Hello world, and Year 1 of Learning to Code


Since this is a programming blog, it would be sacrilegious to change the title. (I did remove the exclamation point.)

Right now, I’m a high school teacher. In two days I’ll be unemployed, and three days after that I’ll be a full-time computer programmer. I mostly taught myself. This blog will be about how I did that: What worked for me, what didn’t work for me. Maybe I’ll be enough help that future self-taught programmers will have an easier time learning.

Year 0:

I spent a lot of time on codecademy.com. I think of this as year 0 because I wasn’t really programming yet – I didn’t know how to debug or compile, I didn’t even know what an IDE was, let alone how to use one. I was really just happy I could type away in Javascript or HTML or whatever and see immediate results. The courses there are very easy – they basically tell you what to type and then make you type it – but they do make you type it. And then you leave out a semicolon and they complain. The nicest part is that they complain specifically. They say, “hey genius, you left out a semicolon in line 5. That won’t work” instead of spitting out an incomprehensible, 300-line stacktrace and glaring at you with spartan disapproval.

Here’s the thing: Correcting you when you make stupid mistakes does you a huge favor. It keeps you from typing all day and then finding out nothing works. It keeps you from being one of those terrible, weirdly-written, incomprehensible Stack Overflow questions that gets downvoted into oblivion 5 seconds after it’s posted. It lets you practice double-checking some details before you’re in a position to really screw up. I recommend codecademy, I just don’t recommend it be used exclusively.

Year 1: Automating parts of my day job.

During the year after I did tons of random codecademy courses, but kept my day job as a high school teacher, I spent a lot of time automating things. My school uses Google Apps for Education, which meant that all my school documents and spreadsheets could be accessed by Google Apps Script. This used the same syntax as all the Javascript from codecademy, so I went to town and automated the creation of vocab quizzes and other rote tasks. I set up forms that email me when they’re submitted, or update the contents of the document. I saved a lot of time for myself as a teacher, but mainly, this was an important baby step. It was still a pretend IDE. I was still just typing in a web browser and hoping things worked. I still had fairly usable error messages and documentation. Also, Google Apps Script is a bit of a play pen – it has simple commands like MailApp.SendEmail() which are intuitive and simple to use, but which you don’t need to understand.

During Year 2, I started doing a lot more programming, so that year will need its own post.

Till then, happy learning!


6 thoughts on “Hello world, and Year 1 of Learning to Code”

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