Monday 26 September 2016

How to Learn Enough Code to be Dangerous

When I was little, I wanted to build computers. After my first encounter with calculus in high school, I quickly realized that I might need to explore other options if I ever wanted to move out of my parents’ house. Here I am five years later as Technical Project Manager in Edelman’s Digital Development and Technology group in Washington DC and I get to work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met on a daily basis. We build websites, apps, and sometimes even social machines. How did I get here? I learned to code. Kind of.

Before joining Edeman, I worked at a tech startup and learned that in that industry, no one is “just marketing.” Everyone there was learning something on the side—Ruby lessons at night, Python training during lunch, team subscriptions to Treehouse—coding was important to everyone. I discovered that while computer science is extremely complex, there are some parts that are extremely accessible if you’re interested enough to learn.

As my old boss, Eric, often used to say, “Learn enough to be dangerous.” So I did.

I started taking free courses at Codecademy.com and slowly started to piece together the world of HTML and CSS. When I came into my current role at Edelman, I revisited those courses and branched out to others to build and test my knowledge. I don’t do the actual building of our websites—we have some extremely brilliant people on our team who specialize in that—but it’s my responsibility to liaise with internal Edelman teams and clients to help explain our process and manage our technical projects. That requires a working knowledge of how web technology works, but that shouldn’t be exclusive to folks like me.

This is going to be hard at first. I felt overwhelmed at times and had to take a lot of breaks. That’s okay. For me, the challenge was a humbling one that sparked a childlike curiosity that has been burning bright ever since. When you can combine your creativity and ability to communicate with a technical skill like coding, you are dangerous.

With so many free resources aimed at non-technical audiences, there has never been a better time to dive into this exciting and mysterious world. Here are some of the tools that I have used — some of which I loved and some of which didn’t suit me. Ultimately, the best plan is to figure out what interests you and dive in.

Codecademy

This is my personal favorite because it teaches you by doing. From the first lesson, you start coding. It’s simple at first, but after an hour, you’ll be dropping p tags like it’s nobody’s business. You can also earn and share badges to show off to friends, family, and potential employers. I’d recommend starting with the HTML CSS track, but they also have project-based lessons that combine languages like RubyJavascript, and jQuery (Pro Tip: don’t let that last sentence scare you—you’ll know all the lingo before you know it).

Code.org

This is a non-profit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools. They have some great resources and video lessons as well as a stable of celebrity endorsements ranging from the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh to The President of the United States. Code.org covers all facets of programming, from building iPhone apps to computer software. Over 30 million people have tried an “Hour of Code.” You should, too.

Treehouse

The courses on Treehouse aren’t free, but there is a two-week free trial. Treehouse relies heavily on video lessons and code challenges, so if you learn by watching and taking notes, this might be a great fit! Take a look at their promotional video and one of their introductory lessons and decide for yourself!

Give one of these a shot and before you know it, you’ll know enough to be dangerous. Connect with me @Joe_Scannell—I’d love to hear how it’s going!

Image credit: Michael Himbeault

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