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Dominic Ross
Dominic Ross

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The Lonely Coder, Part 3 - Staying on the path:

"They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead. A fell light is in them."
― Frodo in The Two Towers, "The Passage of the Marshes"

During Frodo and Sam's trek through Middle Earth to return the Ring of Power to Mordor, they were led through the Dead Marshes by Gollum, who said he knew the way. During their passage, brilliantly portrayed in the Peter Jackson Films, Frodo gets distracted by lights in the marshes and falls in, the dead seemingly coming to life from the power of the ring.

Our trek on the path to Self-Taught Developer is much the same - although maybe with fewer Nazgul and scary ponds full of dead people - as Frodo and Sam's. When following the self-taught path, it can be hard to know which map to follow. If you look at online services such as Reddit, Twitter,, and even Hashnode, they are full of tweets/articles such as "Try Bun, the new Javascript framework", or "React just got updated, and it's made javascript obsolete", and "Why learning to code in WebAssembly is the only way forward for Front end" (Disclaimer - made up, but plausible post titles (no, I didn't use AI)). Learning to code as a Lonely Coder can be confusing. Do you go straight for React, or use Angular, Svelte, Vue etc? Should you learn PHP because it's "making a comeback", or should you stick to the 'boring' basics of HTML, CSS and JS?

Whilst this article isn't about where you should go (Start with the basics (HTML, CSS, JS) and get them down first before moving on to a framework is what I'm doing, for the record), it is to warn you not to stray from the path and keep your sights set on Mordor, er... I mean Junior {whatever} Developer, or risk being lost in a sea of overwhelming possibilities.

Being Distracted from Studying:

One of the biggest problems with studying as a Lonely Coder is the sheer amount of things that can catch your eye. In my case, I'm learning Web Development. If you look at and look at the first couple of blocks, it can seem a little overwhelming (although to be fair, there is a new "Beginner Version" which is less frightening). The point is, there is so much information out there, it can be difficult to know what to cover. As mentioned above, I'm starting with the basics and will get more in-depth as I go, following the Scrimba Front End Developer Career Path. But there are plenty of other good resources, such as FreeCodeCamp, The Odin Project, Code Academy etc. Whichever you choose, try not to be distracted by other "shinnies" out there. And don't listen to the nonsense that "AI will take your job, so don't bother".

Being Distracted from Work:

Unless you're very lucky, chances are you going to still be working whilst learning on the side in the hopes of progressing down the Lonely Coder Path. This will inevitably mean that you're going to be distracted by your 'new' job, whilst still at your current job. When I started my journey, I was a telephone engineer, spending 90% of my working day out in all weathers trying to keep people connected to the internet. When I wasn't working in someone's home, or with a colleague, I would listen to podcasts and news about Web Development. On my lunch break, I would sit in my van and read some of my coding books, or review notes I'd made. Several months after I'd started my journey, I moved jobs and was in an office all day, sitting at a computer, and taking frequent calls. In between calls, and on quiet late and weekend shifts, I would read through MDN docs and make notes. There is a big danger when studying at home to let it spill into your work.

Cosplay Batman on a roof looking down at the camera

Emmanuel Denier - Unsplash

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you have to lead a Bruce Wayne style of double life - mild-mannered bank clerk by day, dark and brooding learner of code by night, finding vile coding bugs and bringing them to justice - no. But you need to remember which takes priority and when: When you're at work, you work. When you're on your break, or at home, you learn.

Keeping the coding gears turning:

Leading a double life, however, can get tricky, and sometimes your two worlds will collide. You'll be in the middle of serving a customer when you'll suddenly know exactly what line the bug in your code was on: "Yes, Mrs Jones, that will be £9.36 and by Jobs I think I know why that bloody variable wouldn't update last night!" (Believe it or not, this has happened to me more than once). In moments like this, it's important to keep your cool. If you do not face to-face with your customer/colleague or manager, then do a little dance, pump a fist or silently slap your palm to your forehead, but don't make a noise, or you'll scare the idea away. Just like seeing a squirrel jump out onto the path in front of you, stay still, admire the beauty and make a note of it. Write down your solution as soon as possible whether it's on a scrap piece of paper, the screen you're on or on your hand just note it down, because if you think you can come back to it, you're sorely mistaken.

I was once up a pole fixing a phone line, standing 14m above the ground when the solution to a bug I'd been debugging at lunch suddenly came to me. I cheered, I fist pumped but I didn't write it down, because "Of course that was the answer!". When I was next sitting in front of my code editor with my bug in front of me, could I find it? Like heck, I could! It took me another 2 days to find the bug, and whilst it wasn't exactly what I'd thought of up the pole, it was close, so I could have saved myself 2 days, had I just written it down somewhere. The next time that happened, I wrote it in the back of my job notebook, which was always in my pocket at work.


Keep your study and work separate. By all means, read coding posts/books/articles on your lunch break, but don't ignore work in place of learning, as your work won't be too happy, and you may find you have more studying time than you wanted but no way of paying the bills. If a solution worms its way to the surface of your brain whilst at work, amaze at the power of your brain and make a note of the solution to come back and look at it later when you're learning.

Stay on the Self-Taught path of the Lonely Coder, as I'll have another post about one of the biggest mountains to climb - Impostor Syndrome.

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