My Learn-to-Code Journey: 3 months in…

I started my learn to code journey in late February, 2016,  when I signed up for freeCodeCamp.  So it’s been about 3 1/2 months and I figured this was as good a time as any to share my thoughts, progress, tools that I’ve found valuable, etc, etc.

First, a little background on what led me to this journey…

I’ve been doing drug discovery/pharmaceutical research for nearly 20 years.  Last year, I found out that my job was moving to a different part of the country and for many reasons, not the least of which was apprehension over relocating my two sons, we decided not to make the move.

After a lot of soul searching (and driving my wife crazy), I decided to shift my career and learn to code.  In fact, the real light bulb moment was reading Derek Sivers post ‘Should you learn programming? Yes.’  It’s where I discovered freeCodeCamp and everything seemed to snowball from there…

Stumbling on that Sivers post was just what I needed and I’ve since become a huge fan of his.  If you haven’t read or watched anything by Derek, do yourself a favor and check out his site. He has a unique perspective on life that’s completely refreshing when compared to most of what you encounter in the world today.

Ok, enough background…

Looking back at the last 3 months, it’s hard to put into words everything I’ve gone through in learning to code.  So far the journey has been fun, frustrating, time consuming, enlightening, tiring, exciting, stressful, rewarding, humbling…  Basically, it’s been a roller coaster ride.

It seems like one minute I feel like I’m on top of the world and that I can do and create anything.  Then the next minute I feel like a total idiot and don’t know anything.  Then genius again, then an even bigger idiot than before…  You get the picture.

Free Code Camp Update

For the time being, I still have a full time job (and coach my son’s baseball team) so I don’t have as much time as I’d like to devote to coding.  I’ve put in a lot of late nights and weekends and, despite the two huge time commitments mentioned previously, feel like I’ve been able to make a ton of progress.

I’m nearing completion on the Front End Development Certificate at freeCodeCamp.  I’ve completed all of the Algorithm Scripting Challenges and most of the Development Projects.  The only projects that I have left are to finish my Tic Tac Toe game, then build a Pomodoro Clock and a Simon game.  These, obviously, will take some time, but I should get them done within the next month or so.  You can check out my projects on my Codepen page.

I’ve also started on the Back End Development Certificate.  The first lesson was on Git, then you get right in to Node.js and Express.js.  The biggest thing I’ve learned so far on the back end (in addition to reinforcing once again that I’m an idiot) is that I need to become comfortable in the command line.

Thoughts on Free Code Camp thus far..

I feel that freeCodeCamp, in providing projects with increasing levels of difficulty, provides a great path to follow in learning to code. On the other hand, I feel some of the learning modules are lacking.  For instance, having gone through the git and npm learning modules at the beginning of the back end certificate, I don’t feel like I learned much and have little more understanding of how to use them now than when I started.

I don’t think, however, this is a negative for freeCodeCamp (and not sure if it was purposefully constructed this way or not).  After all, what is the purpose of freeCodeCamp??  To prepare you to become an employable full stack web developer?

Part of this whole process is learning to become resourceful and knowing where and how to look for answers when you run into problems. Something at which I’ve become increasingly skilled.  Is it frustrating to pause in the middle of a project to go look up how to code something? Absolutely.  Over and over again?  Yup…  But in the end, I’ll be a much stronger programmer for it.

In addition to Free Code Camp

In a previous post, I mentioned some of the resources I’ve been using as I make my way through the front end cert at FCC.  In addition to these, I’ve been broadening my knowledge of software development in general through the use of other sites, listening to podcasts and constantly searching for ways to learn (including starting a blog!!).

One of the other sites I discovered is Codewars.

Having finished all 3  algorithm sections at FCC, I was looking for a way to further my algorithm solving skills.  I haven’t used the site extensively yet, in fact, I’ve only worked through about 4 or 5 ‘kata’ (which is what Codewars calls their algorithm problems), but I plan on going back on a fairly regular basis to stay fresh with Javascript as I work through the backend at FCC.

After you solve a given ‘kata’ , you can see the solutions of previous users. In fact, I’m planning on writing one of my next posts on an embarrassingly long solution I wrote that others had solved in one line. Ha!  Live and learn I guess…

Like I said before, I’ve also gotten in the habit of listening to podcasts on my commute to and from work.

Some of my favorites, in no particular order are: JavaScript Jabber, CodeNewbie, Coder Radio, Eat Sleep Code, Becoming a Data Scientist, CodePen Radio, Simple Programmer, Software Engineering Daily and anyone that interviews either Seth Godin or Derek Sivers (The Tim Ferriss Show has great interviews of them both).

More Learning Tools

As I said before, I’ve used a lot of the tech websites (Mozilla, Stack Overflow, W3schools, etc) to learn as I went through the Front End course. I’ve decided to try something different on the back end.  I signed up to audit a Node.js course on coursera.  I can’t give any feedback on how useful the course is or whether it will help with the back end cert at FCC, as I just signed up for it yesterday, but I’ll be sure to write a future post about it.

While listening to the tech podcasts mentioned above, I kept hearing, over and over, the advice to create a blog.  So I did…  And I’m happy I did.

I have no idea how many people this blog will reach in the end, but one of the great benefits of it has been in reinforcing everything I’ve been learning.  I know one of the best ways to really learn something is to try to teach it to others, but I didn’t realize just how true this was.

Even in writing a post about the solution to a Basic Algorithm Scripting challenge, I’ve really had to solidify my knowledge of the JavaScript language and understand the methods and data types that I’ve used.  So, if you want to check if you really understand something, try explaining it to someone else…

As for advice on creating the blog itself, Simple Programmer (John Sonmez) created a great, and free, blogging course that walks you through the steps of creating a blog.  If you’re considering creating your own blog, I recommend signing up for his course, it’s what I used to get started.

Damn this is post is long…

On the remote chance that anyone has stumbled on this blog, and on the even more remote chance that you’re still reading, let me leave you with this..

If you’re on your own journey in learning to code, you are going to go through some rough patches and getting though those times are going to be extremely difficult.  My advice is this…  Don’t take the easy way out, it’ll just lead to more rough patches.

What I mean by that is if you are looking to solve problem x, or write some code to accomplish y, the easy way would be to google it, find some code that someone else has written, copy and paste it into your project and move on…  This may solve your short-term problem, but will get you nowhere in the end.

I’m not saying don’t use google to solve problems or look up ways to write something in whatever language you are using at the time.  I do that all the time.  What I am saying is take the time to learn how the code is written, or the logic behind the algorithm and go write your own solution…

That’s all for now, I’m off to continue my journey…