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This Coding Life: OR How I learned to Love the Stuggle

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My New Commitment

At the beginning of this year, I decided to get really serious about coding. Previously, I had dabbled here and there, but never committed because I couldn’t find a way to apply it daily. I watched all kinds of online boot camps and free or low cost tutorials like Codecademy pop up in what I like to call the “coding revolution” in 2009. At the time, I was working in a K-12 focused organization in the instructional technology team and it was really exciting to see how accessible coding was becoming. It was no longer the indeterminable gobbedly gook that no one cared about and only an elite few could learn. I started to see that code could help me make really cool things (like Codecademy’s famous choose your own adventure example). Instead of sitting in a classroom, learning coding in a vacuum, contemporary online and face-to-face coding programs have focused their instructional design on project-based learning, helping you to learn code while building things like simple websites or web apps. And so while my father will surely feel vindicated when I admit that I wish I had majored in computer science in college, I also think that now is the time for people like me because, like learning a human language, instructional design in computer languages has changed to immerse us in them, asking us to use them, learn them, make embarrassing mistakes in them, and gain confidence in them by using them to create and communicate. I for one, find that hugely motivating.

The other great thing about learning coding now is that I am finding ways to apply it in my work as well as in personal projects. Particularly with my course development in Lectora, and somewhat in Articulate, I am finding that knowing how to code (JavaScript and CSS, in particular) open up whole new opportunities to design interactions beyond what is natively capable in either application, getting me one step closer to being able to realize all of the cool things I come up with when I brainstorm. That’s another hugely motivating factor.

So I’ve been dedicating time at least five days a week to completing FreeCodeCamp’s curriculum (I’m 48 challenges in), committing to just doing a little bit everyday. They’ve updated the site a ton even since I joined a few months ago. I’ve really enjoyed all of the resources that they link out to, the progression of the exercises, and how much effort they’ve put into giving us as students a realistic roadmap to becoming proficient and getting enough experience (not to mention the really cool way they’ve partnered with nonprofits to give us portfolio pieces) to get a job as a junior developer. I’m aiming to possibly change careers by next year, or at least, give myself the tools needed to become more marketable as an instructional designer.

It’s Tougher than it Looks!

But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I just recently started the Bonfires section, FreeCodeCamp’s section of 200 hours work of JavaScript practice problems. It may be uncalled for, but I can’t help feeling a little frustrated at how often I have to look things up. I went through the first part of the program (the Waypoints section, consisting of guided lessons) with relative ease, using prior knowledge from the aforementioned dabbling and the help of the well-designed lessons from a variety of providers. But then I hit the Bonfires and -BAM- I realized how little I knew. I mean the difficulty is at one and I’m Googling things every two seconds. One the one hand, I feel like I’m learning because I am able to think about the problem logically and work out what’s needed to solve it. On the other hand, though, start to think, “Should I know this stuff? Am I doing something wrong by having to look up so much?”

If you’re a beginning coder, know that you’re not alone. I’m frustrated as heck, too.

What I’m Going to Do About It

What I’m not going to do is just whine and quit. There’s something to this growth mindset that everyone’s on about now: you have to take pride in the struggle. Instead of declaring that I’m simply not good at coding, I’m going to persevere. My plan is to change my coding schedule so that I practice 7 days a week instead of just 5; use more practice sites, like CodeWars, to reinforce and reiterate, and I’m also planning some mini-projects for myself so start using what I know to make things from scratch (I’m starting already by creating a custom Google Map for my May GDS Challenge using their JavaScript API! Hope to have that up by the beginning of next week).

I’m sure I’ll continue to get frustrated, but if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s working the problem and forcing myself to question why something works instead of just assuming that it does.

Are You a Budding Coder?

Any fellow instructional designers delving into code this year? What programs are you using? What are your frustrations? Let me know in the comments.

5 Comments

  1. Tracy
    July 6, 2015 - Reply

    Hi!
    I’m a student in Free Code Camp too. Glad to know I’m not the only one struggling through these Bonfires! Have you been pair programming with anyone? Do you find it helps you to learn? I felt like I knew so much initially, getting through those Waypoints and then boom … I feel like I know nothing at all now. My husband, who’s been programming for more than 25 years professionally, says its normal to feel that way. He says he looks things up every single day, even now!
    I enjoyed reading your blog after stumbling across it today. Hope to read more!

    • July 6, 2015

      Howdy Tracy! Thanks for the comment. I haven’t had the chance to pair program. I’ve been struggling through on my own, googling things like crazy, looking at other people’s code, and sometimes asking for help (which I should probably do more of). It’s definitely two steps forward, one step back.

      I’m also working through Treehouse and it’s been great up until the last project on building a quiz which I couldn’t even get started with and ended up just following the instructor’s code. A major bummer this morning but I know that, if I keep with it, I’ll keep improving.

  2. Naeem Congo
    July 17, 2015 - Reply

    I just started coding in May. I started with HTML and CSS for about 8-9 weeks, and then I just started my journey with Javascript ( I want to learn front and back end) about a week ago.

    I’m 3 chapters into Head First Javascript Programming. And just last night I signed up for the 14 day free trial on Tree House.

    I feel the same way you do K. Anthony. It can definitely be frustrating, but I have no intentions on quitting.

  3. Susan
    September 29, 2016 - Reply

    A year and some change later, how are you feeling about the endeavor and your skills?

    • September 29, 2016

      Hey Susan,
      I feel really good about my skills! I still consider myself an intermediate beginner but I’m able to make games now and able to dig into the code in authoring tools. Overall, I think that I’m better able to do many more things, much more easily. It’s been a great investment and I’ve really enjoyed it.

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