The Three Day Project Paradigm

Or: How to learn how to learn in five minutes

The way PyCon Canada lightning talk presenter Daniel Moniz (@ParagonRG) gives his presentation, “How to Learn Python in Five Minutes“, you could miss what a great system for learning to program is being outlined.

I stumbled on this video as I was looking around at online programming courses. The title, a bit of “trickery” that Moniz apologizes for, is click-bait for the casual browser. The title should instead be something like “How to learn how to learn in five minutes,” since it’s not about Python per se, and couldn’t cover too much in five minutes anyway, but instead uses the presentation to go over a system for learning that seems really useful.

It’s something Moniz calls the “Three Day Project Paradigm”. I can’t find anything (else) on the web about this. So maybe it’s his paradigm and this is its debut? Anyway, it’s imminently practical. The main thing about it is that when you’re done, you not only have learned in what seems to be an ordered and efficient way, but you’ve got this project, this thing, to show employers, tech talk attendees, your mom. You may use that thing to get a job, as he describes having done, or simply to acquire a new programming language or skill in a way that commits you to the learning.

I know that when I’ve interviewed at tech companies, I’ve sometimes had a project to show, and I can say the amount of gravity these projects have in the process is really useful. You built this product? Show us how it works. I mean, interviewers really want something to dig into, to poke at, a differentiator. I had a little document review tool I built as a Python web app (DiRT); a Kred social application for work; various text and XML processing utilities. When your projects are real and been made public—”shipped”—when they have little logos and cool names and nice-looking UIs, they say a lot about important skills like design, testing, “productization”, follow-through. They show you to be a shipper and not just a tinkerer, and that’s key.

This project paradigm has you working on a thing you really want to exist, that you may make a part of your resume but also use, that will be a part of your technical experience, your toolkit. Collaborative development tools like GitHub make this so easy technically. And of course working on such a project provides the focus and real problems and solutions that help you actually learn—in contrast to so many more passive or casual or disconnected learning environments.

Three Day Project Paradigm Outline

I copied the outline for the 3DPP from the video:


  • Need a project idea, e.g., web crawler

Day 1

  • Mess around, learn language

Day 2

  • Complete functionality
  • Refactor
  • Eliminate bugs (bug-free by EOD)

Day 3

  • Complete docs
  • Refactor
  • Push to Github or online repo
  • Etc!

Day 4

  • Hands off!
  • Ship

Three day boot camps in Wilmington

I was looking at training in Python, my go-to programming language, because of recent conversations we’ve been having about technology in the Cape Fear area, in which this observation has been made repeatedly: We have a paradoxical disconnect between 1) local employers who want to hire practical, modern technical skills (JavaScript, mobile, web, analytics) and 2) local skilled tech workers who cannot find these employers!

I could imagine a set of Raleigh Iron Yard-style boot camps based around the 3DPP filling this disconnect in these ways:

  • Students and would-be employees could help define the languages and technologies, such as JavaScript and mobile, they most want to acquire skills in
  • Employers could help define real projects based on their real needs–and see those projects worked at in a win-win learning/training/solving situation
  • 3DPPs could supplement tech learning and training at local colleges, taking up emerging skills needs in a more agile way than traditional curriculae tend to
  • 3DPPs could train existing employees in work environment to upgrade them in their current roles

Example 3 Day Project

As an example 1 of the qualities above, 3DPP facilitators might help the NHC medical center frame a set of needs around mobile apps: A mobile solution for NHRMC employees to schedule rooms for meetings and patient consultations. Students of the boot camp, having already expressed a keen desire to learn Angular JS and Swift, virtualization, would adopt three projects in paired programming teams, apps and components that could be white-labelled for NHRMC but could also be adapted for other more general uses, such as real estate offices, universities.

  • One team would build the server component in Swift, on Linux, in the cloud

  • Another team would build the mobile application itself using Swift + Angular
  • A third team would build an analytics package that would integrate and provide dashboards about capacity, utility of rooms, energy costs, etc.

The students would pay for this learning experience, the medical center might also pay, or subsidize; maybe it has its employees in this training/solving. The medical center would indicate its willingness to purchase or hire for solutions to its real problems. The students would be building a real thing—again for their resume at least, if not for profit and employment. The framework of the real-world problem and compelling technological solutions would make the learning efficient, modern, “sticky”.


  1. In this contrived example, the interfaces, communications and requirements of these applications would need to be worked out a bit more in advance, of course; hope this is still a useful illustration though of how stakeholders around this kind of learning could come to the table, particularly in regions like ours where there’s thought to be a lack of connection between skills and needs, firms and developers.

Zach Hanner and the New, Old, Coastal Southeast

ZACH HANNER IS WORKING A KIDS BIRTHDAY PARTY in downtown Wilmington. In a bright Hawaiian shirt, on a wide front porch overlooking raised herb beds, miniature soccer goals and skateboards, Zach plays a ukulele version of the Pixies 1989 song “Here Comes Your Man”. Cars roll by with their windows down and their thumbs up. Around Zach, holding their wine glasses, sitting knees-up in twos and threes, cradling babies in organic cotton slings, the parents bob their heads and smile wistfully, sing along.

Zach runs the uke through a little digital effects pedal that loops his strumming. He lays down a beautiful Bossa rhythm, then plays some groovy solo lines over the top, a duet with himself. Next, he beat-boxes Biz Markie style in his deep voice, sets that looping as the drum and bass behind a song whose words—about the bubbly seven year old birthday girl, this beautiful, languid Southern day—he makes up on the spot. Here comes your man.

Kids of every age are at this party. Babies to teenagers. Young parents in neck tattoos and vintage dresses, grandparents, neighbors. Zach knows us all. He already works with many of the kids at TheatreNOW, where he’s the theater director. Later tonight he’ll be the MC for Cucalorus, Wilmington’s independent film festival, which attracts thousands of attendees from all over each year. Tomorrow morning, he hosts his Super Saturday Fun Time, a variety show where he screens short films, puts on an episodic live mystery show about Wilmington called The Dock Street Kids, plays eclectic music. At the last Fun Time we attended, he showed a film reel about surfing on inflatable rafts, demoed and let the audience try playing a theremin, did a Dock Street episode on the possibly-haunted 18th century Burgwin-Wright house on Market Street. This coming week he’ll volunteer at local schools, as usual; put on a mystery dinner theater show, teach at his film and acting program, Superstar Academy; and play one or two gigs with his bands Da Howlies and the Noseriders, who specialize in surf music of different flavors. He may teach a surf lesson or two next weekend, or donate more Zach Hanner solo show gift certificates to the charities he’s closely involved with.

Kids scramble onto Zach’s lap to get themselves onto the live mic, into the looper, to make scary noises or fart noises, to bray Happy Birthday, yell their own names. Zach is unflappable, helping them to chop their contributions into loops, into new pieces of the puzzle, figuring out something else that will go here, or here. Making sure every kid who wants to can contribute.

WHAT IS CAPE FEAR? Is it a beach town, with Wings sunscreen shops and Confederate beach towels? Is it a coastal outskirt of the Triangle? An environmental sanctuary, an SUP and dragon-boating mecca? Is it mainly an antebellum Southern city with ghost walks? Is it a pirate bar crawl, a music scene? A key historic site of the Civil War? Tech hub? A film epicenter—”Hollywood East”, as it was called for many years, when Dennis Hopper, Dino DeLarentis and others fell in love with it and made for years literally the second busiest film production area in the US?

All of these are right in some respect. There are many more right answers besides. And that’s good! The Cape Fear area is so many things to so many people. But what about when you want it to become more of one thing or another, or when it grows very quickly, as this region has, and you want it to stay some way? Grow in what direction? What is our region’s guiding identity? Our vision? For that matter, what is Durham’s, and what does Savannah have that we do not? How do we tell our story here?

I think one good answer about who we are and might be is in the figure of Zach Hanner. People have talked for decades about the “New South,” its food and music, literature, its sophistication, civility. They mean cities like Charleston. The New South trope has really helped cities like Charleston establish themselves—perhaps by quelling the fears of northerners and other outsiders for whom the “Old South” was something to be passed over. Zach is more like…the Old, New Coastal Southeast. A model of how it all might fit together, of how wayward forces might be reconciled. It isn’t just that Zach does so many different, good things in town—theater, music, surf, film, education, charity. It’s that he loves these things first and foremost, and pursues them with heart. In doing so he’s made them real, and for many, many others, he’s made them a part of what our region is.

ZACH’S PROFESSIONAL BLUEGRASS-PLAYING UNCLE, his mother’s career as an art teacher, the film work, his being singled out at twelve as a singer and diving into high school chorus, then opera. All these Zach sees as “arrows in a quiver” of experiences and aptitudes. He sees himself as a self-promoter, which sounds like ego but is really its opposite: Hanner is completely self-deprecating, a booster for the things he loves. And he’s lucky, as he says. He describes the success of Da Howlies as almost accidental, for example, says that his long-time musical collaborator Seth Moody is “the lynchpin” of their musical projects, the real prodigy. In typical modest fashion, Zach paints a picture of the almost accidental way in which this Hawaiian music band, a “sunset” band of older dudes (Hanner was 32 when he co-founded) started playing at what was then the “Center Pier” in Carolina Beach and is now the Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar, run by Dave Sinclair, former lead singer of Rural Swine. Zach admiringly describes the musical framework that Moody created, the expertise that allowed the band to be whimsical while still being entirely groovy and tight, musical. It’s become a thing. On Friday nights in summer, couples and families bring their beach chairs and blankets to sit in the cool sand as Da Howlies play at the end of the lighted, rickety pier overhead.

Another bit of good fortune, Hanner says, was landing a speaking part in the movie Forrest Gump after graduating from Performance Studies and Improv from UNC in 1991. Less Ibsen and more Stanislavsky, Hanner says. Applied theater. This lead to work in the film industry, in television ads. Hanner was also a journalism major and, for a while, a technologist at the firm Citysearch in Raleigh. That was before the economic bust forced him and many others to find different work. Zach became a bartender at Wilmington’s rooftop bar Level 5, next door to City Stage, and was soon performing there, helping organize events and productions, getting the word out and connecting things.

What our region needs more than any new thing is to find its voice, to come into itself. We need Zach’s brand of synthesizing and “self-promotion” and, before that, a dose of his understanding, self-actualization, and energy. Was post-punk ukelele a thing before Zach Hanner decided he wanted to do it? Is a surf-soaked beach band doing Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” alongside Nat King Cole tunes part of a committee’s “vision” for this area? What would it look like to actually bring the present and the past together, as Zach does, or the beach and the downtown, kid and adult fun, Monkey Junction and Mayfaire? Is there anything more winningly “cultural” or “educational” than the film schools and acting troupes and music lessons and antic variety shows that Zach puts on for love, that he does to add to the place he calls home?

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY IS WINDING DOWN. Kids are inside now. Moustachioed dads are mulching their rinds in the yard and washing their own wine glasses. Zach bundles up his orange amplifier and his gear for the next gig, calls his wife Dagmar to see if she’ll meet him for a late lunch at Flaming Amy’s before the next event.

As someone who works a bit in economic development, I think the quirky projects that people like Zach Hanner and Cucalorus Film Festival “Chief Instigating Officer” Dan Brawley have started as forms of self-expression and outlets for their own creativity have done more than twenty commissions or long-term plans for the Cape Fear. They help you see your home and find your own place within.

Picture from WHQR, from an interview that radio station did with Zach in 2013 about the TheatreNOW show he did, Country Cookin’ with the Good Old Boys