My Accidental Experimentation in Learning to Write Code
I came into the world of writing code, simply by accident. I tripped on the ground, fell into coding, and got a black eye. But, seriously, coding has been an interesting journey (to say the least). As I moved through this experimental experience, I learned so much more than coding. So, I wanted to write this article in a manner that can relate to a broader audience and provide some needed context and information to those who are seeking to learn code or who may be curious about coding. As an everyday person and an outsider to the tech industry (and also not an individual trying to market to you), there may be readers who are seeking a real person’s experience and an unaltered view on coding and its potential as a career or even a hobby. So, how did I get here and what did I learn from this accidental road to experimenting with coding?
How did I get here?
In my spare time, I volunteer my expertise in helping startups and various organizations, ranging from nonprofits to tech startups. In the process, I wanted to provide more than the standard expertise. When I say standard expertise, I am referring to the practice of the boring and monotonous process of experts providing assistance in a very linear manner. Most typically use some sort of checklist, which again may be helpful to cover all bases and provide easy recall and recognition methods. But the checklists are linear. I guess you can say I wanted to use a more holistic approach.
Throughout the past year, my curiosity led me to learn how to code for many reasons. Entering into this tech world was purely accidental because I’ve never seen myself in the coding world. But, with so many startups being technical in nature, I wanted to know the ins and outs (basically the entire process for the tech developer and innovator) to better assist these startups in forecasting, strategizing and navigating potential pitfalls and issues, while they gained benefit, increased their brand awareness with better management of products and services across the board and a maximized utility of the product and service. And so I began my experimentation.
What did I learn throughout the experiment?
After researching how to code, I found numerous resources online. There were so many resources, that it is simply too many to name. So, I tapped into those I knew in the tech industry and asked for advice.
Gail Harriott was one of those people. She is currently the founder and CEO of LabbaYo, a foreign language learning app for children. She is a seasoned tech professional, with a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She has many years of experience in software development and management and worked for companies such as Hewlett Packard (HP) and Microsoft.
Gail suggested that I try the free resources online, network and attend as many Hackathons as I can to gain a better sense on how coding relates to the final solution or product. I took her advice, and I think her advice is very good for anyone who is as curious as I was in learning to code and familiarizing themselves with the tech world. I may have tried virtually all of the free resources I could find.
In my research, there was one coding educational option that caught my attention. It was PDX Code Guild. Here’s why I like it.
PDX Code Guild is owned by Sheri Dover, who is more like a unicorn in the coding school industry. How so? Well, few coding schools are started and owned by women, especially at a time where the STEM field yearns for women to enter the field. Sheri has a scientific and technical background with a degree in biology from Washington State University. Sheri’s background is impressive, as she was one of the key people to start and organize the Portland Startup Weekend in Portland, Oregon, which is one of the prime locations for many startup tech companies today.
PDX Code Guild seems like one of the better options for non-techies who are inquisitive. It opens its doors to Free Code Camp participants and others in the tech industry to meet, greet, network, and help one another. It is also accredited by its state educational agency, which is rare for many schools. Not all coding programs are licensed or accredited in every state.
Also, PDX Code Guild’s admissions process is a comfortable one, with no gimmicks or traps. The tuition is more reasonable than other coding schools. You do not have to quit your day job and take out a loan to attend the school. Their marketing is not inconsistent with their reality like many other schools, i.e., the online image or brochures of the student population do not look inconsistent with the school’s demographics.
Sheri prides herself in being inclusive and provides opportunity for everyone to learn and lead, regardless of gender, ethnicity, background or skills. She believes that the tech industry is welcoming to everyone and needs people from all walks of life to advance the tech industry to the next levels of innovation. She also believes that whatever gateway software or platform helps an individual learn computer coding or would spark a person’s interest in the tech industry is a good thing. By the way, there were no incentives to list this particular business, they simply stood out from the rest.
In this experimentation in learning to write code, it took me approximately one month to learn six different coding languages. I used my holiday break to learn coding languages, documenting everything in my version of an engineer’s logbook, i.e., from the standpoint of a non-techie. I also networked with others through meetup groups and free seminars.
Learning the various programming languages was an interesting experience, since there were times I left the laptop scratching my head. It is because code is not so clear-cut, even after you learn it. For instance, there were times I did not understand how certain sequence of codes I wrote did not work when they should have worked. Then, there were times where I wrote code and it was virtually impossible to make the code work, but I did it, i.e., the sequence of codes written worked.
After learning different programming languages, I challenged myself to create something so I can understand the process of the developer and the product’s life cycle. So, during the same holiday break, I decided to create my first app.
By the end of four weeks, I created my first app, which was novice to say the least and most likely deemed a prototype of sorts. Curious as I was, I didn’t stop at the first app. After a day or so and asking friends and family for advice, I decided to create another app. The next one took me a few days, since I was able to pick up tricks, shortcuts and found additional platforms (or gateway software) that sped up the app development process. It should be noted that I also took a different approach in marketing on this particular app. This was to test and evaluate certain market segments to better understand what areas developers need to look for and also avoid, basically what works and doesn’t work.
Finally, the last app I created may have been the better of the three apps; though I think it is still novice, it is more aligned with a prototype of an idea like my other apps. In any event, I actually developed it for personal use among my friends and family. Yet, after seeing my app, my friends and family encouraged me to publish it for others as it may be useful to others as well. So, I published it as a free app, along with the two other apps just for fun.
In my initial publication of the free app, I had over 10,000 users download the app. Having over 10,000 downloads wasn’t too bad (as I heard from others in the tech industry). After this process, I was able to understand the coding process and how it can be used in many ways in the innovation process, from the standpoint of the tech developer or software engineer.
So, what did I learn from this accidental journey into coding experimentation? Below are merely my observations. There are many different perspectives in the industry, this is just one.
10 Things to You Should Know (Before Leaping into the World of Coding)
(1) What was surprising was not what I learned stepping into the role of the developer but, what I was able to observe across industries and how products and services have yet to be created. If you are venturing into the coding field, you need to know that there are various dimensions to the industry and that you are not limited to one major function. You could develop and innovate on both sides of the spectrum. The industry skills could lead you to work on the product side or service side (or in some cases, both).
(2) Something I noticed is that there are few companies that are able to effectively utilize coding in a manner that maximizes their positions in the marketplace. There is so much potential for new innovation that many companies have yet to tap into this synergy. There are companies with the know-how yet have not developed certain products (and possibly services), which could further signify its innovation footprint in the marketplace. I am not going to perform an extensive SWOT analysis, since it is unnecessary for this article. If you can learn how the market interacts across industries and labor needs shift, you are far ahead of the curve. But, what you need to know is that if you can code, you can innovate the next product or service.
(3) Marketers are advertising coding like it is easy. This is a half-truth. The basics can be picked up very easily. This is because programs such as Scratch allows for quicker interaction with the coding function and bypasses many complex concepts and functions. But, again, this is the basics. You will need more than the basics. In order to become a serious coder, you will need advanced education such as a computer science (CS) degree. There will be functions and skills that are far more advanced than the basic coding classes, which is why many CS professionals continue to educate themselves and learn additional skills such as new languages. These are skills that cannot be easily learned on the job.
(4) Coding can become a career but it is not that easy and it is not a vocation, though there may be advertisements that convey the message that coding is a vocation. I have much respect for CS professionals and those who have CS degrees. This is not an easy feat. CS professionals work very hard to obtain their skills and eventually a career. Most do so through traditional education such as a four-year degree computer science or programming program. Even after the traditional education is completed, the learning continues, which is why coding is not a vocation but a career.
(5) If you are serious about coding, you should learn as many languages as you can (or even create your own language). The STEM area is not a stagnant field, so there are many opportunities to keep evolving and growing your knowledge and skill base. It goes without saying, but it is extremely helpful to network with others who can help you in your journey to coding.
(6) Not all coding schools are created equal. It is extremely important for you to do your research on these so-called schools. I say this because not all coding schools are “schools.” Some may have multiple locations across the U.S., but can be a bit impersonal, expensive or out of touch with the pulse of the student and/or industry. Or, it could be even worse where it is a gimmick and you spend lots of money to attend yet there are lots of barriers in completing and/or getting the job opportunities promised.
(7) It is important to know that when seeking a coding program that it is an opportunity for you to interview the coding school, just as they are interviewing you. In my social experimentation, I researched several coding educational options. In fact, I learned how to code through virtually everything that was free. This included everything from free online coding classes to free coding schools. I appreciated the amount of free resources offered to those willing to learn how to code.
(8) Think about life after coding school. This is because while marketers are advertising that you can learn coding and it is easy and you can get a job in X number of months, this is not necessarily true. I networked and talked with HR professionals in the tech industry and learned more about what marketers are not telling you. Many tech companies are seeking candidates who have four year degrees and not merely a coding certificate. This trend seems to be steady and is not changing soon. These companies and HR professionals have strong relationships with traditional colleges and universities where companies actually scout for prospective employees through the institutions’ scientific and technical degree programs.
(9) While coding schools can be good, in challenging economic times like these, many tech companies are focusing on their bottom line and do not want to take risks on individuals who have gotten short-term training and have little or no traditional education, especially if they have no scientific or technical background. Networking with others, I found individuals, who have indeed gotten jobs and started their careers in the tech industry through coding schools with certificates. But, they already had some type of 4-year degree (and in particular, in a scientific or technical field). In other cases, especially if the coding schools did not have close relationships with certain tech companies, the coding schools would distribute resumes to various tech companies in hopes that one of the companies would hire their graduates.
(10)It is best to do your research on the coding schools, their completion, graduation and job rates and how graduates received their employment offers. This information can be extremely helpful in understanding the dynamics of the school and in spotting red flags. Sometimes, the statistics are not what they seem, as some coding schools may not disclose that the completion and graduation rates only include those who stick with the program and not those who quit at any point in the program.
In its rawest form, I learned that coding can be fun. But, it can be frustrating as well. Sometimes, there are pitfalls in writing code but having an awareness can set you up for success.
To contact Brandy or if you want to check out Brandy’s other publications, visit her SSRN Author Page at https://ssrn.com/author=2226761