can be novices and experienced professionals who are curious about becoming Ruby experts, or managers who want to support their team level up.


  1. [1min] Do you consider yourself an expert?
  2. [2min] Is there a difference between being a senior developer and an expert developer?
  3. [3min] What does it mean to be an expert?
    1. [2min] Experts have pattern recognition (selectivity) and fluency skills
    2. [1min] Can anyone become an expert?
  4. [12min] What is PL and what problems does it solve?
    1. [5min] Published research and its promising results with Mathematics and other cognitive-complex areas teaching
    2. [3min] PL changes our understanding of perception and cognition: instead of seeing our mind as a container of information, our mind is constantly processing the information as a pattern recognizer.
    3. [4min] The limitations of the current way programming is taught
  5. [10min] How PL can fast-track expertise in the high-cognitive world of software development
    1. [5min] PL techniques that help students develop their problem-solving skills
    2. [5min] Perceptual Learning techniques that can be applied to learning Ruby (or any other language/concept)
  6. [2min] PL and the future of expertise and questions needed to be answered.
    1. What does our community understand as expertise? How we apply PL to programming when there are different perspectives on what are the best practices?
  7. [Remaining time] Q&A


After attending this talk, learners will:

  1. Understand what makes a person an expert
  2. What is Perceptual Learning (PL) and what problems does it solve: use cases, promising results from the latest research
  3. Identify PL techniques that can be applied to advancing their careers in Ruby.


Research shows that by applying the right techniques, anyone can become an expert.

I struggled a lot with traditional education and when I was learning how to code, I always felt as if I wasn't smart enough to learn it. It turns out I was using the wrong process. I had to learn how to learn by myself.

As I see this problem happen more than often, I want to share what I've learned along the way with others.

I have a B.A. in Literature that I didn't use for too long because I was discontent with the limits of traditional teaching. Since then, I've been reading about Cognitive Science and trying to identify why the existing educational solutions are not teaching us skills for the modern world.

Mastery is possible and the emerging field of Cognitive Science has been providing promising results that we can use to learn to program more effectively.

As a community, we owe the responsibility to provide more effective training opportunities to the thousands of people wanting to break into the industry, and also for the ones who are in the industry trying to get further.

Ruby was created to make developers happy. Its human approach of being an easy language for us to learn, write and understand gives us more bandwidth to focus on what actually matters: problem-solving.

Programming is all about patterns recognition. As an industry, our ability to create more experts is not meeting the demands. The few companies that hire novices don't know how to train them consistently. We need to improve the standards and provide opportunities for everyone to become experts.

Besides my inner motivation to learn more about how our brains work, I also have experience teaching French and English. I continue teaching programming to beginners at local Rails girls workshops, and meetups.

I also have presented lightning talks at RailsConf, RubyConf Sao Paulo, and Vancouver Ruby meetup.

I also grew up with lots of cognitive distortions. I experienced firsthand how understanding the way my brain works helped me overcome the distortions that were limiting my growth. I wondered: now that I know how to handle my cognitive distortions better, how can I leverage my brain's power to achieve bigger things? That's why Cognitive Science is so fascinating to me.


Stefanni Brasil is the co-creator of hexdevs, where she builds programs that train developers for excellence. She is a self-taught developer, community strategist, avid reader, and cats lover. She writes on her blog, hosts live Open Source Thursdays coding sessions and co-hosts the hexdevs podcast. Besides that, she's been giving lightning talks at local meetups, on RubyConf Sao Paulo, and RailsConf. She is a huge believer that everyone is capable of achieving whatever they want for their lives.

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