Welcome to the first installment of Learn The Thing, a series that I hope will convince you that it is never too late, too early, too difficult, too time-consuming, or too tiring to learn something new.
Now, obviously when choosing to learn a new skill, the hope is that you’re learning something you already have an interest in, or are at least curious about. I will be the first to put my hand up and say that is is nigh on impossible to concentrate on something that you find unutterably boring. Obviously, we can’t always avoid such situations (compulsory philosophy papers, anyone?) but you aren’t here about that. You’re hear to see what I have to say about Learning The Thing.
So! The first thing that I decided to dedicate an installment of this series to is introductory coding. Completing an intro coding course is actually on my Impossible List, so this is a double whammy for me. I get to cross something off the List (eventually!), and I will also hopefully have an easier time understanding some of the more technical articles and papers that I come across in my pursuit of “academic expertise” in the area of cyber counterintelligence. Because, seriously? Some of that crap might as well be in Mandarin Chinese for all the sense it makes to me! European languages major here, and it shows.
However, the way I see it, I’m pretty alright at languages, and coding is just a series of languages with very specific use, meaning, and application. The rules for coding seem to be a lot stricter than the rules for languages, so at the very least I’m hoping I won’t need to become familiar with code slang. I’ve been meaning to do something about my total lack of understanding in this area for quite some time (hence, Impossible List item) and just never got around to it. Which, honestly, seems to be a pretty popular excuse for when we know we need to do something but don’t actually feel like taking the time out of our extraordinarily busy days to actually do it. And I’m not being ironic or sarcastic there, we are way too busy these days (I know I am) and there seems to be no end or rest in sight for most of us. I personally am still hoping to win the Lotto.
Eventually, that excuse gets old. And if you sit down and think about it, you do have time in your day. When you get home and spend an hour on YouTube watching makeup tutorials (ahem) and movie trailers (I can’t wait to see Thor: Ragnarok), or when you sit on the couch and watch three episodes on Netflix (Stranger Things ftw!), or the “power nap” that lasts from three to five pm, you do have time in your day. You’re gonna have to suck it up and sacrifice some of that nothingness in order to learn whatever skill it is that has been on your mind for a while.
Step 1: Research.
Do your research. Can what you want to learn be learned through online classes or resources? Or do you need to go to actual, physical classes? Is there some sort of community group near you that offers lessons in the skill you want to learn? Can it be learned from a book? Does the local library have an resources that you could use? Because I wanted to learn coding, I assumed that there would be multiple sources online to learn from and I was right; there are actually too many. Eventually, based on my own research, I narrowed it down to Khan Academy; Coursera; Skillshare; and Treehouse. Do you have any friends that could teach you, or at least point you in the direction of somebody that can? You might be surprised at just how extensive your communication networks can reach, if you only pull on a couple of strings and and ask a couple of people a couple of questions. When I decided to finally pull my head out of my ass and start learning to code, I posted one message on Facebook and sent one text message. I received no less than six responses, and several recommendations. One recommendation in particular was backed up by four separate parties who, as far as I know, did not know they were doing so. Thus I had my preferred educational source, and it wasn’t one I had found on my own: Code Academy.
Step 2: Sign up to the damn classes.
You know what you need to do to get started. Now, put your head down, dig in your heels and just get started. For me, that next step was to go to the Code Academy website and sign up. Not only is this website free to use (there is a paid premium version, but so far the intro classes are legit and thorough), but people I trust recommended this site to me, as mentioned above. I trust my friends and their contacts, so Code Academy it was. Having signed in, there was actually nothing else to worry about. The page honest to Loki said something along the lines of “we recommend you start with this course” and there was only one option on the page. Awesome. That’s the one I started with. They know better than I.
Step 3: Decide the frequency of your study sessions.
Don’t bail on this. While the hardest thing to do is actually begin, the next most difficult step is actually committing to a timetable or a time frame, depending on the structure of your course or the skill set you want to pick up. I personally try to do at least five minutes of coding study per day. It doesn’t seem like much (it isn’t), and it may not seem worth it but it is. Don’t try and rush through your lessons and get through the material as fast as you can. That way leads to madness and not really being able to do anything once you’ve “finished”. The course I started with is “Learn HTML and CSS” which I’m sure seems very basic to you computer nerds out there, but I legitimately did not even know what those acronyms stood for when I started. My first day was spent learning what the hell HTML and CSS even were, and then what they were used for. HyperText Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets, in case you were wondering. Go team!
Step 4: Keep to your damn schedule.
Don’t be a dick. Future you won’t appreciate it. You want to learn this skill, or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. You’ve already signed up, and committed to learning. So learn. You don’t have to do five minutes a day. You could do twenty minutes three days a week or an hour on Thursday evenings. That’s up to you, but keep to the damn schedule you’ve set yourself. I added coding to my Habitica task list, to remind me that I need to do it but also because there’s this psychological imperative whereby I don’t want my little avatar dude to suffer for my poor decisions, so I have to do coding or I’m causing him to suffer and that’s not cool. In addition, eventually this addition to your schedule will become a habit, so integrated into your routine that you don’t need to actively force yourself to do something. This makes you resent the learning process a little less, and also eases the path to mastery a little by not making you regret your life decisions. Nobody regrets brushing their teeth (I truly hope), it’s just a fact of life. You do it (at least) twice a day because that’s just how we roll.
So there we are, my first post on how to Learn The Thing.
As of Monday, 2th August 2017 I have completed 21% of the Code Academy course on intro HTML and CSS. Am I going to become a developer? Unlikely. I’m not doing this for a career change, although as it turns out many people do, and more power to them! I mainly want to be able to understand my own area of research from a different perspective, and maybe even work out how to translate computer geek to standard, something which has thus far eluded me and resulted in a lot of blank stares. One can only hope.
Is there anything you particularly want to learn, but have put off for far too long? Anything you have just started learning, or resources you think are really worthwhile for the learner to have in their arsenal? Leave a comment below, or send me a message through the Contact Me page!
Stay weird xxx