Whether you’re a developer, designer, or even a marketing specialist, learning how to code and improving your programming skills can be critical to your career growth. With that said, the path you take to improve your technical knowledge will differ based on your background and familiarity with programming.
In this blog post, we'll dig into why people from all sorts of backgrounds—especially developers—want to get better at programming and what “getting better at programming” means. We’ll then outline the best ways to learn programming depending on your backgrounds and goals.
From personal to work projects, from passion to career, from curiosity to practicality, there are many reasons why you may want to improve your programming skills. While a common reason people choose to learn programming is to become a developer, that is not the only reason. Non-developers, such as designers and business owners, might also want to learn programming to add to their skill set.
In this article, we’ll look at three groups of people who may want to improve their programming skills:
- Developers from all levels of seniority
- Students and aspiring developers
- Non-developers (e.g. designers, marketers, business analysts, etc.).
To help you figure out how to improve your skills, we want to expand on what improving your programming skills might mean. We ran a survey to better understand what people mean when they say they want to “improve their programming skills” and will use that as a starting point.
As shown above, the top three scenarios people need help with to get better at programming are:
- Get hands-on guidance to solve specific tasks or eliminate blockers
- Learn basic programming skills
- Deepen my understanding of technical concepts
The first scenario applies to both developers and non-developers, the second scenario to students, aspiring developers, and non-developers, and the third scenario to mid-level and senior developers.
Let's dig deeper into each scenario to see which scenario fits your needs best.
Developers, regardless of seniority, usually look for targeted learning that caters to specific problems or blockers they’re facing. They seek out coding mentors to show them how to identify and solve problems so that they can do it themselves in the future.
I can watch how they solve my issue and then when I have a similar issue I can solve it by myself. - Robert, bachelor’s student in Computer Science
What about non-developers? Their intentions are almost identical to that of developers, regardless of whether they’re business analysts, marketing specialists, UX designers, or even CEOs. They have specific projects they’re working on and the project requires programming skills that are beyond their current abilities. Rather than simply outsourcing their projects, these users want to learn programming languages that’ll give them more autonomy and power to deliver projects and strengthen their careers.
By working with my mentors I learned how to approach the problems and find solutions to them. - Philip, Founder and Product Manager
Another major user group is aspiring programmers who identify as students, at the beginning of their coding journey. Oftentimes, these are students who are:
- getting a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Computer Science
- taking online classes, or
- in coding bootcamps.
All of the above provide coding lessons and coding training. However, many students still look for mentor, despite having professors, peers, and sometimes, even mentors to assist them in their coding bootcamps. Jared, a current coding bootcamp student, explained why he sought mentorship outside of his bootcamp:
We’re assigned a mentor but we’re usually only able to talk with them once a week. It’s hard to get help immediately when I’m stuck. Another thing is that my mentor doesn’t always know what I’m struggling with and they only assist with projects and concepts that are taught in the syllabus. I feel like mentors here can identify what I really really need to know to be able to become a good developer in the real world.
What 1-on-1 mentorships provide that other structured courses don’t provide include:
- Personalized diagnoses from senior developers
- Individualized coding training based on one’s existing knowledge
- Track your progress, provide you with extra resources, and tailor your learning experience as you grow
In other words, students use mentorship as an additional resource to enhance their learning experience. The mentorship relationship often extends beyond their programs as students eventually become developers, and continue to grow and learn through long-term mentorships.
Last but not least, a lot of developers want to deepen their understanding of technical concepts. Some of the questions and requests developers post include:
- Would like to meet weekly to discuss process in iOS dev, clarifying principles in Swift
- Need someone to personally coach me DS Algorithms in Java
As you can see, many programmers in this category already have some understanding of the tech stacks and technology they’re working with but want to take their skills to the next level.
For mid-level developers, structured courses are unhelpful as they’re looking to dive deep into specific areas not typically covered by online classes or bootcamps. Through working directly with coding mentors, the learning process can be tailored to each developer’s needs.
With all that said, we want to highlight some ways to help you improve your programming skills, depending on which stage of the coding journey you’re at and what your goals are.
Different people learn differently. Depending on your skill level, goals, and availability, you may want to consider coding training that is structured, semi-structured, or unstructured. Generally speaking, structured learning is most suitable for aspiring developers, semi-structured learning is more fitting for non-developers, and unstructured learning is more effective for mid to senior level developers. We’ll talk more about which approach may fit you better and what resources are available to you.
If you don’t have any coding foundation and want to become a developer, structured and comprehensive coding training that has dedicated instructors, detailed projects, and hard deadlines may be the most effective for you. These programs are highly intensive, require high levels of commitment, and can be quite pricey. Your options include:
- Four-year or two-year degrees from universities and community colleges
- Coding certification programs
- Online or in-person coding bootcamps. Some examples include:
Software Development (Web Development)
- Codesmith: Full-time Software Engineering Immersive (USD $19,350)
- Tech Elevator: Coding Bootcamp Program (USD $15,950)
- Hack Reactor: Coding Bootcamp (USD $17,980)
Mobile Applications Development
- The Tech Academy: Mobile App Developer Bootcamp ($9,540 - $11,900)
- Devmountain: iOS Development Course ($7,900)
- Software Development (Web Development)
If becoming a software developer and pursuing full-time programming careers are not your goals, a comprehensive bootcamp may be an overkill. Instead, you can choose semi-structured learning that aligns with your needs and goals.
If you simply want to learn one or two programming languages or tech stacks, online courses are a good alternative as they often focus on specific topics and languages. Most online courses are semi-structured, meaning you will be given a syllabus and structured lessons, but no dedicated instructors, hard deadlines, and sometimes, not even hands-on projects. You’ll have more freedom but less guidance and built-in accountability. If this sounds like something you prefer, here are some examples:
- Harvard University’s online courses
- Khan Academy
- University of Michigan’s online courses
Coding courses online are accessible and flexible. However, there are some possible downsides:
- The courses can sometimes be outdated
- There is little to no accountability
- May be too theory-heavy with little focus on application
- No available mentors to reach out to when questions arise
If you do choose semi-structured courses, we’d suggest finding a mentor to help guide you along the way. You can take full control over your learning by asking a coding mentor to explain concepts that are hard to grasp, keep you accountable, and provide you with hands-on guidance on how to apply the theories in real-world settings.
If you’re starting from scratch, we wouldn’t suggest going the unstructured route. While there is a plethora of coding resources available, it can be hard to know where to start. Without a solid foundation or a good grasp of the help or answer you’re looking for, finding the right books, blog posts, and YouTube videos can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Even worse, you could go down a rabbit hole that may be misleading.
With that said, unstructured learning is the most common way experienced developers continue to grow their programming skills. Developers are known to be resourceful, community-oriented, and driven learners. If you already have the foundations you need and know what you’re looking for, here are some generic resources you may find useful:
- Stack Overflow
- Projects & games
- Conferences and webinars
- Book Clubs
With a solid enough foundation, you can find any resource that’ll help you learn. However, as you grow as a developer, you'll also have less time dedicated to learning new technologies. This is where coding mentors could be helpful.
Richa, a senior developer with 13+ years of experience said:
I am a developer and trying to learn more tech stacks. Now there's just not enough time to schedule a time for dedicated learning like I used to do during my learning days 13 years ago. Pair programming sessions at Codementor have reduced that learning time dramatically for me.
Communities like Stack Overflow, dev.to, and GitHub are crucial to the continuous growth of every developer and coding mentors can help you navigate through the programming knowledge shared in these communities.
We’ve briefly discussed the benefits of having a coding mentor in your coding journey throughout the process but what is coding mentorship? Coding mentors are senior developers who act as your advisor and coach to help you learn new technologies, personal skills, and career guidance.
Here are some hard and soft skills that coding mentors can provide:
- Help kickstart your programming professional development
- Understand your unique pain points and cater to your individual needs
- Impart knowledge and wisdom through their working and coding experience
- Hold you accountable to achieve your goals
- Discover and hone your leadership skills
- Boost your confidence and problem-solving abilities
Regardless of whether you decide to take the structured, semi-structured, or unstructured route to learn how to code and reach your goals, having a coding mentor (or two!) can help you grow technically, personally, and professionally.
There is no right way to go about learning how to code just as there is also no right track for those who choose to learn to code.
If you’re figuring out which learning style is the best for you, one of the most important things is to identify what your goal is. Once you’ve identified your short term and long term goals, you can mix and match the learning styles that fit your needs the best.
If you’re unsure what you need to achieve your goals, finding a mentor is a great place to start. Mentors can help you identify and clarify your goals. They would also provide you with the best resource to help you learn according to your skill level and learning style.
There is no cookie cutter approach and no shortcut to improve your programming skills. Getting the results and reaching the goals you have takes strategizing and the right kind of help. We hope this article will help you find what suits you best.
If you have any questions, thoughts, or experience to share about honing your programming skills, leave a comment below!