Natasha The Robot

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There Is No Overnight Success In Coding

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Popular tech sites like Techcrunch and Hacker News and other popular media are filled with stories of young geniuses who build something in a weekend and/or raise a ton of VC funding and/or sell their startup to Google or Facebook for millions of dollars. Just yesterday, I was reading a story about a 16 year old who created a viral iPhone app while also doing well in school and playing sports. The media, of course, always skips or minimizes the part in the story where the “genius” worked really really hard to be where he/she is today.


This type of consistent media coverage of only extremely successful geniuses and their products makes it really hard for someone with no prior computer science experience to feel like going through the pain of learning to code is worth it. After all, you’re never going to be as good as the 18-year-old MIT-dropout who is building the next Facebook and is succeeding.

And even if you can overcome the obstacle of being ok with the fact that you’re not going to be as good as the geniuses in the media and decide to learn to code anyway, you’re going to be faced with a very intimidating community of hackers who have very little tolerance for beginners. Just check out the comments on Hacker News. Even Paul Graham thinks Hacker News new-comers are dumb.

I think the key to getting more people to learn to code is taking out the intimidation factor from the hacker culture. This tactic actually worked amazingly well at Harvey Mudd. By restructuring their CS Program to have a beginner-friendly track, Harvey Mudd’s CS Program now consists of 40% women!

It took me a while to overcome the above obstacles (I did it with the help of a supportive hacker friend), and I’m really glad that I started learning. And now that I am learning (and loving it), I know that there is so much more to learn, and it is very intimidating to know that I can’t learn EVERYTHING right way. For web development, for example, I need to know HTML, CSS, Javascript, Ruby on Rails, how to configure servers, how to configure a database, and I’m sure that’s just the icing (there is also little things to know like how to use the Terminal command line effectively and how to store your code on  Github).

I now think of learning to code as more of a lifetime task that I will never complete. Meanwhile, I can use what I already know to work with others on different projects, and maybe one day, I’ll know enough to build something of my own.


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  • KarelTheRobot

    hey,

    I am just curious on how your hacker friend encouraged you to continue programming despite all the obstacles you may face on your way to have you own startup.

    How are you gonna deter potential hackers??

    • http://learning2program.wordpress.com Natasha Murashev

      I started learning to my own, but my friend really helped me when I had a hard time with some of the problems, especially in the beginning. It was nice having someone there who could answer questions.

  • http://twitter.com/j3 Jeff Casimir (@j3)

    I agree with you — focusing on the outliers provides little value to the greater community.

    Personally, I didn’t know jack about programming until I started college at 18. After four years of CS, I _thought_ I knew a lot about it. Now, quite a few years later, I know how little I knew then.

    Like any art you are signing up for a lifetime of practice. With the tools now available we can make dramatic gains fast, but that just means our expectations are that much higher. 20 years ago, databases were probably managed by DBAs. Now every dev is expected to know how to setup and use a database.

    Support for learning is key. When I was learning Ruby and Rails, we relied on the Rails mailing list and IRC. Now that the community has grown 100x, most of those resources are overrun. StackOverflow is a good resource, but it never feels like a community to me.

    [ Warning: Pitch! :) ]

    That’s why I’m really excited about Hungry Academy (http://hungryacademy.com/). We’re gathering 24 people to learn together, have all the resources you could ever ask for, give them five months of full time skill development, and expect to have competent developers on the other side.

    I’ve also been working hard to recruit applicants from underrepresented groups. Of the applicantss we have so far, we have about 30% women. I’m excited about that, but still trying to push it higher. If you know any women or organizations that might be interested, please send them our way. I can be reached on Twitter at @j3 or email contact at jumpstartlab dot com.

    ===

    In another 10 years or so, I hope to be a good developer.

    – Jeff

    • http://learning2program.wordpress.com Natasha Murashev

      Hi Jeff!

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. If you’re working at LivingSocial, you must be one of the top developers out there, so its an honor to have you looking at my blog :)

      As for Hunger Academy, I still remember waking up in late December to find it as the top item on Hacker News. I couldn’t be more thrilled, and in my excitement, applied to it without even reading the intense application instructions. I haven’t had time to go back and finish the rest of the application, since I’ve been really focused on learning Ruby and it’s probably not the best thing for me to move back to DC, but I’m still excited about the program and love that LivingSocial is doing it. It’s great to hear that you have 30% women applicants. I’ll write about it on this blog later today and see if I can get anyone else interested. Amazing initiative, and I only hope more companies follow LivingSocial’s example.