From One Non-Expert to Another - Learning What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

Photo of blog article's author, Bryn Newell

My story is one you may have heard a few times - I went to school to study one thing, started doing that thing, stopped doing that thing, became motivated to learn how to code, and then went searching for a place that could teach me how to do that instead. Now here I am in the midst of it all, still learning and starting out my shiny new career path as a software developer! 

Near the end of 2018, I was accepted to the Techtonic Apprenticeship program and my love for coding quickly took off. However, starting a career in software development still seemed miles away. I have a handful of close friends in the tech industry who have been “doing the thing” for quite a bit longer than me. Looking at their work, I often found (and still find) myself intimidated and believe them to be absolute geniuses when it comes to code. They produce the kind of side-projects and warm-up challenges that I (initially) couldn’t even dream of doing. These friends, that I am so grateful for, encourage and motivate me to be better, to learn faster, and challenge me to do things I didn’t think I could do. The community I’ve surrounded myself with, whether they know it or not, has made me a smarter, stronger developer. I can feel myself becoming more confident in my work and in my quality of code because of them. 

I’m still very new to this world of software development. I’ve been coding for about ten months now - that is not a long time. And this is a MASSIVE field. Even the most brilliant developers who create the frameworks and languages we all work in every day, don’t know everything about code. It’s impossible. There is just too much knowledge out there. And with the community, I’ve found at Techtonic, and my current position at IHS Markit - I think I’ve picked up a few pieces of valuable information.  So with all that in mind...

I would love to share with you my two cents for learning (the sometimes very intimidating field of) software development from the ground up when you completely 180° your life and career :) 

1) Start with one language/theory of development. (JavaScript/OOP is where I began). Take a serious amount of time and dedicate yourself to truly understanding the basics. There’s no need to rush in the beginning. The more time you spend practicing and really soaking yourself in the core concepts of your first language, the more success you will have when you try to broaden your skills. 

2) Pair program on something challenging with a friend, or have a peer who might know a little bit more than you review your code. Even if your code runs, there may be a better way to do things. Learning best practices or even just ways to make life easier is one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my mentors. If you don’t have anyone in your immediate physical vicinity that can help you with this, the internet is a magical place with tons of opportunity to find a mentor.

3) Explain your code to someone who knows nothing about programming. Trying to explain to my mother what the hell I was doing all day and how a couple of lines of nonsense put my name and face on a basic HTML portfolio site was one of the best ways I solidified my understanding of how stuff works under the hood. 

4) Take a break. There’s a massive (toxic, in my opinion) culture of “the side hustle” and “work overtime on your hobbies and passions” attitude going around society right now. Let me tell you something - if you work an 8-hour day staring at a computer, then go home and try to do a personal project, and then try to take an extra online course on the weekend, you WILL get burnt out. Learning takes time. A LOT of time. Now don’t get me wrong, absolutely dedicate as much time as you can learn this new thing. And, yes, do fun side projects in your free time if you want.  But your brain needs time to rest and absorb everything you’re learning. You need a break to see your friends and get some sunlight. I have solved some of my most difficult coding problems by walking away from my desk and going outside to take a lap around the building. I’ve woken up more times than I can count with a perfectly clear idea of how to get around a challenge I spent hours on the day before just banging my head against the wall. This stuff is hard. Your brain needs to rest. 

5) Find a way to make it fun! Codepen challenges, code golf, or building the most annoying website I can possibly think of are some of the best ways to cure burnout and rekindle your love for coding again. This doesn’t have to be your dream job or even your ~passion~. But I do hope that you can find the little joys in your day and enjoy pieces of content that make doing this as your job even more enjoyable and exciting. 

Find a program or an apprenticeship or a Bootcamp or whatever it is that works for YOU! I spent so many years worrying about whether or not I was following the “correct” path or if I was “adulting the right way”. I’m gonna tell you a little secret. There’s no such thing !!! Those friends who are crazy talented that I mentioned earlier - not a single one of us took even a vaguely similar path to get where we are today. We have different learning styles, different personalities, and different financial resources and needs. Everyone has a different and unique story, and while something may have worked for them, it may not work for you. That’s perfectly okay. In fact, it’s great. That kind of diversity and difference of backgrounds and journeys is what makes tech a stronger and more inclusive community

So wherever you are along this journey of learning how to code, I thank you for being a part of it. This community can be so welcoming and motivating to those of us just starting out. I encourage you to at all times keep a growth mindset. And remember, there is ALWAYS more to learn and more ways to grow. 

Thanks for reading and feel free to reach out anytime! I would love to hear about your experiences, favorite resources, or just connect with you in general. You can find me on twitter and join me in creating a supportive, fun, and driven community of people who want to learn and grow together! We got this :)
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AUTHOR - Bryn Newell
Software Engineer - Professional Services Contractor
Techtonic & IHS Markit

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