To take your coding practice to the next level, build something

byMaite Fernandez
Jun 17 in Miscellaneous

Updated at 11:50 a.m. on July 17, 2017

Maybe you were touched by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates’ message encouraging kids to learn to code. Or you kept hearing the "Why journalists should learn to code" drumbeat and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. So you followed in the footsteps of Michael Bloomberg and signed up for Codecademy.

But after dabbling in html, JavaScript, Ruby and so on, you realize that you’re stuck. What should you do next? How do you go from "Hello, world!" to actually building something?

A session at AdaCamp, an unconference dedicated to increasing the participation of women in technology and open source culture, tackled that question. Seasoned programmers as well as wannabe coders shared the strategies that have proved effective for them. IJNet attended and had these takeaways:

Pursue a project

Whether you want to create your website from scratch, create an app or scrape and visualize data for a project, it’s good to have a specific goal in mind. This will sharpen your problem-solving skills, since it will force you to ask yourself, “How the hell do I do this?”

You should start with very specific goals. This could be a project as simple as how to make a button. Achieving that goal, no matter how small, will give you a sense of accomplishment.

Find your Yoda

Questions, you will have. And those might sound stupid (meaning, basic) to an advanced programmer.

That’s why anyone learning to code should find a mentor, someone who knows you and someone you trust enough so that you don't feel embarrassed when you need to ask basic questions. Mentors can also be great motivators when you start slacking off.

Follow programmers on Twitter

The Twittersphere is a great place to find talented people to follow. Follow people you admire or those at the top of the field. Look at their work, and pay attention to what they are reading. Think of this as shadowing the person, the way you might if you worked with him or her in a newsroom. Some of them also blog about their work, which can be a great way of learning how they do the stuff they do. You gain insights from hearing about their thought process.

Organize yourself

If your job doesn’t actually require that you learn these skills, or if your j-school failed you and didn’t offer any coding courses, finding some free time to do it on your own can be challenging. While eight-hour coding sessions can work wonders, they might not be doable with your schedule.

But don't give up. Instead, find strategies that work for your routine. One of the members of the group liked to code early in the morning because her cat was an early riser and insisted she wake up, too.

Aside from getting a pet that will force you to start your day at ungodly hours, it’s useful to make a realistic assessment of how many free hours you can devote to coding in a given week. Even if it’s only 30 minutes during your lunch break a few times a week, this will lend your coding efforts structure, and not leave you feeling guilty that you haven’t coded in weeks. Starting a coding blog can also be helpful.

Fix a bug

You can find an open source project and get a bug assigned to you, which will also you give you a deadline (think of it as a homework assignment). Openhatch.org is a good resource for finding bugs that the open source community is working on. Another technique is to find interesting software on GitHub and look at its issues.

Take the online world offline

Join a Hacks/Hackers group in your town or any Meetup group or hackathon that piques your curiosity. There are probably a number of programming and tech activities going on near you. You can also find a coding buddy and set up coding sessions in a coffee shop to keep you motivated.

Don't give up

Learning to code is like learning a “human” language. It takes a lot of time, practice and dedication. It’s going to be incredibly frustrating at times, when you just can’t seem to find out why your code isn’t working, but also incredibly fun and rewarding when you finally manage to make something awesome. Even if it's just a little button.

Other resources:

W3schools

HTML.com

Mozilla Thimble

Treehouse

Skillcrush

Coursera

Code with Me

Source

O’Reilly Media

IJNet: Online coding, web development courses for journalists

Maite Fernández is IJNet’s managing editor. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and has an M.J. in multimedia journalism from the University of Maryland.

Image: CC-licensed, thanks to Denis Jacqueyre in Flickr.