Learning to code is more than just a passing trend right now. Because of that, there’s been a small explosion of startups teaching people essential digital skills; especially ones aimed at women. With options galore, where is it safe to start? As always, with the why.
Why would you want to learn how to code?
Technology is everywhere. Nearly everyone has a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop. Soon, lots of people will be wearing smartwatches while driving their smart cars around their smart cities.
Lots of people’s jobs already depend on technology, and that number is only increasing. Even if yours doesn’t, it's important for everyone to reclaim their right to have mastery over the technology that governs our lives.
How learning to code enabled me to become a solopreneur
Learning to code can open previously closed doors. This is especially helpful for those seeking to balance their work with family life, or others who are returning to the working world after time away.
For me, learning to code was one of the crucial milestones that enabled me to leave my 9-5 job and embark on my career as a freelance blogger in tech. Prior to this, I’d been working full-time in digital communications, and I was certainly never ‘techie.’
To build my professional confidence, I learned to code for free with a non-profit, UK-based organization called Code First: Girls. During these courses, I also gained experience in collaborating with others to build websites. Even when the work was very difficult, our shared goal motivated each of us to complete our project.
The new knowledge gained gave me a strong dose of confidence and helped me to understand the tech and startup industry for the first time. Because of that, I picked tech as my blogging niche, and have since been learning as much as I can about the industry. I was able take blogging, which I had been doing for free for years, and make a career out of it.
As a result, I recently quit my job to take the plunge as a full-time freelance tech blogger. So, let’s overcome one of society’s most ridiculous stereotypes, which is that only white male ‘nerds’ can understand computers, and all start learning to code!
Different types of coding skills you can learn -- and the purpose each serves
“Learn how to code.” That’s a lofty goal, no doubt, and it can be overwhelming to consider all your different options - especially if you don't know which language you want to learn.
Many people find it helpful to start with HTML and CSS, which are the front-end coding languages of websites. They are probably the simplest ones to pick up as they’re responsible for styling the visual elements of webpages, and require little-to-no understanding of programming.
As a solopreneur, learning HTML and CSS will give you a lot more confidence when you’re trying to set up your own website, because even if you use a website platform like WordPress or pay a developer to build your site, you’ll still be able to make small edits yourself.
You’ll also be empowered to understand what’s possible in terms of web design. This can be anything from the importance of responsive design (when a website resizes across different devices such smartphones or desktop computers), or when to use bits of code such as H2 tags (the subheadings that break up your page text on your website).
There are a huge variety of languages used to build different types of websites. To start, Google the purpose of each language to see which might be most applicable for you.
The different ways to learn coding
Most people who want to get really serious about learning to code end up paying for a service. This is really useful as it enables you to have that contact with experienced professional developers who can advance your learning and kickstart your career.
This is really useful as it enables you to have that contact with experienced professional developers who can advance your learning and kickstart your career.
Skillcrush is one such resource where you can join a thriving community of like-minded individuals and target your learning with tailored Blueprints. All courses are taken online and they offer a free introductory bootcamp. Amanda has chronicled her Skillcrush journey on the OWS blog in several parts, starting here.
Likewise, you can take singular courses like Sarah Eggers’ HTML & CSS Crash Course.
Many, many other groups exist, like Decoded, which teaches you to code in a day in HTML, or Mums in Technology, which specifically caters to women with children who are looking to advance their careers.
If you don't have much money to play around with, or just want to dip your toe in the water, there are some free options available. I've created a fully comprehensive list of free UK coding groups on my website.
Groups like Rails Girls offer free day coding bootcamps to teach any women the coding language Ruby on Rails. Another great group aimed at university students and recent graduates is Code First: Girls, which I took part in, myself.
A note on bootcamps
A stigma has sprung up in the web development community among some hiring managers against coding bootcamps. This term refers to full-time intensive courses that you pay for. This option is typically for aspiring web developers, rather than the amateur coder.
If you want to become a web developer and are considering a bootcamp, remember they will vary in quality, so do your research and always make sure you have a genuine enthusiasm for building your own portfolio. Maker’s Academy is a good place to start looking at bootcamps.
How to pick the right course for you
Unless you want to become a professional web developer, you don't need to invest large amounts of time and money in learning to code.
Think about key factors like financial cost, difficulty level, distance to travel, comprehensiveness of the course, contact with experienced developers, and fitting it in around commitments like work and childcare.
Aim for a basic understanding of and curiosity about the nature of technology. Learning to code helps push you past the fear and mystery around technology and empowers you to make the most of it.
Overcoming obstacles and moving forward
Learning to code opens the door to taking control over the digital aspects of your business, and often comes with unintended side benefits, like being able to build your own digital products, launch a startup, become a better designer, or take the plunge as a full-time blogger specializing in tech (like me!), among other things.
If nothing else, dipping your toe into the coding world may help you realize how beneficial hiring a professional developer can be. One Woman Shop published this super handy post about what to ask as you interview a professional developer before you jump into a relationship with them.
I hope this post has shown you some of the ways you can dive in and learn to code -- no matter your situation.
Don’t let negative self beliefs hold you back. Just like learning to write, anyone can learn to code. The aim is not necessarily to become a professional programmer or developer, but simply to enter a whole new world of opportunities.
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