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Cover image for Quick question: "How did you learn to code?"

Quick question: "How did you learn to code?"

tlakomy profile image Tomasz Łakomy ・3 min read

My first program ever was typed character by character from a BASIC book into a Commodore 64 which my parents bought when I was ~7 years old. I wasn't exactly hooked from the start - I remember spending AGES to type a program with my dad helping me and the result was a screen blinking with different colors (if it worked) or a cryptic error message (if it didn't). The fact that both of my parents don't speak English didn't make it easier.

In middle school I've had Computer Science class and lo and behold, we've learned to program with Logo Komeniusz. And dang - moving the turtle around, making him draw different shapes and creating procedures (basically functions to draw squares or something) was freaking awesome.

Logo Komeniusz UI
(I'm like 90% sure that the image above is from the book we've used to learn Logo)

In high school we've had PASCAL classes and even though I did enjoy them, I've never thought that I'd do programming for a living. When I was ~15-ish someone who I really respected at the time told me that basically the need for developers will be over soon and I kinda believed them. Not to mention that I thought that programming every day would be extremely boring. To be fair, I wasn't the smartest teenager of them all.

That's why instead of Computer Science, I decided to major in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering. I hoped to work more with a hardware side of engineering, especially since I was struggling a bit during the first few C++ classes. My favourite language we've learned at the university was C# because of the GUI development, in C++ we didn't leave the terminal at all.

Before I got my engineering degree I've decided to find myself an internship.

After the second year I was an "Assistant to Fiber Optics Network Designer" and all I've learned during that time is that I don't want to do that for a living 😅

So, after the third year I wanted to find something that I knew I'd enjoy.

I wasn't able to find anything, therefore I've interviewed for a C++ intern at Tieto. Even though I 100% bombed the interview, I got the job anyhow and I've spent 3 months working on a tool from scratch. The codebase was terrible, I remember writing 300+ lines of code in a single function, I had no idea that tests existed and I'm absolutely sure that the code was obliterated from the face of the Earth as soon as I left.

So, how the hell did I end up doing JavaScript for a living? Samsung R&D in Poznań (my hometown) had an internship program. The plan was to start a next C++ internship at Samsung right after the one at Tieto ended.

The problem was that ... I missed the submission deadline by a day.

Instead, I've interviewed for a SmartTV Developer internship, I got the job (I'm still incredibly grateful for the opportunity as it kickstarted my career) and the best part was - the ENTIRE FIRST MONTH of the internship was a "From Zero To Hero" HTML/CSS/JavaScript/jQuery course from scratch.

The rest ... is history. Dang, what a ride!

What's your story? Leave it in the comments below!

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tlakomy profile

Tomasz Łakomy

@tlakomy

Senior Frontend Engineer at OLX Group. Tech speaker, egghead.io instructor, lifelong learner.

Discussion

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Thanks for sharing your story!

OMG that Logo thing brings back so many memories, we played with it too in grade school. 😭 Didn't know what in heaven it was at that time or what in heaven moving the sea turtle 5 units to the left was supposed to mean, but I remember rigging the AUTOEXEC.BAT on the school PCs running Win98 with an infinite loop to brick them... 😅

(Logo is in the LISP fam by the way. Who decided to teach this instead of something like BASIC?? 🤣)

My first program was a number guessing game in QBASIC (first-year high school). Not having the Internet or docs, I never figured out how to generate a random number, so I essentially tried to make a random algorithm myself (a very long but simple stateful math function). I remember having a lot of kids queued up to play with it in our multimedia classroom...

My parents didn't want me to do computer-related stuff and always tried to prevent me from touching a computer. So, I studied Mechanical Engineering at first. Then I dropped out of that program and moved to Germany, and only then finally got brave enough to switch my major to CS. I was 21 when I got started with my current CS program and seriously started to program.

I was doing great at first. One semester in, something happened in life, and I fell into depression. I completely cut myself off with the outside world for about a year, and the people I spoke to the most were cashiers at supermarkets. During that time, however, I realized that JS is not a toy language and started playing with React. At the same time, I also got interested in machine learning, data science, deep learning, all the fancy new stuff, so I started teaching myself everything with conference talks on YouTube and Coursera MOOCs. Although I was always enrolled in an official CS program, I never went to classes and didn't take any exams for almost a year.

I was super lucky to have got a diversity scholarship from GitNation and was able to go to the React Amsterdam conference last year. I almost didn't go because of my anxiety and depression at that time. However, I'm so glad that I went. I met a ton of awesome people there, and made good friends.

That event was a turning point for me and helped me tremendously with my mental health. Since then, I've got much better, and have become a strong believer in facing my fear. Because I was (and am) afraid of meeting people, I started going to meetups; because I was (and am) afraid of public speaking, I signed up meetup talks and submitted proposals to conferences. I'm going to give a lightning talk at React Day Berlin next week. :)

So tl;dr - I'm a CS student but really am self-taught. Also, JavaScript, React and a random stranger's kindness cured my depression. That's how I started 🙃

 

Thank you for sharing your story! I’m really glad that things are better now - if in the future you’d like to talk to someone, my Twitter DMs are and will always be open 🤗

Best of luck at React Day Berlin, it’s an amazing conference and I’m sure you’ll have a blast! 🥳

I wrote a post about speaking that you might find useful: dev.to/tlakomy/what-i-wished-someo...

 

That post is very informative, thanks a lot! 😃

 

So me and science don't mix (not computer science, but like Science science. Chemistry and physics and crap).

And in high school, we had to have an extra science credit to get our diploma.

Guess what counted as a science credit?

Mother fluffing Web Dev.

We learned HTML and styling with tables. We learned CSS-in-HTML. There was no JS to be seen.

And I excelled and loved every minute of it.

Fast forward to trying to choose a college course to take - I'm scrolling through, seeing my options, trying to find something that stand ou-Interactive Media Design? You mean ALL OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS rolled into one program? SIGN ME THE F UP

And the rest is history. 😂

 

Thanks for sharing your story! 🥳

Would you mind if I steal the “mother fluffing” expression for my next talk? I love it for some reason 😅

 

Go for it! It just makes things better.

 

I started out loving computers and wanting to code as a kid. I wrote my first program on a graphing calculator in high school. I went to college, got into computer science, and promptly quit.

It took me a year to learn how to code hangman in Java at a university. I was convinced I would never learn to code at a professional level at that speed. So I switched to Japanese language and got a degree in that.

Then, not living in Japan, I decided to get a job as a firefighter. I became a paramedic, then a nurse. I worked for years in the medical field. And in spare moments I wondered... "What if I had stuck with coding?"

I came across some YouTube videos about coding bootcamps, found one in my area, and bet thousands of dollars that I could become a developer in six months.

I didn't think I could, but I wanted it so badly that I tried anyway. I worked as a nurse during the day and then at night I went to learn about JavaScript at the bootcamp. I spent all my spare time coding.

Towards the end of the course, I started apply to jobs. I got rejected a lot. I asked for feedback on my resume and portfolio. I kept applying. A week after the bootcamp ended I got my first job offer. I haven't looked back since!

 

DAMN, what a story!

I’m curious - is your previous job experience as a nurse and paramedic useful to you in your development job?

 

2003: I wanted to use a page builder to create a website for promoting my Manga. I was 13 and had big dreams! 🤣
I asked a friend for feedback about the layout. She said, that looks really bad. You should use HTML and CSS to customize the standard set of components. I thought: "HT-what? CS-who?"

At that time, I had no computer at home and maintained the website builder project at school. That's why I printed HTML and CSS tutorials to follow them on paper at home. The result was a table based website. So proud!

After summer vacation at school, I proudly presented my website to my classmate. He said: You used tables? "Dude, divs are the shit. And do you know PHP and MySQL? They can make you website DYNAMIC!"

He triggered me. At the same time, my older sister gave her computer to me, so I was able to research at home. Browsergames, O-Game, Browsergames. That's what I found everywhere. So I decided to program one to learn PHP and so on.

Well, where to start? I was lucky to find some motivated people I can team up with. They taught me a lot. And after several months of daily work after school, we published it.

The small browsergame (it's name was Underground-X) was a underground racing manager. We had 1048 users and an active board. It was so wonderful! Yes, it was the year of NFS Underground and Underground 2. So I decided to apply for an IT apprenticeship. At the first day, my teacher gave us a very exciting exercise: Program what ever you want with visual C++. We had one year for the development. My project was a client version of the game, which was my entry into programming. Wonderful memories.

 

That’s awesome, thanks for sharing! 🥳

Is the website from 2003 still live? I used to have a “home page” back then as a 13 year old and I’ve managed to find it using the Internet Archive

I like how your first game had more users than most startups out there! 😅

 

That's the sad part of the story I skipped.

Because we were young, we didn't know about versioning with git or subversion. So the "master" was on the production server and on our machines. We saved a database back up on the server.

One corrupt developer deleted everything from the server and contacted our server host. He said that we don't have a license for the Screenshots from NFS. Yes, we used Screenshots from EA's game. But we didn't monetize the game. That's why it wasn't a problem I thought. At the end, the worried host killed our server and database, killed the domain and told us to never contact them again. Wow... then there was a lot of chaos in our team and we stopped to work together.

Underground-X can be found in the web archive. underground-x.de was the domain.

 

I always liked to thinker with stuff and I got into the homebrew scene of different consoles. I was very impressed by the work of others, and instead of only using their hacks/patchs... I tried to start understanding and or modifying them, at that point I had no clue. From there the progression from forum to forum was natural, until I got into a programming/hacking one where we did challenges on batch and there I spent most of my high-school days scripting and talking about devices, eventually I learned a bit more languages, like python and C.

I felt it wasn't enough so after some years I pursued Computer Engineering degree because I had alot of personal projects that required expertise I didn't poses at that point.

So that is my story, I became a professional dev because I didn't like the concept of owning a device and complying with the software that was manufactured with.

 

I actually didn't start coding until I got into College. I always liked tech though and went to a music school to study sound design, music production and other music tech. I joined a radio station there who needed help building and maintaining their website so I thought it be fun to at least learn and I ended up loving it. Since then I've steered away from a music career to a self taught developer career and I've enjoyed it since!

 

I went into university to study engineering; specifically telecommunication. It was an absolute snooze fest. I had one programming unit that unlike all my other classes, all the work was published for us to do at our own pace. I finished the entire semesters worth of work in two weeks, I just couldn’t get enough!

The next semester I changed my focus to software and have never looked back!

I did find it funny that my first job out was actually working for a big telecommunications company.

 

I learned to code by making RuneScape Private Servers. :O

 

It is good old BASIC, I was 11 years old I think. I probably don't remember it now LoL

 

I was in a Maths school, we wrote algorithms with OCaml and I found it fascinating.

Later I realized that programming and maths do not intersect a lot in practice, but that's how I got started.

 

I remember I used to code in Microsoft logos like many moons ago but my first encounter of continuous coding was at the age of 14. However, I didn't learn Javascript and other frameworks until I was 18. As a 19-year-old kid now, I'm trying to learn new things in the sphere that is programming. Great article man!!