Long Form Blog Post

Want to become a coding boss? Avoid this #1 rookie mistake.

If you’re determined to become a skilled coder, you can get there a lot faster by avoiding this #1 rookie mistake. How do I know? Because I made it myself.

I still remember my first day at Bitmaker, an intensive 9-week coding boot camp I recently completed in Toronto. I knew it would be a challenging transition — I was diving right into Ruby, Rails and JavaScript after working the past few years as a professional blogger and social media specialist. Sure, I had dabbled in CSS and HTML, but I wanted to do more. I had visions of grandeur and game- changing apps dancing in my head, and was eager to learn as much as I possibly could. As we ploughed through the ritual introductions, however, I began to question my abilities to do well in the course. One classmate after another recited their credentials: Comp Sci and Engineering degrees, the traditional routes into programming. Granted, there were also students like me, who didn’t come from any kind of tech background at all, but my initial relief was quickly replace with doubt. Could I actually learn this stuff?

I was determined to stick it out — even if the subject matter was out of my comfort zone. As we delved further into the course, however, I couldn’t quite squash my skepticism that I had maybe turned up in the wrong place. I quickly decided to remedy the situation with an onslaught of articles, blog posts, screencasts — anything and everything I could get my hands on. With an arts and humanities background, I assumed that I could tame the beast of coding like I would a 20-page essay on the causes of World War I during my York University days. Suddenly, I found myself possessed by a new determination: to become a human encyclopedia on all matters related to web development. It wasn’t enough for me to learn actual syntax — I wanted to understand the bigger picture, how every little cog operated within the mighty machines of code.

My plan was going great, with one minor exception: I had spent hours toiling over a virtual stockpile of reading material, but still wasn’t any better at coding. I persisted — if I only read or reviewed just a little bit more, I was certain that my ineptitude would disappear and I’d be coding like a champion.

The only problem was, I wasn’t coding like a champion. I wasn’t coding at all. Sure, I had acquired a bunch of sorted information on various programming languages in the process, but the how and why of what I was doing remained a mystery. Finally, I decided to slam the books shut — figuratively, of course — and plunged into the actual course work, even though (especially because) I was still such an amateur.

Everything I tried, I failed — at least at first. But I also discovered the #1 rookie mistake I had made so far: learning without doing. The more I kept at it, the more I realized that no amount of reading, lectures or video tutorials could replace the literal action of coding. It’s very similar, in fact, to exercise. If you’re new to the gym circuit, there’s a lot to learn. You can curl up by the fire with a pile of self-help books, written by world renowned fitness gurus and lifestyle coaches. You can sit on your couch and watch hours of exercise videos without lifting a finger. You can memorize the scientific terms for every muscle and ligament. You can even take online courses to better understand the biological process of fat burning, muscle building and blood flow. But until you lace up your gym shoes and do some real, physical exercise, your body will either stay the same or get worse.

Similarly, if you focus so much on the material that you fail to do any actual coding, your abilities will either remain stagnant or decrease. Once I pushed through and got started, however, I noticed two important developments that, in hind sight, were critical to my own transition from a total noob to a competent coder:

  1. ) The more I coded, the more I understood. All that information on Ruby, Rails and JavaScript I had shelved in my head was useless without application. When I decided to take on actual projects, I could literally seehow various components of the code interacted (or, in many cases, collided) with one another. This was crucial step for a visual processor like myself, as it enabled me to finally grasp what was going on.
  2. ) The more I “failed”, the more I understood. I hate to invoke the classic Thomas Edison cliché — “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — but in coding I believe this is absolutely and especially true.

If you’re serious about really, truly, actually learning how to code — whether to jumpstart a new career, create that app you’ve been mulling over or you’re just super committed to upstaging your colleagues around the water cooler — the fastest way you can reach your goal is to just start coding. If you’re anything like me, a perennial right-brainer, it won’t be easy, especially not at first. You may even learn how to think differently, like I did. More than anything, you’ll have to push aside the

notion that success is the only road to victory, and find triumph in failure. Huh? I heard a great quote recently: “Failure is just practice for success.” In web development, and coding in general, this couldn’t be more true. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will teach you how to code faster nor better prepare you for the tech industry than good, ol’ fashioned practice. The secret is just doing it.

Now what?

Fortunately, there are some incredible websites which enable “baby devs” (or those considering joining the ranks) to immediately start writing code without being bogged down by excessive learning materials. These include:

  • Code academy
  • Codelearn
  • Code Combat
  • Code School
  • Dash
  • LearnJava
  • Rails for Zombies
  • RubyMonk
  • tryGit
  • Try jQuery
  • Try Ruby

When things get tough — as they’re bound to at some point or another — and you feel your developer dreams slipping through your fingers, get up, stretch, refill your coffee and remember that horrendously corny yet somehow delightful joke:

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Practice.

Originally published on Medium.

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