How I learnt to code, by Dan

Me (Dan)

I had very little idea of what to expect going into an intensive coding course. My experience of programming consisted of learning some extremely basic HTML in AS Level Computing, which in reality consisted of me becoming bored and distracted and making a crude drawing of Space Invaders by colouring and resizing cells in Excel.

Despite my diligent study, I got a D in my exam and dropped the subject the next year. I hadn't really considered tech on a level beyond everyday use since then. When I decided to take the Function Camp course I was going in fairly blind. I knew I'd learn to code, I had a list of the subjects, but none of it meant much to me beyond the broad strokes. There were some concepts and acronyms I'd vaguely heard of, a programming language I recognised by name only, and that was about it.

Working at home, but never really alone

The course could easily have been overwhelming, but being able to go at my own pace and having people with experience to ask questions whenever I got stuck made the whole thing feel smooth. It was always clear what I should be doing next and as the course progressed, I realised I was learning fundamental methods for solving problems rather than simply learning by rote.

I'd describe the teaching as hands-on but at a distance. It sounds oxymoronic, but the ethos is that it's always better if you come up with the answer alone, but help is always available to nudge you in the right direction.

I can easily future-proof my skills now

The curriculum itself is naturally packed with information, but the most valuable skills I've picked up are knowing how to apply what I had learnt and knowing enough fundamentals to get to grips with new ideas as quickly as possible.

Since finishing the course I've tried my hand at two new languages (Elixir and Go) and I found them both easier to pick up because I knew why things worked like they did and I could identify similar patterns in a new context. If I'd just learnt what bits of Javascript to use in which situation well enough to code adequately, I don't think I would have found the change quite so easy. This is a crucial skill in the tech industry, where tools and languages can change extremely quickly. Understanding beats pure knowledge every time. The course teaches you how to code, not just how to write Javascript.

Variety is the spice of developing

The more meaty part of the course - the huge amount of new information - was made digestible by the carefully sourced course materials. The videos and reading materials are accessible and have only improved over time. I started the course when it was in its infancy and it’s gotten better since.

As more people have taken the course it’s become clearer which bits worked best and which bits needed improvement. More resources have been added and those that existed already have been polished. People who have taken the course themselves are asked for their input about what could be better, which means it’s geared towards the student’s learning experience and later success as much as possible.

My advice for prospective students

My advice to new or prospective students would be to stick with it. Before I started the course I wasn’t sure I’d even like programming. I had no experience, might have had no aptitude for it, and superficially it was far removed from anything that I, a philosophy graduate whose greatest love was literature, had ever had a passion for.

I was honestly surprised by how much I did enjoy it - both learning it and actually starting to code professionally. The two most exciting things were the scope and the output. You always had something to show for your work (even when it was difficult), and there’s a certain raw satisfaction in solving a stubborn problem.

I understood in principle the amount of ways code could be used, but I don’t think I appreciated just how versatile it was until I started learning it and could visualise how what I’d learnt could be applied to things that seemed alien before. It’s exciting to know that even with no knowledge of the subjects I could probably understand what’s going on if I tried my hand at something like game development or machine learning. For me that’s the major selling point of learning to code.

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