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What I Learned From 100 Days of Code

Yesterday was day 100 of my personal 100DaysOfCode challenge. Before beginning, I already had some experience with HTML/CSS, Python, and the command line, but my comprehension was limited and mostly fragmentary. Over these last few months, however, I’ve completely thrown myself into learning to code, web development best practices, and computer science theory (in a limited fashion). Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Feeling like an imposter can be a good thing

One of the most common aspects of being a newbie to coding and development is the dreaded “Imposter Syndrome”: the feeling of being a fraud when you don’t know as much as you think you should, or when you’re just sort of faking it until you make it. This mindset is particularly applicable to people who’ve just landed their first developer job (or even long after), and while it can be stressful and depressing to compare yourself to seasoned savants, there’s a simple solution—don’t.

If you’re new, you’re new. There’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone learns to write DRY code before they’re out of diapers, and whatever path led you to coding at whatever age is a valid one. I’ve spent years working in retail, have an unrelated degree in English, and one of the things I’ve learned to embrace over this period diving into programming has been my lack of knowledge.

When you don’t know how a particular piece of code works, or what a tool does, or why a technology exists, it gives you the opportunity to find out. Computer Science is so dense with history and evolution that no one person can know it all, but learning to embrace going down wormholes to clear up gaps in your knowledge is a useful skill, and along the way you’ll find another dozen topics you’ll want to look into later for even more clarification. Part of learning to code is learning how to learn, and being okay with the fact that there’s always more to find out.

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Stick with a central programming language

You might feel inclined to try and cram as much into your brain as possible when starting out, and desire to learn how every popular programming language works. This is a recipe for remaining confused and staying stuck at the beginner level indefinitely. Instead, focus on one language.

For me, I’ve pursued front-end web development, so after getting the hang of HTML and CSS (which aren’t really programming languages at all), I’ve focused solely on JavaScript. As a result, I’ve deepened my knowledge of the language rather than spreading myself thin over many others, and this applies to any other language you’re interested in.

There isn’t a “right” language to learn first, though some may be better suited for you if you’re looking to work with certain realms of development or engineering. JavaScript is tailored to web development, Python is often the choice for machine learning, Java is popular for enterprise software, etc. There are exceptions to all of these, but the gist is that once you start with a language, stick with it.

A language’s syntax is something you can pick up pretty quickly, or look up once you know what you need, but the important thing is to learn the concepts of programming and /thinking/ programmatically. Once you’ve become adept at one language, it becomes easier to learn another because the same underlying concepts will usually apply.

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Track your progress

Publicly committing to the #100DaysOfCode challenge gave me some accountability for reporting what I’d done each day on Twitter, and eventually I started using tools like Toggl Track and Wakatime to record the time I was studying and actually working on things. Gamifying your progress can be a great incentive to keep trying to up your own “scores”, but more than anything it gives you tangible evidence that you’re really taking ownership over your own learning. Seeing weekly reports of the hours you’ve put in can give you that added boost of knowing you’re accomplishing something incrementally, especially if it feels like you’re just spinning your wheels in the moment.

Similarly, take notes! When you’re watching a tutorial or researching a topic that’s unfamiliar to you, it’s immensely helpful to write down contexts for why something is the way it is, preferably with examples you can refer back to later. I personally recommend using Bear (it’s what I’m using to write this article), a free, full-featured note app that supports markdown and syntax highlighting.

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Be kind to yourself when you need a break

Just as tracking your time can make you strive for more time spent working, it’s also important to step /away/ from the keyboard. You can’t learn everything there is to know about programming by staring at code for twelve hours a day, and more often than not life will throw you curveballs that will force you to take a break (and 2020 is the year of curveballs, if nothing else). Burnout is a very real issue for developers, so try to establish good habits from the get go by giving yourself time away from the keyboard.

For me personally, that has meant juggling chronic migraines, raising my son, air toxicity (I live in Oregon, where we spent two weeks under a blanket of dangerous wildfire smoke), and any number of things on a daily basis that could either distract or derail my focus on coding. There’s always more I want to be doing, always more I wish I was learning, but I’ve learned to be patient and appreciate that even if the pace isn’t always as consistent as I’d like, I’m still moving forward bit by bit.

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Push out of your comfort zone

When you finally get the hang of a concept, a framework, a tool, etc., it can be easy to fall into the habit of continuing to revisit an area where you feel comfortable—and avoid things that you grapple with. This was me with JavaScript, which was extremely intimidating to me at first, and as a result I kept putting off diving into it.

But most of the time, doing the thing that seems scary ends up being much less frightening than you thought initially, and it makes you get comfortable with the knowledge that a) you have a lot to learn, and b) you /can/ learn a lot. I spend some part of every day with JavaScript now, and I’ve come to really love it’s quirky personality and the staggering capabilities it has. I’ve gotten so used to trying things I don’t understand, at this point I’ve started making notes and bookmarks of complex topics to come back to or work towards.

Use your momentum as a spring board

Learning to code is a daunting undertaking. There’s more to learn than any one person can cover in a lifetime, and things are changing all the time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, and an important component to the process is to keep pushing yourself forward. One of the best ways you can do this is to learn in public (by sharing your journey through #100DaysOfCode on Twitter, for example), and more directly, to engage with the developer community at large.

As someone who deleted most social media accounts years ago, it can often be a hurdle for me to go from passively reading posts and following interesting people online to actively engaging with them, but I’m trying to get better about it (see the current article you’re reading...).

More than anything though, if you reach Day 100 of your own challenge, keep going. Keep learning, keep coding. Build projects, connect with others online to learn from and share with. Do a second round of the challenge, or create one for yourself.

I for one plan to keep coding everyday without exception, and am currently trying to land a job in the industry as a developer. I’ve realized the passion I have for this stuff seems to know no bounds, and completing 100DaysOfCode has only seemed to increase my appetite to learn and do more. If you’re just starting your journey, overwhelmed by all there is to learn and know, don’t worry. You’ve got this, and there are many of us here eager to support you along the way.

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