4 Ways to Make Learning to Code Easier

By: PowerToFly

Category: Blog

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Learning new skills can be frustrating: The natural ups and downs on the path to progress can cause learners to feel stuck, encounter mental blocks, or even give up entirely. As a former college professor in the field of education, I can say with certainty that a little knowledge about educational psychology goes a long way when you want to be a successful student of code. With a few tips, you can take charge of your learning and move past any roadblocks. Read on for a game plan aimed at anyone who wants to learn to code.

Set Reasonable Goals

Clever marketing will make you think you can learn Python in a day or JavaScript in a week. The truth is that while you can learn a basic programming language like HTML and CSS quickly—it’s more like weeks rather than days. And that’s okay! If you are a beginning coder, there’s a lot to learn. Sure, you could memorize vocabulary words for key concepts, but there is no getting around the fact that it takes time to process the logic of programming and to practice making your code work.

In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stalling out, you have to start with reasonable goals—both short-term and long-term.

Your short-term goals might be to work through the introduction to jQuery section of an online tutorial this week or to solve two Code War challenges over the weekend. Short-term goals are critical because they give you a sense of accomplishment to motivate you to complete the long-term goals.

Your long-term goal might be to complete the Skillcrush Front-End Developer Blueprint in three months with a career goal of getting your first developer job in a year.

Be sure you give yourself a realistic timeframe to complete your goals. A timeframe keeps you on task, as long as it is sensible. If the online course you’re taking has over 40 hours of videos, an unrealistic goal is to sit at the computer for 20 hours over two days and complete it.

Be Picky With the Resources You Choose

The resources that are available to learn code are vast—I just looked at a blog post that referenced over 400 free courses to take in April 2018 alone! And that’s a good thing. With so much variety, you can afford to be picky. Not every course or project is going to fit your needs, so don’t try to force yourself into it. The result will most likely be frustration and the feeling that you just don’t have what it takes.

Knowing your learning style will help you immensely. Think about how you best learn new information and always play to those strengths. People generally have a few dominant learning styles: auditory (you listen to a lot of audio books or podcasts), verbal/linguistic (you would rather read the book instead of listen to it), visual (you color code information and prefer figures and diagrams), or kinesthetic (you learn by doing).

If you are an auditory or verbal/linguistic learner, many resources are going to fit your needs like online courses and developer podcasts. But if you are a visual or kinesthetic learner, you might need a different type of approach. For learning JavaScript, a visual learner might like Grasshopper. A kinesthetic learner might enjoy the JavaScript 30 Challenge by WesBos or Watch and Code by Gordon Zhu. Whatever your style, be sure to evaluate the resources you choose so that they meet your needs.

Start Using Your Coding Skills Right Away

There is really no way around it. If you want to be a developer, you have to flex your coding skills and build. (Here’s where goal setting is important—how many hours per week or month can you realistically set aside for building?)

Once you have some coding basics down, you will naturally become inquisitive about how to do something on a website or application. Take those inquiries and make them a reality. One night out of curiosity, I looked up how to play audio files on a website, so I built a quick page with my top five list of songs to code to. It was a small, manageable project that used very beginner level code and took just a couple of hours to build. That’s what’s amazing about being a developer: If you can think of it, you can build it. What are you interested in besides code? Are you a dog trainer? Or a ghost hunter? Maybe a ballroom dancer? Whatever it is, you can build something around it. You’re a developer—and you’ve gotta develop!

Get Involved

My favorite part of the Harry Potter series is that Harry is not alone. Learning magic, like code, is hard, especially when the most evil wizard of all time is trying to kill you, but Harry’s friends Ron and Hermione give him strength and motivation, and eventually they defeat You-Know-Who. This makes sense from the theoretical perspective of social constructivism—that we construct our knowledge through interactions with others, where each of us has strengths.

That’s the goal of most study groups: to create a shared community of coders from various backgrounds with a variety of strengths. While everyone is generally working on their own projects, we happily help each other out when the need arises, and members love to collaborate on projects together.

If you aren’t sure how to find a study group, start with some online groups and see if there is FreeCodeCamp chapter in your area. If study groups aren’t your thing, try meetups. My local JavaScript and Python groups have monthly meetings with guest speakers that both teach and inspire with a range of topics and projects. I also attend events sponsored by WomenWhoCode. They have excellent workshops, code sessions, speakers, hack-a-thons, and put on a fabulous two-day conference in the summer, and they started social events! Who doesn’t want to see the next big superhero movie with 50 of your tech friends?

To get started, join meetup.com and see what’s available in your area. Contributing to these groups is the best way to overcome imposter syndrome—the feeling that you are a fraud.

Let’s face it: Learning to code takes time and effort. It’s much more than a set of foreign languages—it’s a system of thinking and transforming that thinking into programs that work. The journey is going to be long and frustrating at times, but you can do it. Always set reasonable goals. Evaluate resources to meet your needs. Build projects based on your inspiration. Get involved in the programming and coding community. Most importantly, take time to reflect on how far you have come. You’re doing great.

A version of this article previously appeared on PowerToFly.

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