How I Became A Programmer and You Can Too

My Programming Desk

While this post may not be exactly “on brand” for this blog, I felt it was important to write just in case you too find yourself in the position of needing to make a change, but you’re not sure where to begin. While I obviously can’t guarantee you’ll end up with a coding position if you try these steps, this is what worked for me. (Read about why I became a programmer here.) Don’t worry, we’ll return to our regular literary travel programming after this.

Why Become A Programmer?

There are currently several free online resources to teach yourself many different programming languages on your own time. This is great because it means with a little self-discipline you can start learning in your spare time and there’s no fees to get started. You also don’t need a degree in Computer Science to land a beginner Programmer position as long as you can show that you’ve got some knowledge of coding and you’re willing to keep learning. Programmers are also in demand in the job market, and the positions pay pretty well. Finally, because programming is computer based, it is not hard to find remote positions in the field that will allow for working from home or while traveling (as long as you have wifi).

If you’re interested in learning how to program, but don’t know where to start, here are my suggestions:

Start A Blog

Seriously. A Web Developer should know how a website front-end works and how people are using websites. Blogging will give you an idea of how website design works and how users flow around websites. Creating a website (implementing a theme, deciding on menu items, adding tags and categories, and writing for Search Engine Optimization) gives a different perspective than just using a website. It will also give you a place to use your HTML skills to edit posts once you learn HTML.

A blog can also go on your resume and add several useful skills to your repertoire. I’m not talking about a free blog you’ve put a couple posts on and abandoned. A hosted and maintained blog shows long-term project commitment, writing and editing skills, and as you learn your way around the program you can add knowledge of a Content Management System. If you’re having fun with it, you might then move on to learn Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Marketing. But then you’ll want to increase the quality of your images so you’ll have to pick up photography… If you give a mouse a blog… you might end up with more marketable skills than you’d ever imagined. If you’re not sure about starting a blog, check out this post.

Learn HTML, CSS, and Javascript

Beginner programming positions are often called Web Developers and if you check out the qualifications for these jobs on a few job boards, such as FlexJobs (a great resource for remote work) they tend to ask for proficiency in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. HTML is essentially the content of a web page and is the easiest to learn. You’ll be able to put it to use right away in the back-end of a blog, so you should definitely start there. CSS helps you style web pages so once you learn this you’ll be able to start tweaking the look of your blog. Finally, Javascript is kind of the basis of all other programming, so learning this will help you quickly pick up other programming languages later. (For example, PHP is the language used in the background of WordPress blogs.)  Below I have listed the free online coding programs I’ve used so far. I would recommend starting with Free Code Camp.

Free Online Coding Programs

*I am in no way affiliated with any of these, but have found them useful and would recommend them.

Free Code Camp

Free Code Camp Responsive Web Design Certificate

In my opinion, this is the best program I have used overall so far. It teaches with interactive lessons in easily understood baby steps. It is completely free, run by donations, and is widely used by individuals looking for career changes. It starts with the basics of HTML and as you work through the various certificates you can earn, you’ll learn HTML, CSS, Javascript, and several other coding things along the way, ending with projects and interview prep for programming positions. Most people land their first programming gig before finishing the program. I earned the first certificate for Web Development and am part way through learning Javascript.

The 6 Certifications Free Code Camp Offers:

  1. Responsive Web Design (HTML, CSS, Accessibility, Responsive Web Design).
  2. Javascript Algorithms and Data Structures.
  3. Front End Libraries (Bootstrap, JQuery, Sass, React, Redux).
  4. Data Visualization (D3, JSON API, Ajax).
  5. APIs and Microservices (Npm, Basic Node, Express, Mongo DB, Mongoose).
  6. Information Security and Quality Assurance (Helmet JS, Chai, Advanced Node, Express
  7. Coding Interview Prep (projects)

Codecademy

This program explains concepts well, but covers them more quickly than Free Code Camp. I found it a good supplement to Free Code Camp. You can try full classes for free for a week, but then the projects and quizzes are locked unless you pay to upgrade. This program does not give you course completion certificates.

The coding languages Codecademy offers:

HTML & CSS, Python, Javascript, Java, SQL, Bash/Shell, Ruby, C++

KhanAcademy

This program has very simplified lessons that make learning easy for children. I found it good for extra practice for skills I’d learned in the other programs. The only small problem, is it uses videos for tutorials so you’ll have to have headphones or be able to study with sound. This program does not give you course completion certificates.

The Computer Programming track of KhanAcademy offers:

JS, HTML, CSS, SQL, JQuery

SoloLearn

SoloLearn Certificate for SQLThis one has an app so you can use it on your phone! If you want to study during commuting time, this might be great for you. If you get tired of trying to type coding on your phone you can switch to the web version and do it on your computer instead. Unlike the other programs, this one uses fill-in-the-blank quizzes instead of interactive coding practice. I also found this one good for concept review once I’d seen the concepts elsewhere.

SoloLearn offers:

C++, Python 3, Java, Javascript, C#, PHP, Swift 4 Fundamentals, Ruby, jQuery, C, HTML Fundamentals, CSS Fundamentals, SQL Fundamentals

Codeasy.net (C# only)

This program only teaches C#, however I thought I’d include it because (I have to learn C# for work, but also) it’s entertaining. It has a goofy storyline about saving the world from the evil computers that have taken over and you have to solve coding puzzles to move on. The first 6 lessons are free, but the next 12 are fairly cheap (if you’re able to complete the puzzles…).

Lynda.com or LinkedIn Learning

This one is actually a paid resource, however some libraries offer free access with your library card number, so ask your local library! So far I haven’t enjoyed this resource as much because it is courses through videos, which I don’t find as useful as the interactive coding programs such as Free Code Camp and CodeCademy. However, if you learn better through watching, this might be a good resource for you.

Coding Bootcamps

If learning solo isn’t you’re style and you’re more of a classroom/group learner, there are also intensive coding bootcamps that will teach you coding and prepare you for programmer interviews. I haven’t done any yet, but I have my eye on this one:

Coding Nomads

The Coding Nomads provide intensive trainings in travel-worthy places. They work hard all day and then the group goes out on adventures together in the evenings and weekends. It sounds like the perfect balance of work and play.

Find A Mentor

I’d be lying if I said I was able to make this career switch without help. The webmaster at the library has been an amazing resource and wealth of knowledge. As I worked through Free Code Camp she would provide hints when I got stuck, and look at my code and point out problem areas. She looked over my cover letter and resume when I finally decided it was time to apply for programmer positions. And she sends me links to resources when she finds one that’s useful. She’s also recently become certified in Web Accessibility and her blog is a great resource. She’s pretty much amazing. So what I’m saying is, if you have a webmaster available to you, make them your new best friend. But also, in the spirit of paying it forward, if you have basic programming questions or want more resources, please don’t hesitate to send me an email!

One Last Note: Don’t Get Discouraged.

Before I make it all sound easy, let me tell you I am still working on learning Javascript and it isn’t easy, so don’t get discouraged if you attempt it. My solution has been to jump to a different program when I get stuck in the hopes it explains the concepts better. Lot’s of practice in the same subject can only help. Or switch to a different programming language and go back to the first one later. Again, this is the process that worked for me. It’s the long game, but with some work and time, you can make a change. Good Luck!

Have you made a career switch? Are you a programmer? Do you have programming resources to add to this list?

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