Learning to Code in 2012

23 November 2012

It’s actually quite astonishing when I stop to think about it just how many resources are out there now to help budding developers get into coding. Whether it’s just a bit of HTML/CSS for dabbling in web design (as technically I started aged 14), or more advanced programming languages, the ability to pick things up and draw upon the knowledge of coding communities is astounding. When I helped write the code for (technically) my first website, anything you had to know you’d look up on using cheatsheets from places like Lycos - Google wasn’t the force it is today and places like StackOverflow didn’t exist, so muddling with JavaScript back then was probably the thing that put me off trying properly until this year.

So it’s no surprise then that I forgot everything in the intervening time, but coming back to it all via sites like Codecademy (a gateway drug if ever there was one) has been a very rewarding experience. The ability to dip your toe in the water and try code challenges right away is an incredible learning tool that I am genuinely thankful for - it’s also pretty ace not having to actually go away and build code or write scripts to test things that you’ve learned. Obviously projects are the way you cement knowledge, but until you’ve learned the basics there are certainly better ways than reading a book - namely Treehouse, Codeacademy, Zombie Rails et al.

My friend (and occasional co-conspirator) Jake likes to say that all coding is “standing on the shoulders of giants”. He’s right of course, but for two ‘self-taught’(ish) developers to have that conversation has also required a leg up from the now awesomely powerful development community and some wonderful e-learning services and projects. It’s a pretty exciting time for web development, so I guess it should come as no surprise that the educational tools are in a state of revolution. Anyway, in case anybody’s interested, I thought I’d give a quick idea of what a beginner can use in 2012 (based on my and others’ experience) to get project-capable in a half year:

-Codecademy: HTML and CSS track
-Codecademy: JavaScript Fundamentals track[paid]: PHP and MySql Essentials (Kevin Skoglund)[paid]: jQuery Essentials
-jQuery: jQuery documentation
-Treehouse[paid]: All HTML and CSS tracks
-Treehouse[paid]: jQuery and Responsive Design/CSS3 tracks
-Smashing Magazine: Responsive design, media queries and WAMP development tutorials

That’s a snapshot of what I and others have passed around - the paid services aren’t expensive (less than £20 a month in both cases), and you’ll have to work around them to get the most out of them, but the videos are generally very good. Speaking for myself, I spent 2-3 months doing PHP and front-end stuff 9-5, 7 days a week before I could move on, but it’s not that huge of an investment if a) you can afford the time and b) you think the outcome would be valuable to you.

Ultimately I’d say this: I now wouldn’t trust a project manager in any kind of digital firm (including marketing agencies) that couldn’t have at least this level of knowledge to draw upon… and if you’re starting a company it’s an essential. You may have a technical co-founder who’s a sharper programmer, but being able to understand and read code without feeling intimidated is always going to come in handy.

Anyway, that’s my two cents, hope it’s not too obvious or too preachy.

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