How I challenged myself by learning how to code


3 months ago, I left a nice job and a great team with the intent to follow my wife being transferred to her company’s HQ in Portland, USA. Everything was set, my successor was trained and parties were thrown. Future had the taste of Oregon.

Long story short, the transfer got cancelled at the last minute.

I was left facing two options: quickly find another Marketing Manager position in Tokyo, or jump into the unknown and finally dedicate this opportunity to a topic I had been considering for some time: learning how to code.

I chose the 2nd option.

How it started

I cannot count the hours spent as a teenager on basic design softwares or into the Linux world, babbling terminal commands while praying they wouldn’t crush my hard drive. However coding remained this exotic activity seen in movies or on the cover of magazines celebrating successful businesses. I believed that only very scientific people, mathematics experts and other geniuses could program and kind of restrained myself from approaching the topic. How could a guy like me, more interested in Japanese history than Pythagoras and Euclid, could ever understand anything to programming? It is only when I started developing web-based business ideas that I forced myself to update my vision of coding.

Redesign of Shootailor as a bootcamp project

A year ago, I created as a side project a service called Shootailor (recently redesigned), a photo shoots booking platform for amateur photographers. Even though I quickly succeeded to recruit a couple of photographers, the platform didn’t take off mainly due to a busy schedule, but also a lack of development skills. I initially based it on Wordpress and quickly grew frustrated by my inability to perform any tweaks. This led me to start playing with tracks on CodeAcademy and other MOOCs. HTML, CSS and Javascript became more familiar terms and convinced me that code wasn’t this unreachable monolith. But I wasn’t improving fast enough.

Fast forward to last June, I flew back to France and embarked on a 9-weeks Fullstack Web Development Bootcamp at LeWagon, a major European organization. My goals were clear:

- gain enough skills to quickly prototype any web app ideas

- learn with the support of physical experts and get immediate feedbacks

- immerse myself in the startup scene and meet like-minded people

Down the road, here is what I gained from this experience:

A LOGICAL MIND

Here is the catch: you don’t need to be a math genius to program. However you need a good dose of logic. My previous position covered many business areas, often forcing me to adopt a holistic approach towards daily issues. On the opposite, coding pushed me to dive into a problem, analyze its every bits and divide them in smaller workable components. It is easy to feel desperate facing a massive task and its logics can remain unclear. The first lessons of basic algorithmic were tough and felt totally counter-intuitive. But with hard work and extra-time, they got clearer and became essential to our projects, both in back-end and front-end.

Non-scientific friends, believe me: “logic” is not a gift. It can be acquired with work and a strong will.

A LOVE FOR UX

I remember the pleasure I felt the day I discovered the existence of “User Experience”: yes, this awkward feeling that things were off when using certain services had a name! Reading “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug was full of “Aha!” moments and I progressively realized that parts of my previous job were to perform UX-like activities when launching new goods and apps. UX is everywhere, focusing on the user and his journey through a product, digital or not. The big advantage with coding compared to physical goods is the capacity to quickly iterate and test new features. Our final projects were valuable case studies through feature writing, wireframing, testing and analyzes of our mates’ projects.

UX is much more than front-end design and definitely is a field I’d like to focus on.

Extract of Allergo prototyping on Sketch

A TECHNICAL SKILL SET

Having a human sciences background, I’ve strangely long felt guilty about my lack of technical knowledge. Yes I am good at analyzing trends and people but I had lost my ability to make things. These past 9 weeks were intense and through pragmatic learning, we acquired a very strong skill set with the ability to build complex web applications. More importantly, we learned key principles and how to approach a new language. 9 weeks doesn’t turn a beginner into an expert. However it allows him to learn new things quicker and more efficiently.


What are the next steps now that I am back to Japan:

- Find a tech related job allowing me to use both my Marketing experience and my coding knowledge. Product Management could be an interesting option as well as UX Design as both require a good balance of business sensitivity and product understanding.

- Keep on learning. I’ll keep on working on our final project Allergo Scan and adapt it to the Japanese market. I’d also like to go deeper into Javascript: React & Vue, here I come.

- Work on personal projects. Education is a new hobby of mine and one of my non-technical project is the creation of a learning group in Tokyo gathering code newbies. A group of beginners interested in coding willing to exchange and discuss freely without the pressure they might feel in more advanced meetups. If this describes you, feel free to send me a message.

I also created a first portfolio and plan on filling it progressively. Every feedbacks are welcome.

The past 3 months have been an incredible journey. What will be yours?

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