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Get Started Coding with Codecademy

From Classical Singer to Coder in 365 days

In the past 11 months, I have gone from total tech luddite to functioning junior software engineer and I’m going to tell you exactly how I made that happen. I started out reading books I didn’t understand () and listening to my boyfriend talk about foreign concepts like Service Workers. But thanks to some incredible online courses, and a LOT of studying on my own, I learned how to be a competent developer.

If anyone out there tells you it’s easy to be an engineer- they’re definitely lying, but it IS accessible to pretty much anyone, granted you have the basic pieces of technology necessary to write code (a computer and a working WiFi connection). Case in point, I got my B.A. and M.M. in Opera, and more than seven years after graduating I did a 180° career-change and decided I was going to learn how to write code.

“Perdonate, Signor Mio” from Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage) by Domenico Cimarosa

For me, the biggest challenge was how to even get started. JavaScript, C++, or Python? Front-End, Back-End or Full-Stack? Languages, Frameworks or Libraries? To be honest, I didn’t know that JavaScript and Java were not the same thing until a few months in. Thankfully, I had someone who helped point me in the right direction, and I hope this series of articles can do the same for you.

In pursuing a completely new profession at the end of my 20’s, there were a few things that helped me narrow down what to pursue.

I knew:

  • I didn’t want to wait multiple years before being hire-able in a new field
  • I couldn’t afford to pay a ton of money for a grueling bootcamp
  • I needed to be able to literally see my progress happening

Coding seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I decided to give myself a couple months of focused work to see if it was for me. I started with Codecademy.com, a free platform that offered short, task-oriented lessons that I could take at my own pace.

An open notebook with handwritten notes on using modules in JS, with a pen lying between pages
An open notebook with handwritten notes on using modules in JS, with a pen lying between pages
Snapshot of one of three(!) notebooks I completely filled with notes this year

I started at the beginning of beginnings, and took notes on everything. Literally, everything.

Starting with the Basics

First up was Intro to HTML, which broke down all the main components that go into building a website. HTML is the structure, I learned that CSS is the way pages are styled, and that JavaScript was how you made things work (really simplifying here). excels in this respect because they don’t assume you know ANYTHING when you are starting out. I never once felt stupid going through the lessons step-by-step because the only thing tracking my progress was whether or not I’d done any work on the website that day.

In the bottom right corner, I would see a small notification alerting me that, ‘You’ve coded for 17 days! Good job!’ and as a total newbie it felt really good to receive encouragement for just investing the time. Whether I was wizzing through entire chapters (which could take me between 1 hour and 2–3 days) or I was logging on to just complete a few tasks on the current lesson because I only had half an hour to work, I knew I was making progress.

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Daily Streak Notification

As a newbie, also helped me get comfortable with the actual act of writing code- no matter how basic. Their set-up makes it easy to see the workflow that you will eventually be using as a programmer.

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Internal Code Editor

Looking at raw code (the middle section in the photo) was so intimidating for me at first. But because I was able to see the main components of coding all one one screen, I started to understand the breakdown.

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Step-by-Step Lessons

The step-by-step lesson bar is always on the left, the code editor is in the center, and the rendered code appears on the right.

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Rendered Code

Even though I wasn’t running separate programs on my computer (which I would later learn how to set up) I was able to get comfortable with toggling between several different documents to resolve one problem.

The same mentor that initially guided me towards HTML/CSS and JavaScript as primary web languages to study, also said something to me early on that has stuck with me through this past year of learning.

He said,

“The best engineers aren’t the smartest ones- they are the most patient.”

And if you only take one thing away from this article, let it be that.

Developing and honing this skill was probably the most challenging part about learning to code. As a typical type-A personality, I tend towards structure and timetables. Not knowing the answer to a problem, and trying to think through the different aspects of it without expecting myself to instantly come up with the solution was painful. One of my most significant developments, thanks to and my own stubborn persistence, was getting comfortable with not knowing the answer. I began to understand that that’s where all the learning actually takes place.

I metaphorically banged my head against the wall so many times when trying to understand why a JavaScript loop worked one way while crashing my browser another way. But by taking the time to do that head-banging, I eventually shook something loose. I had to look at the problem from a different perspective- maybe it wasn’t that the loop only worked one way. It’s that I wasn’t being specific enough about what exactly I wanted the loop to do.

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Snapshot of my last day using Codecademy, with a streak of 150+ days in a row of coding, and a list of the courses I completed in that time.

Though I know I have only scraped the surface of all there is to learn about coding, helped me establish a strong foundation to move forward confidently. You could say it was my HTML, giving me the structure to understand how broad the scope of a front-end developer is. As the world of engineering is constantly expanding, the skills I learned with prepared me to keep pushing forward into the unknown. Rather than shying away from the challenges because they’re new and confusing, I know I can face them head-on because I have built up my toolkit of dev skills to help me make my way through.

If you enjoyed this article, keep your eyes peeled for the next installment in my three-part series on how I went from Opera Singer to Front-End Developer in less than a year.

Have any questions or thoughts to share? Feel free to DM me on Twitter @jessica_nicolet.

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Looking for an entry-level Web Eng position, but still waiting on my acceptance letter from Hogwarts🦉

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