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What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Learned To Code

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Rithm School

Aug 15, 2017

As a self-taught developer, I can easily remember feeling overwhelmed by how and where to begin learning how to code. Below are some lessons that I’ve taken away from my early days learning how to code and subsequent years teaching hundreds of students across SF.

Focus on quality, not quantity

When I first decided I wanted to learn how to code, I tried to tackle all languages and technologies at once. I knew that I needed to learn JavaScript, but I was also fascinated by mobile and backend development. I spent hours learning PHP and JavaScript, watching Objective C tutorials, and building small web and mobile applications.

In retrospect, I would have accomplished more in less time had I focused on one programming language to start. One reason is that I would have been able to soak in why things work the way they do. Another reason to focus on one language is that learning programming languages becomes easier with each additional language learned. I would have been able to accelerate my learning sooner and faster.

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Writing code should be your #1 priority

There’s an incredible and at times daunting variety of resources available for people who are learning how to code. You could easily spend all your time watching videos and reading tutorials, but neither of those is a substitute for actually writing code. Writing code, especially at the beginning, is trial by fire. You’re going to make mistakes and feel frustrated at times, but you’ll also level up faster and remember how to do it right the next time.

Spend time debugging

Relatedly, when I was first learning how to code I underestimated the value of properly debugging my errors. This may not feel intuitive, especially at the beginning, but you might as well get comfortable with debugging tools sooner rather than later. As a result, you’ll build applications sooner and faster.

Once again, I spent my first year programming focused on the “what” instead of on the “why”. I would copy and paste code examples and hope for the best rather than trying to understand the root cause of the problem.

Another surprising realization from my first year: learning how to google the correct answer to an error is a real skill, and one that takes time to master.

You will struggle and that’s normal

It’s easy and not uncommon to feel discouraged when you start. Programming is hard, and like most other skills you’ll have to spend hours and hours practicing before it will start to feel more intuitive.

Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the vast landscape of options out there – pick a language, roll up your sleeves, and get started. At Rithm, we recommend starting with JavaScript (especially if you’re interested in building web apps). It’s true that JavaScript isn’t the most beginner-friendly language, but you only need to know a little bit to start building simple browser applications.

You’ll also be able to level up quickly and start building more sophisticated applications, which is a huge (and necessary) confidence booster. Learn the fundamentals with our free online javascript course!

If you’re interested in programming more generally, we recommend starting with Python. Python is easily one of the most beginner-friendly of all programming languages, and it has applications across multiple fields and industries. Learn the fundamentals here.

Happy coding!

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