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What I wish I knew when I first started coding


If you’re new to learning to code, it may feel overwhelming. Luckily, you don’t have to go it alone. You can learn from experienced individuals that have been in your shoes.

In this article, we hear from Stephanie, a software engineer with over 10 years of programming experience. Stephanie shares some of her experiences and the things she wishes she knew when she was first starting out. We hope these five lessons help you find success on your learning journey!

1. The programming process is personal

There are all sorts of different reasons for learning to code, and your journey will depend on your own set of goals. For example, although it eventually led to a career, Stephanie started her learning journey because she wanted to learn how to change her profile on a virtual pet website.

Maybe you’re seeking a career in web development, maybe you want to learn skills to help you excel in your current job — or maybe you just want to learn for fun. Once you know where you’re headed, you can figure out where to start. It’s like any journey you take. When you have a destination, you can search for a route to get there, and backtrack to learn what the first step is. You can start anywhere: a course, a book, or even a bunch of Google searches.

When beginning learning to code, you start to understand what you don’t know yet. Now you’re in a position to fill in those knowledge gaps by guiding your own learning in whatever process works for you.

Stephanie’s learning journey started with a Google search of templates to use for her profile. She then realized she didn’t understand a lot of terminology in those templates. In order to customize her own profile, she began to learn aspects of web design.

2. Go all in on your strengths

To learn the concepts in coding, your best bet is to understand how you best learn. Then you can make sure that you’re learning in the most effective way possible. You might be a visual learner, meaning you’ll need to convert concepts into something tangible. You can associate a concept with an image and draw things out on a blank piece of paper or a whiteboard.

Stephanie began with learning Java. To learn about the concept of classes (which determine how an object is defined and can be used to create instances), she drew out some illustrations on a whiteboard. From there, she began to understand the concepts a little more clearly, and was able to remember the difference between classes and instances much better.

You might prefer to learn by listening to someone talk about the concepts, or you might like to write things down to cement them into your memory. Take some time to reflect on how you best learn, and make sure you’re using that method when learning to program. It’s going to make the process way easier for you.

3. Learn to love debugging

As Stephanie points out, there really is no such thing as perfect code. Some of us will aim to get things exactly right the first time. But that’s just not realistic. And worse than that, trying to aim for perfection can prevent us from taking the first steps in learning to code. It’s a process and mistakes are a normal part of learning and improving.

Let’s just say we have a complicated relationship with bugs. They indicate things we need to fix, but they are also opportunities to learn. The most important thing is to know why and what your code is doing behind the scenes. Any bugs or syntax errors can be found and corrected with a simple Google search most of the time.

When you first start coding, if you get a lot of bugs, don’t fret! It’s completely normal, and it does not mean you aren’t a good programmer. Sometimes you’ll have syntax errors, but don’t let that take away from learning the concepts behind coding. It happens to the best of us, and we all have good days and bad with respect to the number of bugs we encounter.

4. Know when to take breaks

This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually necessary to let your brain rest in order to solve problems as a programmer. The progress you make on your code isn’t always proportional to the time you put into your program or debugging, especially if you’ve been staring at the same issue on the screen for hours at a time.

When you’re stuck on the same two lines of code, remind yourself to take a break and let your mind have a rest for a few minutes. After returning to the computer, the answer might be a lot more obvious. For more, check out our list of tips for what to do when you’re stuck on a coding problem.

5. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Finally, take control of your own learning. That requires asking for help when you don’t know something. That might sound logical to you, but for some learners it can be really uncomfortable asking for help.

Stephanie shares a story of how she felt when she started taking courses in programming. To her, it felt like all of her peers had more experience and would think she wasn’t as smart as them if she said something wrong. So rather than asking a question in the moment she was confused, she told herself she’d just Google it later.

What she didn’t know then was that she missed out on great conversations with other programmers by staying quiet and not asking her questions. When she eventually started talking to her classmates about what was being taught, she realized that not only was she solidifying her own understanding, but she was helping other people do the same.

Don’t be shy to reach out to the programming community at any point in time to learn new things, ask questions, and build relationships with your peers. Every programmer has felt like a beginner at some point, so don’t let that hold you back. Looking for a place to start? Head over to the Skillacademy Forums to learn from other learners that have been in your shoes — and share your own experience to help fellow community members!

December 7, 2020

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