The first time I learned to code I was 10 years old and Neopets was the most popular thing at my school. In pursuit of the nicest Neopets store, I learned HTML. Flash forward 16 years and here I am learning to code again. When I first told friends and family that I wanted to change my career, the folks who knew how to code reassured me that I could learn in three months if I really dedicated myself to it. If you’re learning to code, you might be able to relate to my dream: study my ass off and in three months I’d be applying to (and getting!) junior developer positions. This wasn’t the case for me and actually, I’m okay with that.
The self-taught developer community is chock-full of overnight successes who worked hard and deserve all the credit they get for rocking the dev world with their tutorials and blog posts. This post is for the rest of us. I think we don’t see enough posts like this because we’re ashamed that it took us longer to learn than other people. What we don’t see is the failures and for every success story, there’s just as many, if not more, failures. So if you’ve been on this journey for longer than the dream 3 months, you’re in good company. Here’s why:
The pace of your learning depends on what you already know
Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If you’re learning to code completely from scratch, you’ll need more time to catch up to more than actual coding: you’ll need to learn what a text-editor is and which one to use, research which tools you will use and figure out what it is that you really want to learn. Programming is much more rounded than we think it is and the more versatile your knowledge is, the quicker you’ll find answers. For example, once I spent an entire day just trying to learn basic UI so I could make a pretty app. If you already knew these things, you might’ve been coding that day.
Your learning depends on how much time you can dedicate
If you can spend 16 hours a day coding, you can learn much faster. But if you have responsibilities that can’t be ignored, you’ll have less time. There’s more to this though because while you might actually have 16 hours to code, you may not be able to focus for 16 hours. Between alerts, notifications, social media and yummy tidbits of easy information our brains aren’t used to concentrating for long periods of time. Learning to focus takes a really long time. I was able to calm myself down when I started treating focusing like working out: I don’t expect to be able to squat 125lbs without training and I don’t expect to be able to focus for long periods of time until I’ve built up those muscles.
You’re going to need to learn more than coding
If you’ve never taught yourself anything outside of your comfort zone, you need to build up areas other than coding once you start. For example, you’re going to have to learn what kind of studying works for you and which resources you need to look for. When I was in university, I learned best by re-writing my notes and writing essays but I learned to code by reading documentation, taking on projects and googling all the things. I recommend that you try different ways to learn to find out if you learn best by playing, reading, watching videos, taking on little projects VS massive ones etc etc. You’re also going to need to learn to ask questions and how to network within these circles.
You’re going to lose time scrambling
Between low concentration and figuring out what learning style works best for you, you’re going to be spending a lot of your time not coding. You’ll spend it instead watching successful dev interviews and videos, reading blog posts like this one, complaining to your friends about how hard this is, crying and looking up job ads to see what employers want. You’ll spend time cleaning up your LinkedIn and CV and scrolling Twitter to find stuff to retweet so potential employers know you love this stuff. You need to expect this and include it in your timeline for learning.
You’re asking someone to take a big risk
The reason successful-in-three-months developers are successful is because they were able to show an employer that it was worth it to take a risk on them. I believe that junior devs are great investments in the long run but in the short-view, they can be cumbersome liabilities. I’ve heard stories of junior devs taking down sites or breaking code and then not getting fired because it’s kind of the territory that comes with hiring a junior dev. That said, when a company wants to hire a junior dev, they need to see that you’re worth it. However, three months normally just isn’t enough time to build a portfolio that says you’re worth hiring. If you network like crazy someone might decide that based on your personality, the risk is worth it but if not, you really need more time. With time, you’re minimizing the risk an employer takes on you so it’s more likely you’ll get these opportunities.
This is all okay
If you’re reading this and getting a little depressed, I’m sorry to shit all over your hopes and dreams but reassuringly, this is all okay. It’s great if learning to code takes you three months, but it usually shows that you’ve learned a lot more in your previous life. If you’re like me and you haven’t, learning will take you a little or much longer and that’s ok. The reason it’s taking longer is because you needed to meta-learn more and the good news is that you’re tackling a big thing like coding and other big things like time management, relationship building, personal branding, user experience, information-sponge habits etc. This is going to make you a better learner for a bunch of other subjects that you might like to tackle later on. From my experience, learning to code has given me the confidence to take on new challenges in my professional and personal life.
If you’re looking for ways to speed up your learning there’s like a million blogs you can read and videos you can watch and events you can go to to learn how to do it. But this isn’t that. This is that little pep talk that my friend gave me every time I complained that I didn’t have a job yet. And really, it’s okay. Keep putting in the effort, ask lots of questions and try not to pull your hair out. Everything happens in due time.