Learning to Code, Year 2, part 2: Coursera Was My Job

After last year and the one before, I was off to a pretty good start. I had written a few automated processes that really made my life easier, such as a Python script that spat out vocab quizzes, and I had helped write a program that took old, gross ALL CAPS stories from a database and made them into non-screaming English.

Then the school year started. I missed the summer of writing code. I spent time when I should have been grading wondering how hard it would be to write a program that scored Latin translations. (Hint: it would be hard.) I got distracted during the day thinking about C# and Javascript. And then I realized that I really loved writing code.

A few minutes later, I realized that some people get paid for writing code. I could get paid for something I love to do! The problem I had was that I had limited money and no degree.

My first thought was to get a degree, then get a programming job. I got in touch with a computer science professor at the nearest university, and asked him what kinds of classes were pre-requisites to his program. He was very kind and helpful, and told me basically everything I would have to do in order to probably be admitted to a Master’s program in comp sci in  about a year.

Now the problem is that taking a year of random classes, part time, in order to then take two years of classes full time, is slightly less cost effective than selling home videos of your friends burning your house down.

But I had gained one important thing. I had this map of classes, what to take when, that would make me qualified to apply for an M.S. in computer science. I took this same map, and started trying to figure out how to cross it.

I discovered many of the same courses were available on Coursera for free. I thought that, maybe if I took some of them, I would be just as qualified for a programming job.

So I buckled down and made Coursera my job. I took algorithms classes that were too hard. I signed up for things left and right, kept the ones that worked and dropped the ones that didn’t.

To study, I did three things: I would get up an hour earlier than I had to for work, drive to the coffee shop nearest work, and study for an hour. After dinner, I would drive to the coffee shop nearest home, and study for an hour or two. And a third thing: On Saturday, I would drive to a coffee shop first thing, and work until I couldn’t stand it.

The hard thing about online courses is that you have to put in the hours. No one will ever ask you whether you did your homework. No one cares if you’re sick or absent. The awesome thing about online courses is that you get to take world-class courses from fantastic professors for free, from the most convenient coffee shop. That’s a fair trade, if you ask me. All that coffee was paid for in my first paycheck as a programmer, and I couldn’t be happier.

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