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Timothy Merritt
Timothy Merritt

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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.

Discussion (9)

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sadaca73 profile image
Shawn

Whilst wrapping up my coding homework for the day (frustratingly shifting and aligning a button in my portfolio CSS), I stumbled on your Twitter and portfolio website. By stumbled, I mean to say that I was busy procrastinating yet again while I should’ve been coding.

First off— your site looks amazing. Love how the background and elements shift with the toggle switch! More importantly- scanning your blog and reading this entry is giving me some much needed gumption.

I can completely relate to most of what you said about imposter’s syndrome. I also live in Portland and found it hard to focus while the horrific wildfires burned just miles away. I’m a mere 4 months into my coding journey and have a tendency to feel guilty when I don’t get a good 1/2 day chunk of studying in or don’t have some big breakthrough in learning.

Just wanted to say hey and thanks for the much needed inspiration!

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timmybytes profile image
Timothy Merritt Author

Hey thanks so much for this, and hello fellow Portlander! I understand the difficulty in trying to push through studying. Programming and development is hard! Particularly when you’re first getting started and trying to wrap your brain around difficult concepts. If I can offer a little advice, trying to force yourself into comprehension will hinder more than it helps, and at worst will reinforce a negative feeling when you’re working/learning.

I’ve found the best approach to be follow whatever you find interesting. There’s definitely a centerline to stick to, yes, especially early on (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and the intricacies within them), and you need those fundamentals first. But whenever you discover something that makes you go, “Wait, how does that work?”, or “That’s cool!”, investigate further. Even if you don’t understand how something works, pursuing something you’re naturally stimulated in will help you overall in the whole development process. Try to keep a good balance of the things you need to know versus the stuff you want to know, and then practice.

That said, don’t feel guilty if you’re not knocking it out of the park everyday. The point is the repetition becoming natural. And this is especially easier to manage if you’re building things. I saw on your CodePen that you’ve been working on small projects. That’s awesome. Keep that up. And one thing to remember is you don’t have to just move on once something is “done”—no project is really ever done, the dev just gave up working on it. There’s always more to add and refine, from programming logic to documentation to picking the right color scheme, etc.

I’m glad you found something helpful with what I wrote/made! Let me know if you need any tips or help along your way!

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sadaca73 profile image
Shawn

Thanks for some real world advice.
Truly appreciated!

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importhuman profile image
Ujjwal Goyal

Nicely written! I'm a few weeks into the 100DaysOfCode challenge myself, any tips that you could share on how to write more blogs and socialize online? I'd like to write, but I just can't figure out what to.

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timmybytes profile image
Timothy Merritt Author

One of the best things you can do is to reach out when you see an opportunity to help someone else. When you learn a concept, explaining it to someone else helps to solidify it for yourself, and has the added benefit of giving someone a hand.

That said, write about anything you find interesting. Learn a new quirk in a given language you found weird/cool/maddening? Write a post about it! Did you go through a tough process trying to figure something out? Write about it! I guarantee whatever you’ve gone through, by putting it down and sharing it you’ll be helping someone else out who stumbles upon it. And if you feel you don’t have a ton to say, focus on microblogging on Twitter, or just writing more conversation starting posts here on DEV. The community here especially is very warm and welcoming.

Good luck and keep at it!

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importhuman profile image
Ujjwal Goyal

How exactly do I find people who need help? Writing posts is one thing, but actively helping out someone who needs it is another. Still trying to figure out Twitter. Thanks for the input!

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timmybytes profile image
Timothy Merritt Author

As you learn you’ll get more comfortable with certain topics. When you’re scrolling through Dev, Twitter, etc., and you see someone asking about something you know about, reply to them with what you know. You might not always have the “best” answer, but you’ll still be doing yourself and the person asking a favor.

For twitter, I recommend starting out by searching with the hashtags #100DaysOfCode, #DEVCommunity, #webdev, or #codenewbie, and following interesting people you find who’ve used the hashtag. Check out who they follow, what kind of issues they’re tweeting about, and just follow the rabbit hole based on what you’re interested in. For me, that’s accessibility and open source topics related to web development, so I follow a lot of people who work/play in those areas.

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importhuman profile image
Ujjwal Goyal

Will try this, thanks!

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dar5hak profile image
Darshak Parikh

Not everyone learns to write DRY code before they’re out of diapers

I'm going to add this article to Pocket just so that I can highlight this line.