22 Oct 2016

When it comes to coding, pretend you are a tourist

The biggest piece of advice I would give someone just starting out in programming/coding is to accept that you should embrace an attitude of perpetual learning. There’s always something new coming along and there are a lot of little bits and bobs to even the basics that take time and study to master. This really is akin to learning a new language.

The biggest piece of advice I would give someone just starting out in programming/coding is to accept that you should embrace an attitude of perpetual learning. There’s always something new coming along and there are a lot of little bits and bobs to even the basics that take time and study to master. This really is akin to learning a new language.

Many people go to dev bootcamps these days. Some of them come out great beginners, and you should be proud of yourself if you accomplished that feat.

However, you are not yet an expert. In fact, none of us are. Some have considerably more knowledge, more fluency, if you will, but no one has it all mastered.

It starts out like learning any other language. You get your grammar and vocabulary down. You learn sentence structure. Maybe you learn some context and how to communicate pretty clearly what you’re trying to do.

So by the end of something like a bootcamp you basically come out a well-prepared tourist. You can ask where the bathrooms are, order food, get around town on your own. You probably can even vaguely understand what the native speakers are getting at, even if you don’t catch all the words.

Fluency in your new ‘native language’ will only come with time and practice. The more you immerse yourself, the more accustomed you will become to the structure of it and how it feels when you roll your ‘rrrr’s just right.

But there is a catch. Just as with any other spoken or written language, there are always new ‘words’ to learn. Even the most well-read English professor, when placed in front of the full Oxford English Dictionary, would likely hazard that they do not know every word in the language, and the meanings of the more obscure ones would likely be elusive as well. (When was the last time you used ‘yestreen’ in a sentence?)

Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words, partly by repurposing words into new variations. English accepts variation readily. The same goes for coding.

Yes, the vocabulary of a programming language is considerably smaller, but there is always something new, something you haven’t come across before. There are also new tools being created all the time. So, for example, even if you have managed to learn the entirety of Javascript inside and out, you are probably now staring down ES6, the next new dialect.

But just as with language, this is a good thing. With a technology so young, I know I want to see the languages of the web thriving, changing, growing. As we examine our coding languages and find new ways of doing things, we should embrace the changes that come along with it. In doing so, we also embrace a perpetual sense of learning, of dancing on the edge of our knowledge, stretching our brains to accommodate new concepts, new vocabulary, new words.

It will keeps us nimble, keep our minds young, and keep our field flexible and ready to be dropped into new countries at a moment’s notice and regale the locals with the tales of our adventures in their own native tongue.