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My tips on learning how to code.

vanaf1979 profile image VA79 Stephan Originally published at since1979.dev ・7 min read

Originally posted on my website on July 18th 2020

Some techniques to strengthen your learning path.

In this article i want to try and share some of the small "techniques" i found useful when learning how to code. I'm not a teacher or an expert on education and this article is not a step by step guide on how to become a developer, but it's a collection of little things that can strengthen your learning path.

The notions below can be applied by complete beginners but also by experienced developers. I've been coding for a living for the past 15 years or so, and i use these techniques all the time.

Investigate

Your first step in learning any programming language or framework is to investigate it. Go over to Youtube and find some descend videos that will give you a birds eye view of whatever you want to learn. The key here is to answer the following questions: "Does this solve the problems i'm having?" or "Does this thing enable me to do the things i need?"

Something that you will learn very quickly is that there is a insane amount of things you can explore in tech, and it is very tempting to want to know it all. But that will lead you onto a path of feeling overwhelmed and that you will never be good enough.

Instead try to stay focused and spend your valuable time on the things that enable you to build the things that you, and your clients, need.

When you found the thing you want to learn, go and find a good course on that subject. There are many many courses online, both payed and free. But remember that payed doesn't equal better.There are a lot of dev's out there that create amazing free content and courses. If you are not sure, ask around either with friends and co-workers or on socials like twitter. Just make sure that you pick a coherent course that takes you from point a to b, instead of going down a endless path of jumping from tutorial to tutorial. Also called tutorial hell.

During the course, write out the code at hand. Don't just watch the video's and think that you are an amazing student. Trust me on this one, if you are not typing you are not learning anything.

Also don't spend all day on your course. After about an hour your brain will take in less and less information. Try to find a pace that works for you, maybe do one video, write out the code and then go and do something else and come back to your learning a view hours later.

If you struggle with consistency, and haven't heard about it yet, check out 100DaysOfCode. A lot of advanced and beginning developers find this a great tool of motivation.

Research and explore

When learning new aspects or function of a language/framework i find it very effective to utilize online resources like CodeSandBox or CodePen to play around with new techniques.

Let's say you are learning about the Javascript array methods. You could of course immediately start applying these to your existing projects. You could also create a sandbox and play around with them in isolation.

This has three major advantages. One: You can solely concentrate on this new material without the clutter of other code that could impact and confuse what you are learning. Two: You can keep these sandboxes around and later use them as a reference without having to go and find your last implementation is some other project or codebase. Three: You can add/try different use cases for reference later when you need to.

As a bonus, you can also easily share your sandboxes or codepens with others to ask for feedback or pass on you newly acquired knowledge.

Sub/partial projects

Sandboxes are also amazing tools for figuring out parts of a project. As an example i was recently fighting with React Router and couldn't get it to do what i needed inside of my project. So i decided to set up a quick isolated test case in a sandbox so i could only concentrate on that specific aspect, and i got it working pretty quickly. And now i also have a bare-bone setup that i can go back to whenever i need to implement a similar use case.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with the services mentioned above. There are other great ones as well that provide similar functionality, but these are just two that i like and use. Just so you know. 🙂

Research and practice

The only way to learn how to code is to code. We all know this, and it is called practice. Just think of a project you would like to build and start building it. But...

If you want to build a todo app, please don't go and google a todo app tutorial and blindly start copying the code. Firstly you are not typing any code and the aspiring developer in you is learning little to nothing. Secondly you are missing the point of being a developer, which is being able to breakdown a project into smaller features and solving coding issues/problems.

A much more effective approach is to figure/write out what features a todo app needs, lay that out in a blank project and then when you can't figure something out go to the official docs or do a google search for that specific problem or language feature.

When your todo app is done only then google for a todo app tutorial to see if there are things you could have done better. If there are, close the tutorial and implement that refactor on your own again.

Trusting "own knowledge first" is key here.

Disclaimer: When you are on your boss/client's clock and need to implement a live search by all means google for a live search tutorial/example and save everyone some time. You can always go home and develop your own version later for learning purposes.

Reflection

No matter how hard you try you will never know everything and you are going to run into problems and bugs. It's just part of the job that we all need to except. This doesn't mean you can't make the most out of these issues.

Bugs are excellent teachers

On very effective way of dealing with these issues is reflection. Reflection can be applied after you finish a project but in my experience its better applied after fixing a bug/problem or after finding a solution to a problem on mediums like Google or StackOverflow.

When after a bit of struggle you fixed a bug or problem, take a step back for a second, figure out and write down which "gap in knowledge" got you into trouble. When you analyze which functions or design patterns etc were key to the solution. Then you can spend some time reading up on that specific topic or language feature.

This is a very effective technique for learning. But i can also, to a large extend, help prevent you from having to ask the same question twice. Which will save you from some annoyed faces from senior dev's and colleagues.

Something that can help you with this is to create a google doc (so you can add links) or buy a notebook and write down the things that gave you a hard time so you can go back home and do some additional studying.

Sharing and teaching

Besides practice, trying to explain something to others is the second best way i can think of to solidify your newly found knowledge. So i would advise anyone that is, or wants to be a developer, to start a blog, or start writing articles here on dev.to today.

It really doesn't matter if you are a seasoned dev or if you are just starting out. If you have struggled with something there is a huge chance that someone else will face that same issue. And your perspective or explanation could be the one that makes things click with that person

Simply create a small use case around the thing you learned and write it out as clearly as you can so others can understand the solution. Not only will you help out fellow devs you will also deepen your understanding of the topic and have your own personal reference for later use.

Of course you should do your best to make sure the code in you post is correct, but don't worry to much about making mistakes. When you share your post someone will correct you if necessary. When that happens it will be a learning opportunity in itself, and you can always update your post.

Enjoy

Everyone takes his/her own path when learning and i hope this article contained one or two notions that can help you on yours. If nothing else please remember this quote:

"Having fun is the best way to learn." --Albert Einstein

Learning to code will be hard work. But if you want to build u long lasting career as a developer you might as well make sure you are excited for the ride and are having fun.

Comments?

I would love to hear your thoughts and tips on this topic so lets connect on twitter @Vanaf1979 or here on Dev.to @Vanaf1979 and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading

Posted on by:

vanaf1979 profile

VA79 Stephan

@vanaf1979

Hi I'm Stephan Nijman! WordPress, Php, Javascript, React and Css Enthusiast/Blogger/Developer.

Discussion

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Hi @vanaf1979 ,

You can solely concentrate on this new material without the clutter of other code that could impact and confuse what you are learning.

Really, that is my currently problem, because I've used Docker and sometime is hard to make some containers to learn a simple subject that I want get. So your clue about Cloud IDE could help me.

No matter how hard you try you will never know everything and you are going to run into problems and bugs.

Yeah, it's true. I always have issues, does not matter which language or tecnology I've used. Most of programmers have problems psychological like Impostor syndrome because they think that it is not normal, but it is.

Besides practice, trying to explain something to others is the second best way i can think of to solidify your newly found knowledge

It will be my next step. I'm making a blog, I guess that this will be funny.

About enjoy what I do, articles like this help me a lot to enjoy my journey.

Thanks for this post, are subjects that we cannot leave die.
:)

 

Thanks André for your reply. I'm glad you liked the article. let me know when you have your blog up so i can read some of your stuff! :)

 

Something that you will learn very quickly is that there is a insane amount of things you can explore in tech, and it is very tempting to want to know it all. But that will lead you onto a path of feeling overwhelmed and that you will never be good enough.

Always have this problem.
Now I am a beginner and start to learn Django. When I go to Django documentation website there are many links in one article that provide more detailed information. So I'm afraid if I don't open the link, I can't understand the 'thing'. And boooom, now I'm in a whole new article, still not done read the previous one.

That pattern I always do it again and again. Sometimes I'll stop learning because of overwhelmed and feel I can't grasp all of that information.


Instead try to stay focused and spend your valuable time on the things that enable you to build the things that you, and your clients, need.

I still in the learning phase and don't have a client to limit what I have to do, and yeah my habits of doing that pattern will come again.

 

Thanks Ferry for your reply and for sharing your experience.

"So I'm afraid if I don't open the link, I can't understand the 'thing'"

I'm not familiar with the Django docs myself, but in most documentations these links lead to more indepth information within the docs themself that you will eventually get to if you just continue reading. If not i would suggest that you first finish the chapter/topic and then go back to the extra stuff.

A second piece of advice (Maybe you are already doing this) is to not just read the docs, but to experiment with what you are learning. Actually writing and playing with code will teach you a lot more then just reading. Maybe those more info links can help you if you get stuck and if you don't get stuck, maybe you don't need those more info links after all! :p

"I still in the learning phase and don't have a client to limit what I have to do"

My advice would be to start being your own client. Think about what you want to build, and come up with a project (or a couple of projects) that can be your goal for learning. Maybe you want to build a personal blog!? Focus your learning on that.

I hope this can help you.

Cheers

 

I never thought about that, being the client for myself. And I will do it when I want to create some projects for my portfolio.

Thanks for the advice, sir. Will take not from it. :D

 

'tutorial hell' - I needed to hear this.
I realised after binging on tutorials that, actually, I don't know where to start. I was just blinking for a few minutes after opening the text editor. Of course, I did learn something, I had some invisible structures that wouldn't be there if I didn't do the tutorials, but I not taking running with it as soon as I could have meant that the first steps were really awkward and I kept having to go back to the first lessons. I may as well have done this when I first started the lessons. I will know better next time.
Thanks for this. The title totally sounded like 'another one of these', but you cut to the chase pretty quickly, this is pretty useful.
Happy coding!

 

Hey Ageta,

Thanks for your reply. It is really hard to find some form of structure that works, but it sounds like you are not giving up, and i trust you will get there! :)

Happy coding as well

 

Thanks for this piece. I just started my journey less than a week now, and I find your piece very useful. Thanks once again.

 

Hey Mahmoud,

You started on a amazing journey, and i'm glad to hear that my article helped you in some way. Keep up the great work. :)

Cheers