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Hey there, great question.

I find a lot of people want to learn to code but get stuck because they don't know what they want to build. That was a similar story for me, or at least part of the story. My story is a combination of fear, opportunity, love, despair and confusion.

Here is the short version, I am working on a longer one as part of a series of dev.to posts.

At school (sometime in the 80's, just like Stranger Things but a bit more Mancunian) although I was obsessed with gaming on my Spectrum, in reality I wanted to learn to code but various environmental issues got in the way and I couldn't really find a connection with any of the languages, so I continued to ignore the itch that I so needed to scratch for ̶y̶̶e̶̶a̶̶r̶̶s̶ decades.

After years of not going in the direction I wanted (and making constant excuses to find work that was nothing to do with technology) I met an amazing woman who sort of turned me around, got me back into college so I could start at the beginning again. She is amazing, we recently got married all over again Mexico but with our teenagers with us this time!

After that I started to slowly carve out a career in technology but primarily in enterprise I.T. 100% of my work was configuring and advising on vendor software (Citrix, VMware, Microsoft) which catapulted me into many great roles, roles which I am very grateful for and still am, but I always felt something was missing. I knew I wanted to make the web based software, but again the languages around at the time just didn't connect with me, PHP didn't have Laravel, Rails hadn't arrived, Python wasn't there, Java and Objective-C looked awful as did Visual Basic so I just buried my head in the sand and continued being an expert in other peoples software, which worked out really well and paid very well too.

As far back as I can remember, I have always had a huge appreciation for anyone that had the ability to think, dream and turn those thoughts, ideas and dreams into pixels and to make them interactive. Not just websites and apps but also games, film, special effects etc - I was mesmerised by it, I still am. I think at the core that is what has always driven me to learn how to build, eventually.

Throughout my career I have always had ideas for side projects, creation is something that I have always needed to do but stalled because a) I didn't have the skills, b) Had no idea where to start, c) Had no idea how to raise the capital, d) Struggled to verbalise the ROI required to deliver on an investment, e) Couldn't connect with a language or framework. I think I just wanted to start making some cool stuff without all the business questions surrounding it, but got hung up on that because it seems like that is what everyone else wants to discuss with you when you have an idea, or at least that was my experience.

Anyway, fast forward to me getting close to my forties which was about 6 years ago. I was working in London at News International (doing the usual, an expert in vendor software, strategy etc) when I was introduced to Google Moderator, which was an innovation and ideas platform integrated into G-Suite. I loved the concept at the time and thought it would be fun to expand on the idea and build something a bit more ambitious. Same problem though, I had ideas but also a sack full of excuses on why I couldn't built it.

I left NI and moved onto a company called Kelway still with this desperate need to explore this side of myself that needed to learn how to imagine and turn it ideas into pixels, straight outta my brain and onto a screen. I had made some really good connections at NI, including a guy called Xen (the CTO) who introduced us all to a very early version of AWS (like only s3 was available at the time, this started my AWS obsession) Xen is a great guy, had brought a number of apps and web apps to market as well as his role as an investor.

At Kelway I also got to know the CEO (Phil) really well, we spent a lot of time talking about consumer products and I could tell that he knew that I just wanted to build something, I had an idea that expanded on Google Moderator and I wanted to experience the product creation cycle. So one day I lurked outside his office and plucked up the courage to walk in and flat out ask him to fund one of my ideas. So Phil funded my first ever project. I was blown away by this gesture, no paper work, no investor complexity, he either knew I really wanted to experience it, or was sick to death of me following him around.

I then approached Xen again who guided me through figuring out what I wanted to build, listing out all the functionality, putting it in a design and specification document, found me a designer to work with and the most important part, put me in touch with a group of developers in South Africa called Bitcube (that last bit was so important looking back) and everything started from there really, although I wasn't going to build it - the developers I worked with were so open with me, explaining what they were doing and why, it was at this point I got introduced to Ruby on Rails, that was the turning point. As DHH has said many times, Ruby as language just connected with me and Rails as framework just blew me away, you can create anything with it, and the community is sooooooo friendly and supportive of newbies.

When Xen showed me a Ruby on Rails folder structure for the first time, I nearly had a heart attack. I was thinking "where is index.html?". Then the designer (a great guy called Dan Patel) finished he exported all the assets to the developers and they started building the product. It wasn't a massive amount of funding, just enough to get a small project off the ground and this is when I started to try and board the train, it took ages though, I was waiting at frustration central station, waiting for it to stick, for the penny to drop. l mean all I wanted at the beginning was readability, so I was attempting readability on Ruby, Rails, the Rails framework, JQuery, Vanilla JS, Bootstrap, CSS, Postgres and learning Git which looking back was too much to learn all in one go.

That is when I begin to learn for real. The developers allowed me to see everything they did, the git repo, the commits, how to clone the repo and start the Rails server locally so I could see how it was coming together, how gems worked, how JS, CSS and images worked in the asset pipeline, how active-record worked, all of it. There was one guy there, Matt who today I consider as a great friend who really took time to explain things and mentor me, something he still does today.

I did it all in my spare time, which is why it took so long, I remember a time when I used to look at the #100DaysofCode and think, I can't even do one because I have no idea what I am looking at, to now where every day I will at least spend some time coding, I see it as therapeutic, funny that as at one stage in my life it was the hardest thing ever. I never thought that would happen but it just did. The cool thing is that now, it is generally part of my day job having to know AWS and knowing the anatomy of a web app and the dev process really helps me at CDW when influencing customers on platform design and infrastructure as code.

There are lots of books, tutorials and resources that have helped me get the concepts initially before I moved onto Micheal Hartle's Rails Tutorial (which I found too hard at the beginning). I'll have to get them all together and share in a series of blog posts. Chris at GoRails has been amazing, a little too hard if your new but overtime GoRails and their Slack community has been so valuable to me.

Just remember if you are new to all this or have an deep desire to build, it will come, go for readability first, it will take ages to get on that train, you'll be waiting at the station in tears time and time again as the train passes you by but eventually something will stick and the momentum begins then all of a sudden you are on the train because know what questions you need to ask. I think that was the turning point for me, getting it enough to know what questions to ask, then being able to properly verbalise what you need to ask to get the answers to move you into the next level.

I never started out coding to work full-time as a developer for someone else, I just wanted to build my own things in my spare time as a hobby and I still feel like that today, I always have a side project on the go. I have also always been a bit of a gamer, but coding in Rails seems to have replaced that which I wasn't expecting but I guess it is the constant puzzle solving that attracts you in the first place. I am not the greatest developer in the world and I still get massively stuck here and there, but they key thing is that now I know what to ask for when I need help, where before I knew I didn't know something, but I didn't know anything about what I didn't know, therefore didn't know what to ask.

The cover photo I used is important, it shows that small effort daily over a year yields significant gains. Anyone out there struggling, find a language you connect with, don't worry about the most popular list on Stack Overflow, just let you passion to learn take over.

:)

 

I have also been a 'lurker' on dev.to for over 2 years 🤓.

 

Congrats on making your first post!! Looking forward to your series :)

 
 
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The subconscious role we "senior developers" play, in preventing the spread of knowledge without us realizing. And stifling the growth of all around us.

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