Learning to code: tutorials galore

Written by Rosien van Toor on 15th June 2016

So, after four weeks at Spindle I’m still happily coding in my own little code bubble, which consists mostly of tutorials, a lot of googling, tutorials, some dumb not-so-clever questions to colleagues, staring at the screen in bewilderment and more tutorials. And coffee.

My neighboring colleague told me that sometimes it almost looks like I know what I’m doing, which I guess was supposed to be a compliment, but then I had to admit that all that code appearing on screen was just the result of yet another tutorial.

I told you there are a lot of tutorials.

Expert brains to the rescue

Let’s not talk about tutorials. Let’s talk about what happens when you’re learning how to code and your own little bubble is transplanted from your bedroom to an office shack full of nerds. Nerds who all have their own field of expertise and also very strong opinions about everything.

This is what happens:

1. You have an incredible knowledge base of brains to pick, which is much better than googling, because (at least in the beginning) when you google something you don’t really understand the answer. The same applies to the answers of colleagues, but colleagues are much better at interpreting a confused and bewildered face than Google is.

2. You will get lots of help and advice. Which is cool. The challenge for you is to sort this help into one of the following categories:

  1. Advice that is super useful for something I definitely need to know sooner rather than later;
  2. Advice that is cleverly disguised as an opinion;
  3. Advice about something that is definitely useful but not right now, because you won’t understand any of it (yet), or won’t really know what to do with it (yet).

Rosiencoding

Welcome to the jungle

Learning how to code is a bit like being dropped in the middle of a dense jungle with only a blunt machete for a weapon (at least that’s what my brain feels like at the end of the day). You roughly know you need to go somewhere over there but you don’t really know what there is or even what it looks like, so you start whacking away with your machete to create a path. While you’re still wrestling with a python (programming language of choice) you realize there’s a bunch of frameworks hanging on its tail that you probably also need to tackle and that you’ll gonna have to deal with Javascript monkeys (you thought you were past those) and many, many more things of which you don’t even know what they are yet.

Meanwhile, you haven’t even gotten really familiar with the environment (PyCharm? Can I eat that?) and you’re also trying to figure out how this all fits together. There’s also the mountain of The Project looming in the distance that you’re slowly whacking your way towards and you already know that the only way to eventually get there is by crossing a river, taking the plunge and swim. Or drown. You just don’t know how long it takes to reach it.

Maybe the last part was a bit dramatic, but the jungle of tutorials kind of feels like a safe playground compared to that river.

Lessons learned (so far)

If you’re learning how to code too (join the club!) and you have access to some expert brains to pick, use them to ask the way, for a pointer in the right direction, but be prepared to dodge if they fling another bit of relevant-but-not-right-now information at you. Just remember to thank them politely and write it down somewhere so you know who to ask later. The same applies to helpful internet strangers. 

Gather as much information about what the looming mountain of The Project looks like. If you don’t have one (because you’re still in the comfort of your bedroom) make sure you create one. It helps with relating the jungle of information to a tangible goal and makes it easier to decide whether a certain skill/language/trick/knowledge is useful right now. I use the blog I created while following the DjangoGirls tutorial (as mentioned in my previous blog) as my guinea pig to practice new knowledge on. 

Try to get your feet wet working on a real project as soon as possible. It is very tempting, but not very satisfying, to keep doing tutorials forever. It looks like I’ll be doing Real Things with The Project soon – even if they’re marked as super simple. Swim or drown. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

Your thoughts

  • Written by Edwin Orellana on 1st September 2017

    Interesting article, I remember when I starting coding. Even after years of experience it feels the same, you gain more confidence, but coding never ceases to charm me, I feel hypnotized when I code, because you never stop learning. Good luck on your journey.

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