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Brian Barbour
Brian Barbour

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Codecademy & freeCodeCamp: Beginner's Journey

My Story

For most of my career I have worked in the IT industry. I pulled my way up from a call center help desk to being field technician (still am one as of writing this.) I solve the woes of your everyday office worker, fixing hardware, troubleshooting networks, and ninety percent of the time just telling them to turn it off and back on again.

I don't have a CS degree. I often joke, even in interviews, that my CS degree has been almost ten years of me scratching my head at computers and then googling why they do the things they do. I'm a bit of a self starter, a curious mind, and I have delved into all sorts of things.

Programming, however, was an elusive skill that I never thought I was worthy enough to possess. It stood as an enigma to me. I often stared wide eyed at the scrawling lines of code. It was as though I were reading some arcane text that I would never possess the spell to decipher.

I was wrong to think like that. I remember staring at the new D&D Beyond website, wishing I could build something like that. And, I just said to myself, "Well, you haven't tried."

Boom. It clicked. I couldn't write myself off until I at least gave some effort.

Thus began my quest to learn how to code. Javascript was my target language. I had heard it heralded as the "language of the web." Thus, I would would make myself proficient in said language, even if it took me a long, long time.

Two resources stood out to me immediately. Codecademy and freeCodeCamp. I delved into them both. This is my story.


Codecademy first.


The site looked pretty. Their layout is really nice. Not that freeCodeCamp isn't a well-made site, it just lacks the same polish as Codecademy. I thought that if they could make a site this nice, they must know what they're doing. My target was their Web Development course. I even paid for a membership, so I could access their pro courses within it.

I toiled away everyday after work for three to four hours. My weekends were filled with ten to fifteen hours of study and progress. Slowly, I chipped away at the course, until it was finished.

I had built several web pages from scratch. I even built a React app, fetching data from the Yelp API. I had delved into test driven development. I had built SQL tables and queries.

After three long months, I could "read" the code, understand what it was telling me.

But, despite getting my feet wet, I was shaky. I still lacked the gusto to charge headlong and build something myself. I wanted more practice, more projects. I wanted a real challenge.

Codecademy was great for an overview. It was invaluable to teach me what the different aspects of web development were. Most of all, it had put me in the skinner box of completing modules and made me hungry for more.


Enter freeCodeCamp.

I decided to tackle this one next because it looked challenging. At this point, I had joined a few Facebook groups about learning to code. I saw people talking about it, and struggling with it. I wanted to struggle too, so I could get better.

I decided to skip the Responsive Web Design certification and jumped straight into the Javascript Algorithms and Datastructures certification. I just wanted to reinforce my Javascript learning as soon as possible. (With plans to circle back and complete it afterward.)

I toiled. I squirmed... a lot. I had to google concepts. I got really hands on with Mozilla's MDN site. I didn't know the answers, and refused to look at them without expending all options first.I had days where I walked away from my computer, because I got frustrated that my algorithm wasn't working. I would come back renewed and ready to crush it. Because of that, I learned where to find them, how to find them.

I believe I learned how to think like a dev there.

Two months later, I got my certification.

Path Forward

These two sites were invaluable tools and teachers. I would recommend them to anyone learning code for the first time. I find myself referencing things I did there quite often.

I now have the confidence to look at any Javascript code and tackle it. I built my first React app from scratch, no tutorials. It's simple, it's goofy, but it's mine. I used what I learned from both of those sites when building it.

I am going to keep trudging onward. I have aspirations now of becoming a web developer. I don't know when I'll be ready, but I don't care. Even if it never happens, I'll keep making fun and interesting things. Because, programming is my new favorite thing to do.


My Newbie Github

Top comments (2)

kingdopamine profile image

Hi Brian,

I'm a beginner. I've just completed the paid Codecademy web development course. Your experience sounds identical to mine. I'm quite disappointed that by the end of all that toiling away, all I could do in the end was "read" code; I do not feel at all like I can "write" code or think the way a professional coder does. I believe what you are saying is that by the end of freecodecamp, I will feel like I can indeed "write" code; is this correct? I want to begin FCC but I absolutely can not bear the idea of toiling away at another course and in the end to feel like I've gotten nothing out of it again; if that happens, I'm pretty certain I will give up on the idea of becoming a web developer. I'm also very curious to know what you've learned up to now since the submission of this very helpful article; what resources have really helped you to improve and really grasp the ability to think like a coder? Thank you so much for your help.

Kind Regards, James.

bbarbour profile image
Brian Barbour • Edited

You will get something out of it, I believe that. Repetition is often the key to learning. Do as much as you can. Repeat the same lessons, one, two, three or more times if you still feel uncertain.

Attack your learning from different angles.

I've done this, and don't regret it. At this point I'm highly confident and comfortable reading any and all JavaScript. Also, I can write code with relative ease, it feels like a natural expression of thought.

The only way you will get that and comfort with the code is to practice mindfully. I remember feeling like you did, that moment of uncertainty almost made me quit. Push past. Trust me, with time and exposure that feeling fades and it code no longer feels alien. Think of it as slowly rewiring your brain and the way you think about problems and software that solves them.

Since this article, I am a full time professional developer. I've built fullstack applications (server to client-side) in Javascript.