A n00b’s journey into coding

January 27, 2012 - Comments

"So if you want to invest two years in something that will help you succeed in business, the evidence suggests you’d do better to learn how to hack than get an MBA." — Paul Graham

Computers – it seems like I use one from the second I wake up to the moment my eyes slide shut for the night. But how do they work? For the average computer user, the inner workings of computer programming are about as easy to understand (and interesting) as string theory mixed with advanced tax law. But does this mean our large brained coding brethren are intellectually superior to us?

While I can’t code what our CTO, Isaac Wolkerstorfer, can while sleeping, I’m here to tell you, dear reader, that even us mere mortals, can start building awesome websites and useful computer programs, if we put our minds to it. No longer do we have to wait for some geek in his parents’ basement to make our computing lives easier. We can do it ourselves. And no, there’s no need to spend four years studying computer science.

My Story

One day I was surfing the cool waves of the Internet when I happened upon a Lifehacker article which aimed to explain basic HTML, the backbone of the very digital universe I was traversing. Curious as to how this all really actually worked, I stopped for a read.

Turns out, this backbone isn’t that hard to understand. A couple of <p> tags here, a few <img> tags there, and what do you know, I was building my first webpage which I affectionately called “Ryan’s Site”. Proud of my accomplishment and feeling like I was “in the know”, I decided to search for more. Next, Lifehacker explained, it was time to make my page beautiful with CSS. Looking back at the incredibly ugly “Ryan’s Site”, I realized that I needed to take the leap of faith and bring my website up to date. Fifty minutes of Lifehacker later, and I was writing #id and .class selectors like a champ. I thought to myself, “I’m a programmer now”.

Jumping over to Facebook made me realize just how ignorant I was. All right, my website had a pretty background and some stylized text, but I had no clue how to make anything even resembling my Facebook profile page. Even the like button seemed like an impossible dream. But by that time it was too late. I had caught the bug, and I needed more. Clueless as to what to do next, yet optimistic, I searched and found W3 Schools on the Internet and David Pogue’s Missing Manuals series in my local bookstore.

I was breezing along, smug at how much I was able to do in so little time. Then my programming world came crashing down around me. Codecademy, a New York based company aiming to teach anyone and everyone to code, brought me back to earth. Apparently what I had been doing wasn’t actually programming at all.

From Ecstasy to Depression and Back

Feeling dejected and scared that my enjoyable dive into coding was about to turn into a nightmare, I considered quitting. Who was I kidding? I’m a consumer, not a creator, right? Luckily, I’m bad at knowing when to quit, and I vowed to stick to my goal of learning what this whole world of computer programming was all about.

Ryan at 6Wunderkinder learning to code

I picked up a book on Javascript, a programming language that lets webpages do magical things, and began to read. I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when I began reading about the crazy world of “if statements” and “variables”. But while it was hard, it was also quite satisfying. Soon with a little help from jQuery (Javascript’s right-hand man), I felt like my version of Facebook was right around the corner. Thirsty for the fruits of programming knowledge I consumed mounds of books and videos on PHP and MySQL.

I thought I had reached the zenith when I wrote my first website that actually worked. Coming to work at 6Wunderkinder has taught me that there’s still a whole world of things with names like Ruby and C# to learn. But above all else, I’ve learned that it’s possible, and more importantly it’s fun. I may never join the ranks of Isaac, but at least now I know how it works (at least on a basic level). Who knows? One day I could be just like Isaac’s wife, a liberal arts major who taught herself to code in less than a year. With little help from her talented husband, and quite a bit of help from a Ruby on Rails Tutorial, she’s now a professional coder.

2012 is the year

Understanding how to program is becoming increasingly important. In a world economy that isn’t doing too hot, we at 6Wunderkinder are clamoring for more programmers. So whether you’re a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker (or even a marketer like me), make 2012 your year to learn to code. In the near future the lingua franca of the world won’t be English. It won’t even be Chinese. It will be programming. What will you be speaking in 2013?

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