Nerd For Tech
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Nerd For Tech

Learning to code (Part 6): Understanding the confusion

In my humble opinion, one of the hardest things about learning to code is being able to articulate your confusion. I have now taken 2 full web app development courses, 3 Udemy ones, and tried to build 2 other MVP mockups and now am taking a full-web-dev Bootcamp course by Colt Steele on Udemy. And NOW I can articulate my confusion.

In the hope that you can bypass this struggle, I offer you what I learned. These insights apply to me, we may not have overlapping confusions. But I hope in reading how I identified mine, you may be able to identify yours. Rest assured, it’s not you-

When one is learning something new, they need an anchor, something to build their knowledge from. There is a reason we sometimes teach a kid to count using cookies, they understand what a cookie is and we exploit their desire to want more of them. Subtraction should not be taught using cookies, that is mean. As I learned to code I was grasping at things I understood, and for better or worse those were:

  1. What I knew a language to mean
  2. My weird learning style
  3. Excel and my dated knowledge of C++

What I knew a language to mean:

When I started to code I felt lost, because to me it seemed weird to be using so many languages. I felt like I had to use French to order my food, German to pay for it, I had to make sure I knew Latin to make sure I could walk home and read the signs, and finally, I needed to speak Spanish to unlock the puzzle that would finally give me access to the food.

It got easier when I realized they were more like technologies- I was using the pump to put air in the tires, the frame to hold it all together, the chain to transfer motion, and then the pedals to apply force.

I am not googling this for you but there are over 700 programming languages, they are used for different things. Right? It depends. And programmers can get real touchy about these. I don’t care at the moment, to me it’s like the debate about the star trek/ star wars universe, I just wanna watch cool things in someone else science fiction world so I don’t care if the reboot is “true to the original creator”.

I mention this coder- preference because I found that a lot of coders couldn’t explain what we were doing without mentioning the caveats. There was a lot of “I prefer this but others might prefer that”. This was difficult to understand because I was trying to figure out where the hell the comma on a statement went. So whenever someone started to explain how things can be different, my brain would ask the question that fuels my learning style- why.

My learning style- why

Coding courses are mostly how and very little why and that is very hard for me to grasp. If I don’t know why I am doing something I just forget about it or do it wrong. Why do I need to calculate this specific force- because then I can make sure something doesn’t exceed that force and break. Why is there a semicolon in one kind of loop and not the other- someone just made it that way and we all like it. Wtf

It’s not that coding isn’t logical, it makes sense if you try to think about a problem linearly. But some languages are “intuitive”, and some are not.

I don’t know if this applies to you- I don’t know how you learn. You might like the how and give zero shits about the why. But understanding why has always helped me find a pattern in something, if you fundamentally understand a concept, you don’t need to memorize things as much. You can improvise and take smarter actions. It’s similar to following a process for how it is written vs why it is written.

One understands the concept of gravity at a pretty fundamental level, it’s why when someone throws something at you, you try to catch it coz you know it’s going to fall. Or you step out of the way because you have bad hand-eye coordination like me. Either way, you know what is going to happen and thus you can adapt. I found coding to be more like, someone throws a ball and I have to follow a predefined process for my actions because sometimes you can assume gravity is real and sometimes not.

I appreciate different learning styles I admire the ability to magiver something without knowing the nitty-gritty. A lot of people are like that and they make amazing things. But my brain’s BIOS only boots up properly when the why has been downloaded. And I grasp at what I already know to find common patterns for that reason.

Excel and my dated knowledge of C++

I can’t tell you if this is an advantage or a disadvantage. People say it’s good if you know at least one programming language or excel. But I don’t have a barometer for not knowing them so I can only tell you how this impacted me. I would say I have been a pretty advanced excel user. I failed C++ the first time I took it and barely passed the second time.

When I took C++ I barely understood what a computer was, I did the middle 8 years of my life schooling in India so someone had to explain to me how using a calculator in high school wasn’t cheating. But I kind of understood some things about it. When I was learning something new in coding classes I honestly didn’t know how C++ was different from other languages. I assumed they were all sort of the same- because human languages mostly have the same components, the same philosophy, and the same uses.

After a year and a half of struggling to learn to code, I feel that I finally know what I don’t know. And I can finally answer the question of what I want to achieve going forward. The rest of these blogs are akin to my school notes, they are written in the spirit to explain these concepts to me. These are intended for me to understand the why, they will be an attempt to put that piece of the missing puzzle together. If these help you in someway- either to learn or laugh, that is considered a bonus.

Next up-the dummies guide to the coding for dummies books, what I am learning and why.

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Aman Chahal

Aman Chahal

Serious about #climatechange, sarcastic about everything else