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So, You Want to Learn To Code?

August 18, 2016
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I love getting messages and emails from people. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot, from strangers, from friends I’ve lost touch with, from close friends. All of them are interested in learning how to code and they want advice on how to get started. I’ve decided to put a little blog post together with a combination of my journey to becoming a developer and a list of resources to check out if you are interested in learning to code. Whether you want to change careers and become a full-time developer or you just want to know the basics so that you can understand what the developers at work are talking about, or maybe you just want to add a new skill to your resume. There are a ton of resources out there to get you started.

A little about my journey. I studied international development in university. Politics and foreign affairs has always been a passion interest of mine, especially in Africa. I’ve always wanted to work in that region of the world. I’ve always been extremely interested in human rights, war, famine, what causes these issues and how to go about solving them. After university I went to volunteer in Rwanda for 3 months. I was working on a number of different projects and I met a lot of amazing people and made contacts at a lot of organizations that were making a real difference. I came back to Canada inspired and ready to start my career and make a difference in the world. I worked at a number of different NGOs and always had a part-time gig bartending to save extra money and pay the rent. I went back to Rwanda every year, sometimes twice a year to volunteer and try to make a difference where I could. I would save up, go to Rwanda for a period of time, come home broke and jobless and start the process all over again. After a few years of this and a few disheartening incidents with charities and NGOs I thought, “this isn’t sustainable, there has to be a better way.” I was working full time at a bar, saving money and desperately trying to find something, anything that would allow me to make money and travel at the same time so that I could pursue projects I was passionate about and invest my time in the volunteer work I loved doing but still make a living at the same time.

I had been keeping a blog on wordpress.com for a little while, just filled with travel posts to keep friends and family updated with what I was doing while I was away, and I wanted to learn a little bit more about blogging so I took a day long workshop on wordpress with Ladies Learning Code. This peaked my interest. I’ll be honest I didn’t learn how to build the internet in that one day workshop but this sparked something inside me. I was hungry for knowledge and I wanted to learn more. I never thought of myself as a “techy” type of person. Coding or computer science was never a career path I had even considered for myself. I had worked with developers before and didn’t think I fit the developer mould. I signed up for a part-time HTML and CSS course with HackerYou purely because I was interested in learning some new skills and maybe being able to make my blog look a little prettier. To my surprise I actually really liked the content I was learning. I found it challenging and interesting. Drew Minns was an excellent instructor and I was excited to go to class and learn something new each week. I felt a sense of accomplishment. When the part time course was finished I thought to myself. Maybe I could do this as a career. Maybe, this is the golden ticket, the thing I’ve been looking for all along. My ticket to freedom. The thing that will allow me to work and travel, you get the point. I decided to apply for the full time front end bootcamp at HackerYou. This would be a big commitment. It was an expensive investment, it was Monday – Friday 10-6 which meant even though I was working nights I would have to cut back on hours at work. But, I had made up my mind. I applied to the full time program and was given a challenge to complete. I had to code a one page website from a PSD. I submitted it and met with Heather Payne. My first attempt was less than great. Heather was a bit concerned about my abilities, she wasn’t sure I would be ready for the bootcamp. She was honest and open with me and I have an enormous amount of respect for Heather, I look up to her and I took her feedback and advice to heart. I asked her to give me another challenge so that I could try again and focus on the areas she had pointed out for improvement. I finished the second challenge and submitted it to her. She was impressed by my improvement and accepted me into the bootcamp. I didn’t realize how many people apply for the bootcamp (about 300 applicants for 30 spots) and looking back now I may have been too intimidated to apply had I have known but I am glad I went through with it.

Bootcamp started in April and it finished in June. It was 9 intense weeks of coding. Learning HTML, CSS, JavaScrpit and PHP for WordPress. I was still working 4 nights a week and I was exhausted but jumped out of bed each morning with enthusiasm I couldn’t wait to get to class and learn more. Each week we had to complete a project and I could see my skills improving after every week. The community at HackerYou and I’ve come to learn the Tech Community in Toronto in general is amazing and supportive. Everyone wants to share knowledge and help each other create and it’s been a wonderful journey. I’ve made some awesome friends along the way.

I graduated from the full time bootcamp mid June. At the demo day, our last day of bootcamp we had a number of tech companies and startups stop by and interview us. We had 5 minutes with each company, a kind of speed dating type interview, to show off our skills, make connections and demo what we had learned. It was nerve racking and challenging but such a great experience. That day I met Emilia Farrace from Simply Elaborate. She has hired me for a few different projects and has been a mentor to me, assisting me with my freelancing business and always there to share what she has learned as an entrepreneur and give me a pep talk or answer questions when I need her help. The Monday after I graduated I got my first freelance gig, some CSS work on an existing website, and then another gig, and another. I quit my bartending job a week later and have been freelancing ever since.

I spent a week working from my parents boat on the St. Lawrence River in July, I spent a weekend exploring and working from Quebec City in August, I spent November in Rwanda and was able to work on freelance projects while I was there, I went to New York City for Christmas and brought my laptop along with me to do some work in trendy New York Cafes, I spent a week working from Havana Cuba in January at a cute little cafe called O’Reilly. I did redesign my blog and I’ve been writing and gaining more of a following. In February I was invited on my first sponsored blog trip by the Tourism Board of Kerala India. They flew me to India, and I was treated like royalty as their guest for two weeks exploring the best Kerala had to offer.HackerYou was the best investment I could have made in myself. I have no regrets and I could not be happier working for myself and doing something creative that I enjoy.

So now to the good part, where do you start if you want to learn how to code? I would suggest taking a part-time class or weekend workshop like I did, this will give you a good introduction to coding. You can see if this is actually something you are interested in or something you actually like before spending any serious money on it. Ladies Learning Code has 22 chapters across Canada, you can find a workshop in the city closest to you. They also offer a part time digital skills program which is a great introduction into the basics of coding. If you want to take this a step further try signing up for a part time course at a coding school like HackerYou. If you are in Toronto, there is also Bitmaker Labs and Brainstation. There are a lot of different coding schools around North America in cities like New York, Chicago, Miami, etc. You just have to google coding schools and a list will come up. Do you research, ask around and read reviews make sure the school offers what you are looking for and they have a good reputation. If you are unsure and want some advice you can always email me. You can find my email address on my contact page.

If online learning in more your speed try Coursera they offer free online courses from top universities such as Stanford, Princeton and Yale. You can also try Codeacemdy, they are an online classroom with a gamified approach to coding. You can learn a number of different languages here and you have to pass a level to move on to a more advanced one. Khan Academy has step-by-step video tutorials and its a great tool for visual learners.HTML5 Rocks is a google project. It brings you the latest updates, resource guides, and slide decks for all things HTML5.

Try creating a meet up group. Chances are you aren’t the only person in your area who want to teach themselves how to code. Go on meetup.com and create a meet up in your city for a beginners coding club. Reach out to developers you admire, ask to take them out for coffee and pick their brains, learn how they got started.

Learning a new skill is always a bit scary at first but once you get started you will wonder why you put it off for so long. Coding isn’t scary, it’s just like learning a new language and practice makes perfect. Good luck with your journey!

If you have any additional resources that have helped you that I may have missed in this post please post them in the comments 🙂

Or if you are looking for someone to build your website or you have any questions feel free to check out my portfolio and reach out to me brittanyhemming.com

UPDATE: I am currently teaching code at The Institute of Code in Bali if you are interested in learning, come spend 10 days with me in Paradise for our web dev bootcamp!