Go Deep, Not Wide

Self taught developers have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to learning: lack of structure. Those who have taken a traditional route and gone to college to earn a Computer Science degree have a strict curriculum that they follow. It’s a clear path.

When I started into the world of tech, I had no idea what I didn’t know. I mean, I knew I didn’t know anything. But the specifics of what I needed to learn were not clear. And they won’t be for anyone. There’s so many paths, so many languages, so many niches, that it’s overwhelming. Trying to figure out what you want to study is extremely difficult, since you haven’t been exposed to a lot of these areas. I found when I first started, I thought I knew what I wanted to do but as I discovered more things it was like cracks in a windowpane, appearing and leading off in a million different directions. I quickly became overwhelmed. One day I’d think: “I’m going to specialize in SQL” then the next “I’m going to learn Python” and so on. I would read something that would send me down a rabbit hole and next thing I knew it was 4 hours later and I had bookmarked dozens of websites to return to and investigate.

I read a post on Twitter the other day that really resonated with me: don’t collect materials. Don’t bookmark a million things thinking you’re going to come back to it. Don’t think “I’ll read this later” but click on the hyperlinks to new sources to check out, then repeat. It’s a dark hole. And chances are, you won’t come back to those links anytime soon.

Some of the investigative coursework and reading I did earlier on was helpful. I purposely stepped back at one point and did some entry-level computing courses on LinkedIn learning. I did a course on object-oriented programming which was not language-specific but introduced theory. These gave me a good overview of the basics (What is the internet, how does it work?) and I would recommend anyone do that first.

But then once you get an idea of what path you want to take, map it out and stick to it. Do not get distracted by the pretty, shiny things out there that you’ll hear about on Twitter and LinkedIn or in forums. Stick to your path, learn it well. Those other things will be out there once you complete your entry level work, but trying to do everything at once will leave you exhausted and defeated. In fact, I would go as far to say that once you have decided on a path, do not even click on those Tweets that are threads of “resources for new developers” or “learning paths” – everyone has their own opinion and you can’t keep jumping from path to path if you’re going to get anywhere.

This does bring up one sticking point: how do you know which path to choose to learn? My best advice is to pay attention to what works for you when you are doing your investigative learning. Are you finding videos to be most helpful? Maybe Udemy or Coursera is best for you. Or are you more of a reader? Odin Project is awesome. Perhaps a more hands on approach works best for you. Try Scrimba.

The point is, find out your learning style and THEN find the training materials to help. Then stick with it. After the initial rush of energy to try something new, you will feel as though it’s a slog. Just stick with it. Push through and remain committed. Do not jump tracks. Deepen and refine the skills on that path before you consider moving on to something else. You do NOT want to be “jack of all trades, master of none” when it comes to tech. Companies want to hire you because you are competent in a skill they need. Even if they hire you to learn a different language on the job, the fact that you have deep knowledge with one language will make it much easier to learn the next and shows them that you have tenacity and focus.

Bottom line: choose a path, then go deep, not wide.

I Am A Software Developer

A few days ago, the instructor of our bootcamp told us to announce to the world we were software developers specializing in front end web development. As it turns out, that was easy for some of us but very hard for others. There’s been a few of us that took our time and tip-toed into that announcement. But I’m starting to trust the process a bit more and am gaining confidence with the public part.

Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone else really cares if I say that or not. Even if there’s someone who mocks us as code newbies who are a bit above their station, does it matter? The vast majority of people who see me or anyone else on social media say something like that will just keep reading and not really take any notice.

The instructor has repeatedly said that thought he boot camp is free, the “cost” will be that we are expected to help pull people through into tech. He says once we’ve made it, we should help 3 more people get into tech. This is something I feel very passionate about! My focus will be women like me. I would love to help more “mature” women realize their potential. I know there are so many like me who have been told “no” enough times in their lives that they believe it, and I want to help fix that. I’ve started to get more active on social media, and to comment more on some of the gatekeeping I have seen and been subjected to. I really want to call that out and be part of the change to make sure it is not normalized.

Right now my primary focus is on me making this transition to tech, but I can definitely see where I plan to make a difference in the future.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Today during my class office hours, there were several people asking about ageism in tech. Apparently there’s a lot of us who are over 40 in this cohort.

Honestly, I’m less concerned about the ageism in tech as I am about how well I can learn and retain things at my age. When I was 20-something, I could stay up all night partying with friends and head out to work with 2 hours sleep to do a full day’s work. I rebounded quicker from things and had so much more energy. I seemed to grasp new things more quickly. As a more “mature” student, I have the benefit of real-world experience. I can draw on that to make connections to things and to realize what things are not really important. A younger student will ask a million “what if” questions in a class whilst someone like me understands you won’t be prepared for every situation before it happens. Don’t stress about that kind of stuff.

I do wish I had come to learning to code earlier in my life, but things happen the way they are supposed to, so I don’t overthink that point. I have far more tenacity about things I want now than I did when I was younger. As I make choices, I understand sacrifices and commitment to make them happen. My younger self was often pulled off course because I either couldn’t make up my mind about things or I was easily led astray. I know this is my path and I am so pleased that I’m where I am right now.

Learning How To Learn

As part of my bootcamp homework, I’m taking a Coursera course called “Learning How to Learn.” Seems strange, as I’ve been taking coursework for my entire adult life. But it’s an interesting course that tell us most traditional methods of learning are not effective. Highlighting? Nope. Funny, I remember going through my Anatomy & Physiology book in nursing school highlighting constantly. The neon orange made the pages positively glow. Everyone in my class did that. Note taking? Nope. Unless you do something with the notes besides just re-reading them, they’re useless.

The one thing it does talk about that I KNOW works is flashcards. If not for flashcards I never would’ve made it through nursing school. Particularly A&P. We had to memorize all the bones in the human body, as well as all the muscles, plus all the veins and arteries. It was also the only way I remembered all the hormones produced by which parts of the body. Not that I remember any of that now, but I was able to pass all of those exams thanks to flashcards.

So now I’m downloading Anki to create virtual flashcards for programming. I’m trying it based on advice from the instructor and other students. But I’m very tempted to go old-school and just use index cards. I’ll have to see what works best.

I also need to set up a schedule. Things are kind of fluid right now since I don’t start my new job for another week. But once I do, time will be tighter, and I will definitely need to carve out a routine. Spaced repetition is supposedly the best way to commit things to memory, so I need to get into good study habits now, so I have these basics memorized for future use.