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Is It Too Late For You To Learn To Code?

“I hate it!” That was my answer when my then-boyfriend asked me how I liked my first day at my first “grown-up”, supposedly perfect, this-is-what-you-got-your-MBA-for job as operations manager for a major cargo transportation company.

I’m usually über positive, so I still remember my boyfriend’s shocked silence and the deep sadness I felt realizing that I had spent the first two and a half decades of my life preparing for something that I had zero passion for and that just didn’t feel like “me”.

Despite the drama of that first after-work encounter, I stayed at the job for two years, learned a lot, and went on to establish a cargo logistics company with a few partners. But, despite plenty of success with both the company and my role there as customer service manager, I still kept finding myself wondering what in the world I was doing with my career.

After too many mornings dreading going to work, I decided that I had to make a change before it was too late. So, I started freelancing as a corporate language trainer and translator for international companies here in Finland. I was lucky to quickly find lots of terrific clients who kept me more than busy year after year. The work was easy; the pay was great; I set my own hours; and I could choose what I worked on and how. Ahhh…

Happy ending?? I wish!

That cheesy line from the Chorus Line song saying “That ain’t it, kid. That ain’t it,” just kept playing in my head. But I didn’t even dare talk about my career doubts with anyone. I mean, how ungrateful and plain ol’ stupid could I be? To everyone else’s eyes, I had it made.

But I couldn’t deny it. It just kept eating away at me—I still wasn’t happy in my career. And when I did finally open up about it, nobody had that easy solution I was hoping for. I almost started to believe that there was just no such thing as work that I could truly love.

And then it happened! Not overnight—sorry, it’s not THAT easy—but slowly and surely. I started to think about what I loved doing, what I could lose myself in for hours… OK, I’m a CRAZY fan of Catalan country line dancing and practice it every day, but I was clever enough to know that it’s best—for me and for the world! (Haha)—if I just keep that as my hobby.

What I did find was my passion for tech.

I fell in love with computers as a kid when my dad brought home a Radio Shack TRS-80, and my fascination with them has never stopped. I was always the one in the office who knew all the keyboard shortcuts and the one at family gatherings volunteering to clean viruses off my relatives’ PCs.

And, more recently, I was having a blast staying up all night tweaking the CSS for my freelancing website and making HTML newsletters for our dance group. Hmm… Interesting…

“Yay! I know I love tech,” I thought. “NOW what?!? Number 1: I don’t have any formal education in tech. Number 2: I don’t know how or what I should learn. Number 3: I’m too old to learn tech!”

I admit I was pretty intimidated by these thoughts. But I was even more intimidated by the thought of even one more day of settling for less than doing something I truly loved.

So, despite being 43 years old (gasp!) and not at all sure where I was going, I took that scary but crucial first step forward and signed up for my first coding class (which just happened to be with Skillcrush. #destiny).

I’ll never forget the bouncy background music in that first video lesson and the smile that spread across my face when Adda said, “So, you want to learn HTML. That’s great!” THIS was “me”! I had finally found MY thing…

I felt like I had suddenly gained superpowers! I could instantly change the font or background or text of a webpage with just a tiny bit of code. I could add headers and footers and links and images. I was starting to understand how all the websites I relied on and enjoyed so much worked. And I even built my very own site completely from scratch and launched it on the Web for the world to see. Talk about excitement! Talk about POWER!

I was one happy cowgirl coder, so I just kept going—learning as much as I could about design, development, and tech in general. (Don’t even ask about my tech podcast addiction!)

And, before I knew it, I was offered a chance to combine my business education, customer service experience, writing talents, and new tech skills working for Skillcrush itself. Now THAT’s a happy ending! Or, as I like to say, a happy beginning to a real-life fairytale of a career.

Dim the lights. Applause. Bravo, bravo. Blah, blah, blah.

Just kidding! But, as therapeutic as it is to share my story, it’s not the reason I jumped at the chance to write this post. I wanted to tell my story because…

My story is YOUR story.

Whether you’re 25, 55, or even 75, if you think you’re too old to learn to code, this is for YOU! In fact, to quote the inventor of the World Wide Web himself, Tim Berners-Lee, “This is for everyone.” (Hint: If that quote chokes you up like it does me, you were born for tech!)

I KNOW that being in a room of 17-year-old coding pros can be intimidating. But you’ve come too far in life to let that stop you. So, here’s some practical advice you can start using TODAY if you think it’s too late for you (even though it’s not… ::cough:: It never is…)

Top tips for learning to code at ANY age

  • Don’t be afraid to fail…and fail again.
  • Paradoxically, when it comes to code, one of the best indicators of success in code is being okay with failing. You WILL fall down. And that’s OK. The key is being able to get up, dust off your knees, and try again. And besides, making mistakes is only human, and it’s bound to happen when you’re doing something new. So, prepare yourself mentally by remembering that every great coder has probably made the same mistake (or had the same “stupid” question). And also remember that learning from your mistakes is incredibly effective in coding—as it is in life in general!

  • Focus on one skill at a time.
  • You’ve probably already noticed that there’s a LOT to learn out there – languages, frameworks, the latest tools and trends! It can be overwhelming even for a pro. But you’ll get farther faster by choosing one thing (like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Ruby, or WordPress) and getting the fundamentals of it down before going on to the next topic.

  • Take a class!
  • Why re-invent the wheel when you can join a course that will take you step by step through what you need to learn as well as give you support from other learners and help from instructors? You’ll get all that – and much more! – from our Skillcrush Blueprints so be sure to check them out to get everything you need to get started in tech!

  • Schedule time to learn.
  • Even when you’re in a class, you need to make sure you actually make the time to do the work of learning. You’re much more likely to do that when you set aside time in your calendar for it. It can be just 5 minutes to review code syntax while you drink your morning coffee, 20 minutes during your lunch break to put together a color palette for a web design, or an hour on the weekend to de-bug your Ruby app. Just be sure to set a time for it and to stick to that coding date with yourself!

  • Look up to the kids.
  • There’s no denying that tech is a young industry, so you’re sure to meet lots of people younger than you in this new world. But don’t let their lack of years keep you from learning from them. In other words, forget the traditional idea of an older teacher and look at their experience and talent instead of their birth year. Just like your age shouldn’t matter, neither should theirs.

  • Join a local coding community.
  • A great place to meet those mentors and fellow tech newbies besides classes is in-person meet-ups or tech groups. They LOVE enthusiastic beginners like you, and you’ll love all the support, tips, and information (plus awesome networking contacts!) you’ll get.

  • Start earning with your skills right away.
  • Not only is it exciting to put your new skills into practice, but it can also profitable. That’s right! You can start earning money doing all kinds of small tasks and projects while you’re learning. And it’ll be a huge boost to your confidence and your portfolio too!

  • Work on “real” projects for your portfolio from the start.
  • Speaking of your portfolio, you should start filling yours up as soon as you start studying, whether that’s with challenges from your Skillcrush Blueprint or actual paying projects (See #3). Solving problems and building actual sites or apps will really solidify your understanding of the concepts you’re learning, and, at the same time, you’ll be creating a collection of your fabulous work to prove your skills to future employers or clients.

 
But even with easy, doable steps like these, I know you probably still have plenty of doubts, fears, and questions. I did too… That’s why I came up with the free “ARE YOU READY TO LEARN TO CODE?” quiz for a fun and fast way to know that it’s time for you to get started in tech TODAY!

Get the skills you need for your own success story by joining us for a Skillcrush Career Blueprint. Our next session starts soon so don’t waste another day doing something you don’t love!
 

Kelli Smith

Kelli handles customer support here at Skillcrush – plus she's an early alum of Skillcrush 101! She's also taken advanced web development classes and has been an organizer in the Helsinki Rails Girls chapter.

In addition to helping the Skillcrush team and students, Kelli loves tech podcasts, cute Corgi photos and, most of all, catalan-style line dancing – as a true Texan living in Finland would!

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15 comments

  1. Andrew Replied

    Very inspiring. Was good reading. I will have to make sure I set a time aside as you say. Being self employed it is very easily to get distracted with other things and customers are top priority for most of the day but I think it’s time I got some me time again. I think I’ve finally found what I’ve been looking for. Time management is something I always struggled with even as a kid. Maybe I should do a course in that first! :)

  2. nburney Replied

    Hi Kelli,

    Oh my goodness….reading your story is just like my story. I have a BS in Marketing, a Masters in Internet a marketing. I have always loved tech and I am at a point in my life that I new that I was not fully in my passion with my career. When I found SkillCrush and I felt like I have a chance to finally learn code and have a fulfilling tech career! Again thanks for sharing your story. I’m looking forward to starting my first tech class of many tech classes I plan to take August 10th! Nicole

    • Kelli Orrela Replied

      Thank you SO much! I’m thrilled that you found us here at Skillcrush, and I hope you LOVE learning the skills you need to finally follow your passion! :D

  3. maureen theisen Replied

    What are your favorite tech podcasts?

    • maureen theisen Replied

      oops, just noticed that you listed them below, sorry!

  4. Bethelhem matusala Replied

    Dear kelli,

    i want to learn code form the beginning stage so i need your help to be perfect programmer! can you help me?

  5. Gustave Replied

    Well Kelli,

     My response is sometimes, people have a difficult time seeing the
    Forrest through the trees in terms of marketing their educational products.
      I have been doing meetups for awhile and what I have noticed is the same thing, experienced programmers assuming you have the hang of it in a short time when the reality is the newbies are completely lost and frustrated.
     On a personal note before I did meet ups, I whtc videos on Lynda.com, did some ruby on code combat and khan academy and so forth, but I’ll te ya, getting the foundation down is the hardest part 
     I’m just getting comfortable now but I’m on udacity, which has its own set of issues.
      I think a combination of videos assignments and a mentor, a few times a week will be just about right in the form of a pre apprenticeship class……

      

    • Kelli Orrela Replied

      You’re right, Gustave! It’s so important for anyone more experienced to remember that it’s totally normal for someone new to need more time and help to get the hang of things.

      Getting the foundation down can be challenging, but it’s great that you’re sticking with it!

      Best of luck and happy coding!

  6. Gustave Replied

    Well…

    I’m not trying to get sappy, but I have been trying to learn code and the fact Kelli said you would fail often resonates with me.
     I think in general, schools don’t rea take failure into consideration.
      I was doing pretty good for two months until I fell of the learning wagon two weeks ago.
     My comments are not Skillcrush specific but general.
      The “winner” or “top dog” of online schooling will finally realize that failure is normal and intertwine it into their curriculum and then see enrollment spool up rapidly.
      Marketing suggests that you can just take a class and BOOM, you have a job or a startup or whatever.
     Speaking for myself, I’m a late bloomer, it might take me
    Awhile to grasp the syntax/language so such marketing is more frustrating than helpful.
    Just my two cents, that’s all, try running parallel tracks…..

    • Kelli Orrela Replied

      Thanks for sharing this with us, Gustave! I’m glad that this point resonated with you. It’s not easy to admit that we make mistakes, but it is definitely part of learning to code — and just part of being human!

      Our message here at Skillcrush is really meant to be one of support and encouragement. All of us on the Skillcrush team have learned to code ourselves so we really relate to what our students – and to anyone getting into tech actually – are experiencing!

      Of course it takes time, hard work, and commitment to be successful, but we know it can be done! We’re always so excited to hear from our students and alums who are changing their lives for the better with their tech skills.

      Your idea about parallel tracks to help students is terrific! Here at Skillcrush, we offer students lifetime access to their Blueprints so they can continue to work on the courses or go back to review anytime.

      And our instructors work extra hard to encourage our students through both their successes and their challenges. We’re especially proud of our active and supportive online student community, where students can learn together and share their experiences and insights to help each other.

      I hope that you’ll also find lots of support and encouragement with whichever learning option you’ve chosen and that you’ll be able to continue getting the tech skills you need and want.

      Best wishes!

  7. Diane Replied

    Great article! Which tech podcasts would you recommend?

    • Kelli Orrela Replied

      Thanks so much, Diane! So glad you liked the article.

      Here are some of my very favorite tech podcasts. Hope you enjoy them too!

      • Accidental Tech Podcast
      • Analog(ue)
      • Clockwise
      • Connected
      • Mac Power Users
      • Rocket
      • Shop Talk
      • Tech Talker’s Quick and Dirty Tips
      • The Talk Show
      • Upgrade

       

  8. Gustave Replied

    Thoughtfully written article, offers good insight 

    • Kelli Orrela Replied

      Thank you, Gustave! Really appreciate your kind words…

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