100 days to learn coding. 100 days to make an app. Can I do it?

This is a retrospective look at a little journey I just sent myself on. It came about through a crazy dream and desire to change my life for the better. I hope this serves as inspiration to people out there and that it helps people look at themselves and think ‘I can do that!’ — just like I did!

So, quick background on me…I am a Mum to 2 lovely girls, I have a job (which I like, kind of), but dream of working from home so I can spend more time with my daughters. When I started this journey I was on maternity leave, with 1 kid at school age and the other sleeping a lot. That gave me spare time to day dream, and that’s why I fell into this crazy situation.

My job is OK, but I really would like to avoid going back to 9–5. I think I’m pretty typical, I spend too much time on Facebook :) and too much time on Candy Crush :) For some reason it got into my head that I wanted to make my own app — not to get rich quick, but perhaps as a way to find a new career, to learn something new and I’m not really sure, but it just seemed like a good idea and that I might enjoy it.

Everyone needs motivation and I’ve got myself sorted on that front. My next thing was to set a deadline — that was the when the idea of 100 days hit me as a nice round number and long enough (I hoped) to get a grip on things and be able to actually make something half decent. I find that I work better with a deadline, and I think most people do, but it definetly needs self motivation and dedication otherwise the whole thing can fall apart so easily.

So that was it, the scene was set, although I still had no clue what I was going to make — but I knew that would come with time as I started to learn this coding business. I had a MacBook at home, and an iPhone 4S, so with reckless abandon — Google became my next of kin and I started down the well trod road of learning to code.

I knew nothing about this foreign landscape and it wasn’t anything like poking around in Microsoft Office like I was used too!!

Of course, it wasn’t long before I was utterly confused. After downloading many gigabytes and installing Xcode I had a feeling I was already overwhelmed. I knew nothing about this foreign landscape and it wasn’t anything like poking around in Microsoft Office like I was used too!! Pressing random buttons that looked interesting was not the way to go here, and the Apple Developer website seemed like it was made for people who knew what they where doing….so I jumped off that ship and headed over to YouTube.

Thankfully, the voice of what could’ve been a 6 year old kid helped me understand the basics of Xcode and got me something running on my phone….although it was a white screen, it did at least do what the video said and felt like things started moving in the right direction. It was around this point that I started finding out about Swift and Objective C. Yes, they are different things, and one is not like the other! It seemed to me that Objective C was the better choice because it had been around longer and so I guessed more tutorials existed for it.

I guess I’ll never know if the choice was a good one, but I settled for it, and after a while it actually became readable…well sort of :)

Hours, or days of frustration, hopefully followed by a whole lot of satisfaction…

People have said that learning to code was like learning a foreign language. I have to disagree! Learning to code involves much more frowning and cursing. Learning to code brings more emotion. Hours, or days of frustration, hopefully followed by a whole lot of satisfaction… all of which is torn down and iterated upon (coding term!!) again and again. Perserverance is a key skill, logic helps, and above all — being able to Google the right thing when it just won’t work or doesn’t make any sense!!

After a week of learning some basics and thinking about my potential it became clear that I wasn’t about to write the next Candy Crush or anything even like a game. I had to reign my ideas in and think about something basic, but fun; cute perhaps. My daughter and I had been playing with the colouring app Colorify a lot and I really like it’s clean design and simple nature. It was relaxing, simple and produced a ‘physical’ thing at the end which you could be proud of. I set about trying to think of something similar that was going to be achievable by a newbie like myself.

I’ll always remember my flash of genius inspiration. It was one of those feelings which makes you feel super excited and motivated. I had returned from the school run and as usual was rifling through my eldests school bag to see the fruit of her labour that day. She had done some lovely drawing which was certainly worthy of the fridge door, so I headed over and cleared space amongst all the other masterpieces stuck on it, found some free magnets and proudly stuck it on. As I stood back and admired this new masterpiece, the idea and vision came straight into my head — fridge magnets!

Like a lot of families and fridges we have the typical A-Z magnets, but also the poetry words so you can make fun sentences and poems. This was it! A virtual fridge with words you can drag around to make poems and fun sentences. Luckily I wasn’t too bothered about the idea being ground breaking, or new, or been done 1000 times before. It felt like a good idea and one that I could achieve or at least envision in my head how it might look and work.

I focused my learnings around drag and drop and found numerous helpful places to give me examples and copy/paste became one of my new best friends. Sites like Ray Wenderlich, Stack Overflow and GitHub provide awesome tools and resources to give us novices plenty of food for thought and before I knew it there was the formations of my idea slowly coming to life. Coding was slowly becoming less about the unknown and although I still felt out of place opening Xcode, I somehow was battling through and starting to make progress into my idea. One thing I kept finding was how the easy bits always seemed too hard, and the hard bits seemed so easy….just when I thought something was impossible for me, I’d find a snippet of code, plug it in — and hey — it would work! But then when I tried some ‘simple’ Apple bits like gestures which should work out of the box…no joy at all.

OMG. This is awful, but hey, you gotta start somewhere!

My best piece of advice for a problem turned out to be — take a rest. Focusing hard on a problem seemed to take a lot of time and energy and I would often find the answers by relaxing and taking some time off. It’s not easy being a parent and learning to code part time and trying to be mentally active all the time takes its toll. Have a break. Take a few days off. The answers will come!

So, after 100 days — what happened?

I made an app. And I am super proud of it.

Originally I had the most awesome idea for the premise of the app. It would be called 100 words (a tie in to the 100 days challenge) and it would contain just 100 different words for you to play around with and make into poems and sentences; I call them ‘masterpieces’ in the app. But then one day I was trying to make an app icon and thought I could use a nice big quote mark: ”

It’s a quotemark. But it says 99. Genius.

Turns out, with the font I was using the quote mark looked just like the number 99. I considered myself a genius and decided to take 1 word out of the app and call it ‘ninetynine’, so the app icon and app premise work really nicely together. What a design guru I am. I also spent some time adding simple shadows and radius corners to the app and it started to really come alive with these simple tweaks. It’s funny how a few colours and shadows can turn something from dreary to pleasing with a few lines of code and design work.

The finished app!
It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to think people all around the world are using my app

It’s now beyond day 100 and my app is launched and live in the AppStore. I’ve made a few tweaks too it since, like adding extra word sets, and it’s been amazing to see people actually download it and use it. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to think people all around the world are using my app and I hope they are all loving it as much as me and my kids do!

I’m not sure what the future will bring for me and coding. I don’t feel confident enough to yet seek professional work and I kind of thought I might. I know that I’ve enjoyed learning to code, and I’ve got a lot to learn still, but I think I’ll keep on coding and learning and making more and more stuff.

One day — you never know — I might be able to give up that desk job and be a full time indie app developer!

Download ninetynine on the iOS AppStore