How a Jerk Taught Me to Code

Frustration. That is the only word I can use to describe the past 3 years of trying to learn JavaScript. Sure, I can animate and plugin with jQuery ‘till the cows come home, but actually using JS to pull data from a database and create an app was a whole different pile of goo.

Using JS and jQuery as a designer is a little bit like building a collage as an elementary school student. You cut a bunch of pieces of magazines, books, and posters apart, mod podge them together, and somehow end up gluing your fingers together. At the end of it you are left with a giant question mark above your head but your art teacher holds it up to the light and declares with a tear in her eye, “This is a…masterpiece”.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to really dive into the world of JS and create my first web app. My brother, Aaron, a very talented developer, has been trying to teach me for years. He would spend countless hours sitting next to me pair programming only for me to forget everything once life happened again and I didn’t have time to keep up with coding. This time was different. Instead of holding my hand, he cut me off (that jerk!) and I love him for it.

He handed me a book called Exercises for Programmers. It’s a book that walks you through programming exercises without actually specifying what language you should use. I, of course, was using JavaScript.

Before I started the exercises, I thought I understood JS. In fact, many of the exercises seemed pointless and redundant. I knew if/else statements, variables, loops, and types, what I didn’t realize (or know) was how to think like a programmer. Breaking down problems and figuring out each piece and step along the way was something I inadvertently learned along the way.

You’re probably wondering if I went through the whole book. The answer is no. I made it through 5 chapters before Aaron once again threw me into the deep end. With a little instruction on how to use Parse (which I had tried to use before to no avail), he said, “Now go build an app.” (Easy for him to say, that jerk!).

But all of a sudden, instead of mod podging pieces of code together, I felt like I actually had a path. I was managing to keep the glue on the page (instead of on my fingers and all over my face). And I did it! I built my first app (soon to be defunct since Parse announced it will be closing its doors). It’s a simple way to track my lifting PR’s. Granted my code moved from a messy collage to a giant pile of spaghetti, but I was so proud of what I had accomplished.

Since I finished the app (it only took me about 2 days BTW), Aaron made me rewrite it using the backbone router and now I’m learning React. I’m hoping to actually make it functional, and since Parse is shutting down, Aaron says it’s time to learn some node.js (that jerk!).

Me and that jerk.