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Hunter Johnson for Educative

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The right time for beginner coders to start projects

I'm Fahim, a software developer turned tech founder. This article is part of my series: The Developer’s Launchpad. I'll share my top lessons, hacks, and best practices for learning how to code and launching a new career — things I wish I would've known earlier in my journey. If you're starting out your own coding journey, this series is for you.

When I started my first coding project in undergrad, I was incredibly excited. Being able to apply my knowledge toward a tangible outcome was a milestone in my (and any new coder's) learning journey.

I was guided into my first coding project within the structure of an academic program, but those who aren't may wonder:

When should I start my first project, and what's the best way to do it? 

Taking on coding projects is essential to your journey toward programming proficiency. However, starting too soon in the learning process can hinder your progress. To set up for success with projects, you must first understand foundational programming concepts and when to apply them.

Today, I will discuss the right time to start doing your coding projects and the most effective and efficient way to learn through them. 

Let's jump right in!

Don't start too early on your coding projects

Starting too early on a coding project can cause setbacks and frustration because you're missing a solid understanding of the foundational concepts involved. Imagine building a house without some sort of blueprint or foundation—it is bound to collapse. Learning the fundamentals first will give you a heads-up and solve any potential issues that may arise as you start to build a house. 

When I was a student learning computer science fundamentals, we had to cover the core pillars of programming before a project was assigned for us to do independently or in teams.

This sequential learning makes sense. After all, if I didn't understand the core concepts of programming such as variables, data types, conditions, structures, etc., how would I know how to build something using them? How would I fix errors without knowing the root of it? Taking the time to understand programming concepts and how they work before diving into a project not only solidified my learning, but also empowered me to get creative with what I knew and have fun in the process.

Knowledge vs. experience
When you thoroughly understand each component of a project, you'll see how everything works together, preparing you to troubleshoot any potential issues along the way. This will give you the confidence to build a strong foundation for success.

The sweet spot to start your first coding project

So when exactly should you start your first project?

When you've understood the foundational concepts and building blocks of a new skill, that is the time to start building things with it in order to strengthen that skill.

Having these foundational skills by the time you start your first beginner-friendly project is crucial as it will prepare you to navigate your way through your first project:

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Doing this allows you to reach what researchers call "flow state." Occurring when your skills match the challenge of the task, flow state is when you are fully immersed in a task in a focused, productive way.

Flow state

"Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act." — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 'Flow'

Start with doing small projects, then gradually build up to more complex ones. Learning to code is an iterative process. Each project you tackle should get bigger and have more challenges than the previous one as you continue to learn more advanced concepts.

The value of projects in the learning process

Coding projects are invaluable for bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world scenarios.

Building something with code can help you internalize how programming concepts work in a much deeper way than just reading about it. When you build something, you're not just memorizing the syntax or concept—you're implementing skills in context and solidifying your understanding. To add to that, hands-on learning that comes with projects will increase your knowledge retention.

Projects also give you a chance to demonstrate your ability to perform coding tasks and showcase your abilities to potential employers. You can include projects you've worked on in your resume or  developer portfolio  to make your skills even more discoverable in the job market. 

Every project, big or small, presents an opportunity for creativity, continuous learning, and improvement—enabling you to progress fast in your learning.

If you're not sure where to start, remember that projects should serve you and your goals. You can find countless projects online or in textbooks, but when you're choosing them, aim for ones that match your skill level in a topic that interests you.

For example, consider Piper, a dental assistant looking to become a cybersecurity engineer. Piper is passionate about cyber security, so she plans a coding project where she can learn to detect a cyber attack. Because she's already familiarized herself with the prerequisites and technologies mentioned in the project overview, she's prepared to complete the project to the finish line and claim her certificate of completion. She can then add this project to her portfolio and share it with peers and potential employers—getting her one step closer to her dream job.

Preparing for real-world developer problems

Once you've understood the fundamentals, there's no better time than the present to begin a project. Once you get started with projects, you'll be building skills you need to tackle real-world problems at work or in your free time — from coding to troubleshooting to task completion.

The main difference between projects and real-world scenarios? In a real-world scenario, you're often solving unstructured problems where solutions are not laid out in a step-by-step manner, as opposed to the guided instructions that come with projects. As you become a more proficient coder, you will be able to solve problems independently without being overly reliant on guided instructions — but until then, the guidance that comes with projects are indispensable to getting you first-hand experience with the programming skills and processes that are necessary to software development.

When you're ready to start building, you can find hands-on, beginner-friendly projects in our Learn to Code catalog at Educative.

Top comments (4)

codecruncher86 profile image
Chris Newton

Great article! As a student I am somewhat a novice to programming. I sometimes finding it frustrating when trying to put my new found knowledge into code. Your words have inspired me to keep learning and build a stronger foundation. Thanks for sharing!

king_khemikalx profile image

Does the same rule apply to us who never studied computer science at school?

janesh profile image
Evgenia Shokhova

Link at the end doesn't work

huntereducative profile image
Hunter Johnson

Let me fix it. Please check now