Teaching Myself to Code: What Worked and What Didn’t

Teaching myself to code was no easy feat. I have two degrees where not once did I have to take a Computer Science course. Yet here I am, writing about Computer Science. My best friend and roommate in college was/is a badass blonde hair blue eyed Engineer. Her coursework looked like something out The Matrix. It was terrifying to say the least, so many numbers and symbols that were not in my Behavioral Psychology classes! When I would ask her about her work, she’d say ‘Oh, yeah this is Engineering, and it’s hard as shit.’ And at the time I wanted to stay as far away from that as possible.

Teaching myself to code: The journey begins

Fast forward three years to when I was a teacher and was having a quarter life identity crisis wanted to push myself to learn a new skill. I remembered my curiosity during college at the time intimidated me, but now made me kinda want to learn about coding. Like most logical people, my first instinct was to search up “What is coding?”. Soon enough I was sent down a rabbit hole of words and concepts I had zero understanding of. A year later, I published my first website about Mental Health. Then another, then another.

This is why I am so excited to share with you what worked, and more importantly, what didn’t work when teaching myself to code.

What didn’t work #1: Going in with zero direction.

Like the impulsive Aries that I am, I enrolled in the first online e-course I could find: Intro to Computer Science | CS50 through EdX link here.

I thought that learning about Computer Science basics was the best and only place to start. Long story short, it was almost as overwhelming as trying to teach the whole human body to a bunch of 12 year olds.

CS50 was honestly a pretty interesting course – but I could only understand about 10% of it. I’d spend 2-3 hours after work each day at Starbz going through the curriculum, watching(and rewatching) the recorded lectures, trying to complete assignments that made little to no sense to me. It was overwhelming and I cried at least once a week. About halfway through the course, I had to pause and think – was this really worth my time?! I could be binge watching Parks and Rec reading biographies and lesson planning. Something had to change.

What DID work #1: Narrowing in on my coding goal

It was when I finally searched up “How to Build a Website” that I came upon my Lil’ Sebastian, my beacon of hope that revitalized my crushed spirit.

Codecademy.com link here.

Codecademy is a FREE online program that has hundreds of online coding courses. It’s super user friendly and makes figuring out your coding goal much easier to understand and manage. I felt like I had more guidance, which made me more excited to learn.

I took Intro to HTML, and the rest was history.

What didn’t work #2: Not asking for help.

Now this one should be obvious, especially to a teacher – but as they say, teachers make the worst students. One of the biggest reasons why I had such a hard time with the CS50 course was because I tried to use just course materials to teach myself all on my own. I’d watch, then rewatch the course lectures at a slower pace, cry, try to find a relevant YouTube video, all to little avail. It made me miserable. Until the day I stumbled upon the CS50 Subreddit.

Me not asking for help

What DID work #2: Finding a tribe

I’d like to personally thank the moderators at CS50 Subreddit for helping me to maintain my sanity and finish up CS50. I could post a question I had about a problem set I was working on. Bless the moderators who would ask for as much specificity and clarification as possible to get to the root of my question. It allowed me to get real time feedback and support as I was learning something new. And that is the greatest gift anyone could ever receive! If you are looking to get into coding, find a tribe to support you! It could be a Reddit subgroup, a Facebook group, or even a friend of a friend who you ask for advice in exchange for a beer.

What didn’t work #3: Using the wrong resources

This was honesty a nice wakeup call for me as a teacher. I know and preach that every student learns in different ways, and that one size does not fit all. But this time, I actually got to experience just how true this was. After I joined CS50, I thought that picking up a book was the obvious next step so I went to the library to check out  Coding for Dummies. I thought that picking up a book was the obvious next step. I flipped through the pages hoping I would find the answers to how to iterate through a loop. TBH all that happened was that I became more confused. In a last ditch effort, I tried snuggling with the book to learn via osmosis(that’s how it works, right?!) but that failed too. After much internal debate as to whether I should quit CS50 or not, I realized that what I didn’t take into account is that I usually learn best from Youtube.

Some examples of things I’ve learned from YouTube:

  • How to wing my eyeliner
  • The top 3 ways to cook a potato
  • How to cut my dogs hair


Again, a lightbulb went off. I wanted to keep trying – so I returned that library book and never looked back.

What DID work #3: Using what works for me

Like I’ve said before, I learn best from seeing a process rather than by listening to a lecturer or reading a book. My favorite thing about YouTube is that programmers use screen recordings, rather than just them talking to a camera. This made it a hell of a lot easier applying what they were saying to my own work. And when I had questions about something, I’d just pause, search up another video, and clear that up too.

Needless to say, I made it through CS50 without too much emotional scarring fret. And I loved every second of every Codecademy.com course.

TL;DR:

Think of coding goal, ask for help, and teach yourself in a way that works for you – not everyone else.

 

What’re some things that did or didn’t work for you?!

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