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Being Utterly Fearless in Your Pursuit of Learning to Code with Alex Morton

alexlsalt profile image Alex Morton ・2 min read

Hey there! I'm Alex - a California native lost in France who fell in love with coding as a hobby while working in customer support.

I took the plunge to leave my last job to teach myself to program on a full-time basis at the start of 2020.

I'm a big fan of visiting (and revisiting!) different cities around the world, as well as the many books on my bookshelf.

My talk, Being Utterly Fearless in Your Pursuit of Learning to Code, will cover:

  • My background and the lessons I've learned as I've taught myself how to code
  • My why for showing up everyday to learn to code was wanting to put myself in a more influential position in my career and to build meaningful apps and programs - especially as a woman in tech
  • Switching my mindset from one of being anxious about the unknown to finding inspiration and power in it

In this talk, you'll learn how to:

  1. Cultivate your own why and reason that keeps you coming back to your code editor each day

  2. Err on the side of taking action (instead of over-thinking any decision)

  3. Dive in and identify any gaps in knowledge as you learn to code

  4. Be the creative director of your own life

  5. Play the long game and have a ton of fun

Whether you’re learning to code full-time on your own, going through a bootcamp, getting a degree for it, or if you’re simply carving out a consistent hour of your time each day or week -- stay with it.

This is a time of investing in yourself and in your future.

Stay cool, stay creative, and be utterly fearless in your pursuit of your dream of learning to code.

Resources mentioned in talk:

Connect with me!

This talk will be presented as part of CodeLand:Distributed on July 23. After the talk is streamed as part of the conference, it will be added to this post as a recorded video.

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alexlsalt profile

Alex Morton


Hello! I'm Alex and I'm a self-taught web developer, writer, and speaker. I also host The Ladies Code Collective Podcast > www.ladiescodecollective.com Let's be friends on Twitter!


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YAY!!! Congratulations on your first speaking role!! I love hearing everyone's story and the sharing of tips that encourage others to be fearless in their own journey.


Thank you so, so much, Sara!!!


I'm interested in what resources you used to learn to code? :) What a cool story!


Hi Crystal and Emily!

Yes! Of course! So when I was first, first, first starting out, I relied on Codecademy to really get some hand-holding of the basics. This is when I was learning how to build static sites with HTML and CSS.

I think I joined the Pro membership when there was a really good deal, so I used that for a good amount of time (less than a year though because I remember kind of moving on from there).

Then I just started to build my own projects. If I had an idea, I coded it! You can see a few of my projects over on my portfolio if you want > alexlsalt.github.io

After that, it was mainly JavaScript (and it still has been for me). So that includes building the customary projects (i.e. the to-do list/shopping list, etc)

I joined a hackathon a few months ago which really got me out of my comfort zone and I really learned a ton! (Wasn't always comfortable, but it was so worth it in the end.)

I've also been getting a lot of value out of Udemy courses (especially when they're on sale!) - in JavaScript, especially. Just kind of learning all that I can and then implementing it with projects as I go.

The thing with online courses, though, is that I have a rule: Only ONE course at a time. I can't buy any courses if I haven't finished my current course.

Hope that sheds a bit of light!


Would love to hear about this too! It's always cool to see the differences in what resources work best for others.


I am LOVING this talk!! Stepping away from tutorials really hits hard - I'm self-taught and I didn't start to retain until I allowed myself the freedom to build something outside of a step-by-step tutorial.


Yesssss! It's so intimidating at first, but it's ultimately where all the true magic happens!


Lovely talk, Alex! I really liked the point you made about "diving in" and identifying your knowledge gaps; I see this issue come up a lot in the newer engineers that I mentor.

I'm curious to know:
1) how did you know or realize that tutorials were a crutch for you?
2) Do you have thoughts on how to identify your own gaps in knowledge when you're learning something new?


Hi Vaidehi! Thank you so much and thanks for leaving a comment here!

To answer your questions:

1) I think I realized tutorials were a bit of a crutch when I'd finish them and then immediately try to re-do what I'd learned and literally couldn't do anything. That's when I got the idea to repeat tutorial projects on my own multiple times until the concepts truly clicked in my brain.

2) For identifying knowledge gaps, I do this a lot when rebuilding tutorial projects on my own (explained above) in that I'll be building/coding and then if I don't understand how one part of the code fits in with the rest of the code, I'll leave myself a big, obvious comment to get back to later and to really try to understand it.

What has also helped me in the past is writing out the code by hand in a notebook or maybe a huge sheet of paper, and then that helps me put everything together in my head (as opposed to only seeing it in my code editor).


I really love this talk!! I’m also self-taught and appreciate the representation. 💛 It is extremely validating and inspiring~


So glad to hear that, Marlyn!!! <3


It's funny that you bring up the statistic regarding taking computer science in high school. I loved computers from a young age and taught myself how to make websites when I was only 11, but no one encouraged me (why?!). I was so jealous of my male friends taking these classes in high school and yet no one went "Hey, Jenny, you can do these classes to, here's how" (the classes were not in the class catalog, believe it or not. They were reserved for "special" groups). I'm only just now coming back to coding at the age of 34, re-learning and wondering how I can get a job doing this now, worried that no one will even look at me because I'm not in my early 20s. I feel like I missed out on so much because no one gave me the nudge.


My issue was being in a small town. When your graduating class is < 100, there are no resources for having computer classes. The one we did was about office software (Word, PPT, Excel) not anything remotely programming. The guidance counselor would just say "You like math. Go to this girls in engineering camp. We can get you a scholarship, maybe" but wouldn't say even what that meant or what a job in ~engineering~ would look like. So I just went through math majors and accidentally ended up in tech on my own.


Hi Kayla! I'm glad you accidentally ended up in tech; but you're so right about how as younger girls, we just don't know what "engineering" is and much less that it's something that women can and should absolutely be involved in.


Oh my gosh, this!!!!! That's the frustrating thing about all of this - as girls, we're not encouraged or even exposed to it and so we don't truly have the opportunity to pursue it when it most matters.

There are so many studies done and so many corporations who are scratching their heads like 'But how do we get more women candidates in the hiring pipeline?! It's all a huge mystery!' and the answer is just exposing young girls and women to it early on in the same way they do school-age boys.

The good thing for you, though, Jenny is you're coming back around to it now! Stay with it day after day and you'll be amazed at your results. Remember: play the long game and have fun :D


I really loved the whole being fearless and unapologetic on the pursue of goals, tech related in this case. The starting with why and keeping that in mind while going through the inevitable downs of coding. Great talk Alex!!


Thank you so much, Juan! I so appreciate that :)


I still find it so difficult to branch away from using tutorials to level up my skills. I think its because of the lack of confidence I have in what I know and so I just want to say that I appreciate your talk. I think sometimes we need to be reminded that we can do this and there's a reason companies say yes (eventually) and our dev teams embrace and support us! Thanks Alex


Yes, Amanda! I think we need to recognize that stepping away from tutorials is uncomfortable at first because we can become super doubtful that we truly have what it takes. That bit of discomfort at first is a totally normal part of the process!


I really appreciate the tip you provided during the Q&A when you mentioned following a tutorial then scrapping it all and trying to rebuild it ourselves. I find just coming up with ideas is the most difficult and what you said resonated with me and I look forward to putting into practice.

Yes! This is suuuuper helpful when it's more difficult to find a project that we truly want to stick with, and you learn a ton by rebuilding a tutorial project on your own!


I absolutely love your presentation, Alex! As a former customer support representative who started getting back into coding, your motivational talk about pursuing coding and learning as much as you can gave me the drive to keep on going :) You're awesome <3


Another beautiful slide deck :) Love it!


Why you do something is so important. If you don't have a reason why you are doing something you will loose motivation real fast.


100%! It's taken me a while to learn this, but since I have, I don't think I can go back to doing anything 'just because!'


I really like your message that it is never too late to learn something new and take a new road with your life. It took me a long time to understand that I can do what I want and not what is expected of me and I still have to remind myself of this. There is a great book called Designing your Life which is all about this idea. Thanks for being fearless.


Thank you, Salli! Oooh, Designing Your Life sounds right up my alley - thanks for the rec!!


Great talk, especially like the suggestion to move away from tutorials. I’m working through an online tutorial track. It’s useful / enjoyable for a relative new-comer, but totally agree that there is more problem solving to be done outside of the tutorial space. Great first talk (well done!).


Thank you so much! Tutorials can be so, so useful when we're just starting out - I hope your coding journey is going well so far :)


This was a very interesting talk Alex! This is in ref How long does it take from moving away from tutorials to a point where you can actively write code from "scratch"? I put it scratch in quotation marks since programmers will never truly write it from scratch due to libraries and templates, but hopefully I got my point across!


Good question! I honestly think you could start programming from scratch whenever you want. It could be as simple as logging something to the console and then getting that to show up on the DOM. Simple program from scratch and then building from there!


What skill checks do you suggest for when to step away from tutorials?


I think as soon as you start getting comfortable with the relative discomfort of not following along with a tutorial, you'll discover ways you're learning without necessarily needing a set rubric or concrete way to check the skills you're gaining - if that makes sense!


I think her point of creativity and ambiguity is part of the answer here. Don't be afraid to create anything you want and make mistakes until you learn what you are trying to learn!


Really loved this talk, Alex! I'm also self-taught and all of the points you made resonated so much with me, particularly moving away from doing tutorials to actually building things. Also, big congrats on doing an amazing job on your first conf talk!! 🎉🎉


Thank you so much, Muna - so, so appreciate it!


Which programming language did learn at the start of your journey?


I first started out with HTML/CSS - designing static sites and other projects, and then moved on to JavaScript!


Tutorial hell is real! Try to break out or improve the projects on your own!


It so is!!! Fully agree :)


Is there a midpoint between doing tutorials, and coming up with a project for people who maybe aren't so good at coming up with ideas?


I'd suggest clones. They are great because you already know the product idea and there's a huge room for improvements and build something that's real.

And maybe after that, you'll find your brilliant original idea.


Inspiring, so cool you are so bonded with coding, Alex. Thanks for your kind words around the topic... so cool.


Just seeing this comment now - thanks so much, Paula!! Glad it resonated :)


Thank you so much, for inspiring me to continue going through my newbie journey.


Thank you, Jane! Stick with it! :D


Hello friends, i am interested to learn python. Do you know any bootcamp ?


Love this! Super inspirational and great points!


You're doing amazing Alex! I love this talk topic and think it is so so important.


That was awesome!! I can't believe this was your first talk! Amazing💖


Thank you so much, Ceora!


Man, this talk is hitting me where I live. Thank you for everything you are doing.


Thanks so much, Aubrey!!


Oh, fantastic! I am definitely going to subscribe!!!