“I couldn’t do what you’re doing” or: “I’m not smart enough for that”

I have about three weeks left in my time as a student at Nashville Software School. In that time I’ve gone from not knowing much (if anything) about web technologies and languages to being able to do this and this, and even this (I’m sure there are better examples, but hey, √’s are fun).

Whenever I chat with folks it usually goes something like this:

“Hey man, what are you up to these days?”
“Oh, same ole’ same ole’. Going to school for software development, you know, web stuff.”
“Wow. I’m way too dumb to do something like that. Good on you. And good money, right?”

I understand where they are going with this. I appreciate the sentiment that I am smart and will soon be crafting the future of the internet (which you’re very welcome for, I’m sure). But after spending the past ~six months at this I’ve come to believe that almost anyone could do this.

What makes it hard? Why do people think that they aren’t capable of things? That’s a larger question than the scope of this blog post, but I think it’s partly because technology is magic. When you reach for your phone and check whatever it is you check, what is actually happening? How does the information out in the ‘cloud’ get translated into jealousy of your friend’s fun weekend in your heart? Sure, there’s 1's and 0's, sure there’s HTML/CSS/JavaScript, which most have heard of. But how does it actually happen. Why is it so fast (or sometimes slow)? I, honestly, don’t know. I know part of how the interenet works. I can write some code, enough to make you laugh or display some text on a webpage, but couldn’t write a dissertation on how Facebook works.

So back to magic. There’s something that happens when we don’t understand a thing. And a lot of us don’t want to expend the mental energy to try to understand something new, because we’re tired and still need to make dinner. So if you’re content to let the magic just wash over you, than more power to you. There is nothing wrong with that, in the least.

But, if you want to learn something fun, read on.

Here’s what we’re going to do: I’m going to assume that you don’t have any experience with programming and are also on Chrome (because you should be). Right click on the page (anywhere!) and hit ‘inspect element’. This is going to open up the developers tools (you’re one of us now). Next, click on the ‘console’ tab.

You’re in the JavaScript world now, welcome to it. Crockford would be proud. Having done that you now are in control of the world. Let’s do some things. Type

2 + 2

Or some other mathematical command, and hit enter. The return (or output of the command) will should be 4 (in the above example). So with languages you can do math, pretty neat. They told you math would come in handy, and here it is.

Now let’s do something a little more wild:

var name = "Luke"

but put your name into the quotes. The

var

is telling JavaScript that what comes after, which is

name

is a variable, which has the value of whatever is after the

=

that is,

"Luke"

or whatever name you put in. Could be Luke, could be Joey, could be Poop. The world is yours.

The

" "

Tells JavaScript the type of information is a ‘string’, a collection of things. So you can throw anything into those strings and have them come out ok. There are different types of information in JavaScript, and strings are one of them. Maybe later we’ll deal with the others.

So now you’ve done that. Next step is to call that variable. Just type in

name

and you should see

"Luke"

printed out. Very neat, good work.

Now do the same thing, but let’s do it like this:

var greeting = "Hello " + name

When you hit enter, you’ll see

undefined

Because that’s the return of that command, but when you call

greeting

again (i.e. type it into the console and hit enter) you should see

"Hello Luke"

if you’ve done it correctly. Pretty cool. So what you did there was

  1. Create a new variable called ‘greeting’
  2. Assign the value of that variable to “Hello ” and concatenate the value of the name variable on to the end
  3. Call the “greeting” variable and see the print out of the value of it.

Suave. Well done, really.

This is a lesson that’s been taught over and over again, and it only scratches the surface of what programming does. But, hey, you have to start somewhere, right? And maybe this was all too much for you, and I get that. I think, though, that anyone is capable of learning these things. Partly because I did, and I don’t think I’m that out of the ordinary. But mostly because I have faith in you.

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you wanna learn some more and we’ll move on to something else.

-Luke

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