Reflections of a #CodeNewbie

I’ve been told blogging is a great way to promote yourself. And since that’s kind of important if you’re hoping to build a freelance career, here I am.

One problem though, what to talk about? As a relative newcomer to coding and web development, I don’t feel qualified to provide expert guidance on much of the technical stuff, yet…

I started my journey in May 2019 and – in case you missed it – there was a pandemic not long after that. But something I can easily talk about is all the things I wish I’d known when I started. So here goes. My top 5 bits of advice for anyone joining the endless learning curve that is tech.

1. Don’t rush

It’s very easy to despair when the internet is full of people going “I learned to code and got a job at Google in 6 months!!!”

That’s great for them, but it wasn’t a good feeling when I passed that 6 month threshold and started to wonder why I wasn’t a silicon valley bro yet. Maybe those 6-monthers are prodigies. Maybe they only sleep 3 hours a day. Maybe they had literally nothing to do except code while their Mum brought them cheese toasties. The point is, we learn at our own pace, whether we like it or not. Trying to jump ahead just landed me in what I’ve come to think of as ‘frantic mode’, floundering around in technical help pages barely understanding the questions, let alone the answers.

2. Code, don’t read about coding

During lockdown I couldn’t code. I had 3 kids at home and my eldest has special needs. Whenever I turned my laptop on he would start screaming and banging his head. It was a totally valid and reasonable excuse to say “you know what, this isn’t going to happen right now”. I just couldn’t ignore the guilt that I’d committed to a learning journey and stopped learning. So my solution was to read books on coding, look at work-through examples. I was trying to complete exercises on my crappy old tablet (while sitting next to my son and trying to block out Mr Tumble or Teen Titans, as it played for the 500th time).

It didn’t work. I guess I hoped stuff would ‘click’ and I’d feel like I was making progress, but staring at syntax is just not the same as using it. Since lockdown ended I’ve got a bit of headspace and, most importantly, time to actually practice using code. It’s much easier to retain knowledge when you make and fix your own mistakes.

3. Get used to being overwhelmed – it won’t go away

Tech moves super fast. As someone who came from a housing background, an area which is glacial in its evolution, this is a particular challenge for me. You can read a housing paper from 20 years ago and it will still contain relevant ideas. Now every week there is a new term, a new framework, a new acronym, a new debate that I am constantly trying to keep up with. I’ll learn something and find that it’s gone out of fashion or been replaced with some more efficient way of working. I’ve learned to embrace it. Which leads me to my next point.

Last week’s tech news…

4. Embrace the community

Asking coding questions is really intimidating. Especially for an introvert like me (apparently there are lots of introverts in tech but it doesn’t feel like that, at least on social media). I don’t really dare venture into forums, what if I sound like an idiot? People always seemed to be getting told off on Stack Overflow. I still don’t ask many questions in public forums, but I follow lots of people on Twitter and my bookmarks bar is FULL of articles, YouTube tutorials and guidance. That’s because people in tech are great at sharing knowledge. They all understand that this field can be crazy-hard, and everyone appreciates the help. People rarely say ‘maybe if you don’t get it, this isn’t for you’. Instead they say ‘I’ve totally been there! Keep going!’ It’s like having a squad of jargon-spouting cheerleaders on tap.

5. Look back

I don’t do this enough. I’m impatient, a perfectionist, a worrier, an obsessive completer-finisher. But I can see how far I’ve come if I think about where I started. I’ve built multiple projects, I’m on the fourth iteration of my personal website, and hey, I’ve finally started writing this blog on a WordPress site that I made myself. Ok, so I haven’t finished all my courses and NONE of it is perfect. But I do have a collection of nifty certificates and my CV is looking a lot more techy than it did 2 years ago. These are all good things. Don’t just look at where you’re going, look at where you’ve been. And celebrate (socially distanced, of course…)

Photo by Luca Upper on Unsplash

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