A beginner's guide to computer programming and development

August 2, 2019 | Wendy Dessler


Five tips for starting a career in the rapidly expanding field

Programming is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. It’s becoming more useful, not only for careers in technology but just for existing in the digital age. When it comes to female representation in programming, there is still a lot of work to be done. As of 2017, women comprise of less than a tenth of Computer Science students in the UK. In fact, only 0.4% of girls choose to study it at A-Level. 

While a traditional degree is always valuable, it’s not necessary to find success working as a programmer. If you need to learn how to code, you can start with these seven tips below. 


1. Choose your goals wisely


First, you’ll need to choose your goals based on what you plan to do. Many people are shocked to discover just how wide the world of programming is. For instance, if you want to program websites, you’ll probably want to learn JavaScript. If you’re focusing on iOS apps, learning Swift is key. It all will depend on your goals.


The list of programming languages is long: PHP, Ruby, Java, Python, and so on. Consider what it is you’d like to start with and go from there. Don’t try to learn everything at once.


2. There’s no best way to learn


Another important step, in the beginning, is to realize that there’s no single best way to learn how to program. Many people take different paths to their coding careers, whether they start with traditional education or teach themselves later in life. 

Consider how you learn best. Are you a self-starter who works best when you’re allowed to work on your own? You might be able to take an online course or watch YouTube tutorials. Would you rather have hands-on help? Then a traditional class or bootcamp might be a better fit. You can find local development bootcamps, but there are also traditional courses available online through platforms like Udemy. Here are some examples of bootcamp courses you can join right now:



3. Start projects


It’s hard to learn if you don’t feel properly motivated. An effective way to motivate yourself into learning faster is to work on a project that matters to you. Whether you’re coding your first complex website or building software, create something you’re excited about. This is the passion that will drive you to push forward through the obstacles. 

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4. Build your network


While programming is often a solitary activity, that doesn’t mean you have to work alone. You can and should have a network to call upon for support and help when you need it. You’ll likely encounter problems that will take a few different inputs to solve, and who doesn’t love to feel like they’re part of a group?


A great place to find local coders is with a coding bootcamp, a meetup group, or even online. Since much of your coding will be done virtually, you can find a virtual support group to help. 


5. Watch your progress


Where you’ve been matters just as much as where you’re going. Looking back on how far you’ve come can be a great motivator when you’re trying to learn to code quickly. This is a journey that will take time, so don’t forget those fundamentals and key steps you took in the beginning. 

Bookmark key topics and don’t be afraid to use them when you need them. A great, agile online tool for tracking this progress is Pivotal Tracker. This is a paid tool that lets you track your own workflow. For a free, visual alternative, try Trello



6. Solve problems on your own


It’s tempting to jump to the internet at the first sign of a problem. If you get an error message, it can be frustrating. Instead of giving up and calling it quits, try to solve it on your own. These are all learning moments that can make or break your programming experience. 

Yes, those scary pop-ups do tell us that something went wrong, but they’re also a chance to learn. The sooner you learn to troubleshoot your own code, the more prepared you’ll be for new challenges. 


7. Don’t stop at programming


There’s a lot more to learn about than programming. When it comes to coding today, you often feel pressured to be the best and the brightest as soon as possible. Another way to set yourself apart is to become an expert in other key areas that are connected to programming. 

The best example of this is Application Performance Monitoring (APM). As security becomes a more important focus in the cyber world, APM skills are in high demand. Learn more about Apache Commons logging, unit testing, or scrum. These are all the leading trends in the development world. Learning about these “extras” when it comes to coding will go a long way towards helping your career. 


Bonus: don’t give up


Learning programming is like learning a new language. There’s a new set of rules, you can’t always understand what’s being said or going on, and you’re running into communication problem after problem. This is a normal part of the process when you’re learning how to code, and the key is to not give up. 

Like when you’re learning a new language, sometimes you just have to throw yourself into it. If you want to learn programming faster, you need to be prepared to just immerse yourself in your learning until you come out on the other side. Are you up to the challenge?


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