Four Lessons to do Better

I came across a great post on Smashing Magazine this morning by Andrew Clarke titled A Modern Designer’s Canvas.

In it he talks about four things he learned in art school that have served his career well.

He says:

I’m going to talk about four lessons that can help us do what we do better. These have been important to me, especially over the last challenging few years, when how we make websites has changed so much. They’re lessons that I learned a long time ago, at art school:

1. Find a medium that expresses your interests and talents.

2. Don’t get intoxicated by a process or fall in love with tools.

3. Challenge what you’re told, including what you’ve heard at conferences and in articles.

4. Beat your own path, rather than walk someone else’s.

#3 is the most interesting to me.  As someone learning to code I feel like I’m in a position where I can’t challenge anything because I don’t know enough to realize what is right, what is wrong, or even if it is as simple as that.

It’s not that my voice doesn’t matter, it’s just that the value I bring to learning to code is what my eyes see as someone new to the industry.  Some would call it the curse of knowledge, but if you have been immersed in coding for years some things you take for granted, like what a text editor is and does, or what a library or framework is, isn’t such a simple concept for someone starting out.

That is what is compelling me to document every step of the way so that anyone coming after me will have a clearer path to learning how to code.


Learning to Code – 3/25/14

So I’m a few weeks into my coding journey and here is my latest update:


  • Codecademy and Treehouse are great resources and their material, and especially their different methods of teaching, are proving useful and have kept me interested.
  • I’ve been listening to great podcasts that have helped with my immersion program.  The deep technical conversations lose me, but overall they are worth the effort.  The biggest take away has been the realization that although coders are capable of amazing things, they are still people like me.  Hearing Mark Otto of Bootstrap fame tell Jeffrey Zeldman that he feels intimidated by Javascript (or something to that affect) actually made my day.  Maybe my week.
  • I’m reading great books on coding, which I will add to my Lesson Plan page, and the few times when I read something and have not only heard of it before, but understand it, is such a great feeling.


  • There have been more days than I’m comfortable with when I haven’t done any studying.  The Treehouse blog had a post recently where they talked about keys to remembering the code you are learning.  I kept thinking you have to learn it first before you worry about forgetting it.  What I keep in mind is with a full-time job, a six-month old at home and other responsibilities, there will be days when I can’t stick to my learning plan.  I just need to remember we find time for those things we value, and I value learning how to code.
  • I used a great video from Dash that walked me through setting up a website on Bit Balloon just by dragging your site files over.  I used it to build my Mom’s retirement party site, but I haven’t cleaned it up enough to share it with others.  I keep waiting for this mythical block of a few hours to show up so I can sit down and totally focus on it.  I just need to work on it in bits and pieces and ship it already.
  • HTML and CSS are making sense.  Javascript I understand after clicking the help button on Codecademy, but I need to stop using that crutch.
  • I want to blog everyday about my journey, and I would if I accepted the fact that every post doesn’t have to be a world-altering manifesto.  I love reading about other’s journeys in learning to code and that is what I need to remember.  It is the journey that counts and it is my journey that could have value to those that come after me.

Call the Function!

One of the exercises in the Javascript track on Codecademy is building a rock-paper-scissors game.  At the end of the exercise you need to “call the function” for the simple program to run.

And I didn’t know what to do.  Pages and pages of notes and I still didn’t know what call the function meant.

So I went to the Q&A Forum to look for help.  And the little code snippet was right in front of me, but I didn’t know where to put it.

Someday – hopefully soon – I will look back on this and laugh.  When I was learning to play golf and poker and started doing CrossFit, I had the same moments.  You feel lost and dumb, but you get through it and laugh at it a few weeks, months or years down the road.

The secret is to keep searching and remember that the answer is out there.  You just have to have the determination to find it.

I was also lucky enough to stumble across The New Boston and his videos on Youtube.  I’ll have to check some out and see if they should get added to the Lesson Plan.

So I finally figured it out after reviewing my notes again and first felt silly that calling the function is what you do at the end of the program and secondly so darn happy when it actually worked.

I know I was basically copying Codecademy’s code, but I helped out and learned and that little spark in me that knows I can do this got a little stronger and burned a little brighter.

In the end, it was a good day.