Recently I met my college friend Aditya Rao. I've known him for more than a decade and always thought of him as a business & marketing leader. I was surprised to hear that he's been learning programming for more than 2 years now. I got curious to know about his experience of learning to code and we ended up chatting for about 2 hours about his journey as a 30-year-old beginner developer.
Here are a few tips he shared that helped him learn better and stay motivated through the course. I think other beginners will find these tips useful too, so I am sharing them here.
These are Aditya’s words, slightly edited by me for better readability.
1. Get rid of self-imposed starting barriers I took two computer programming courses during my undergraduate and I failed both. For a really long time, I thought that programming is some black box that's too complex & hard. This skewed view created a starting barrier for me. I know many people who are completely new to programming feeling the same way.
After 3 years, I can say that programming is anything but a black box. It is just beautiful. Something as simple as CSS is truly magical. Everyone has different mental barriers and most of those are self-created. Don’t get intimidated by these self-imposed views.
2. Be clear about your end goal When I was just starting out, an engineer friend told me, "When programmers can’t understand an error message in their code, they go and search the internet to figure out what that error is. There are probably other engineers out there who have faced and solved the same problem before. So, they take that solution and try it out. Of course, they have their fundamentals in place but everyone is still learning on the go.”
Learning on the go made sense to me. Moreover, it was quite liberating to hear this. I took this approach to learning & told myself - ‘I am not here to learn coding, I am here to solve a problem’. This approach of focusing on solving the problem at hand has empowered me to learn faster & better.
3. “You can get anywhere if you simply go one step at a time.” Pick up a small problem. Take out one weekend and just start solving it. The key is to get a small win and then to keep stacking up these small successes. The best thing about code is that it is repeatable. If you have a small piece of code that solves a small problem, you can always extend that to solve a larger problem later on.
Engineers take a big problem and break it down into smaller & simpler steps quite beautifully. If the small solutions for each step work, they can be put together to achieve a larger goal. This is the most valuable life skill I have learned while learning to code.
4. Ask for help & unblock yourself ASAP Coding isn’t hard by itself unless you are building a really breakthrough technology or the world’s next best search engine. But there are hard parts such as setting up AWS and setting up other infrastructure as needed. You will need a lot of help with these things. Always be ready to seek help.
When I asked my first question on StackOverflow, I got 5 downvotes on it. I was genuinely trying to understand something and people were telling me that I am not asking the question in the right way. It was demotivating for me as a beginner. Even if such things happen a couple of times, don't let random people deter you in asking for help from experienced engineers. The Internet, my engineering friends, and colleagues have helped me learn the most.
5. Build something useful to stay motivated I am a big proponent of the no-code movement. Technology should be like a bunch of Lego blocks anyone can play around with. Kids don't think how a lego block gets made, what is the material used or what its tensile strength is. They just use it to build something they want. I am sure there are people out there who care about the perfect piece of code. I have no benchmark on what is good code or bad code. The only benchmark I have is to build something that people find useful. I feel successful when I build something and people value it.