Raise your hand if this sounds like you:
You’ve been in the tech industry for a number of years, you know HTML and CSS inside-and-out, and you make a good living. But, you have a little voice in the back of your head that keeps whispering, “It’s time for something new, for the next step in your career. You need to learn programming.”
Yep, same here.
The Burden of Information
How about this, does this sound familiar, too?
You’ve attempted to learn programming before with a few different languages. You’ve read books, you’ve subscribed to online courses, and you have a bunch of folders littering Dropbox with half-completed code and copied exercises.
I can figure out what a PHP file does and understand a bit of jQuery, but if you asked me to sit down and write the most basic of programs, I’d be hard-pressed to do it. After so many failures, I think I’ve figured out the problem.
Any time I start learning something new, I immerse myself as fully as possible in that topic. I buy books, I watch videos, and I listen to podcasts. It’s the same tactic that a lot of companies push as the best way to learn a new topic, whether it’s programming, cooking, or picking up Mandarin in a weekend. Immersion is a key part of learning, apparently.
But the problem is that people (or at least me) have a threshold for how much information they can process before feeling overwhelmed. I call it the “burden of information.” Information is wonderful, but too much of it weighs down the mind, leaving you burnt out and hopeless, and leading you to give up and feel like a failure.
I broke resources out into four categories, based around the different ways that I like to learn (and I suspect others like to learn, too). Those categories are: reading, watching, listening, and, most importantly, doing.
Here’s what I found.
My favorite way to learn new things is by reading about them. While that mostly means books, I also love filling up my RSS feed with good blogs and my inbox with great newsletters.
There are a bunch more that I came across but most seem too complex at this point in my learning. Or others belong to individuals that talk mostly about their own projects and less about the basics or the process of learning. I’ve bookmarked all of them, though, to dig into once I’m more up-to-speed.
I’m an unabashed lover of HTML newsletters, as evidenced by my previous writing on the subject. So, naturally, I hunted down a couple to subscribe to:
Another good way to learn is by watching others do the thing you want to do. But this is almost always secondary to me reading to learn. Still, when I get stuck on a topic or want to dig deeper into certain aspects of coding, watching videos will be a good way to do it.
For the most part, there are two categories of videos online: courses and standalone videos (mostly on YouTube). There are a ton of options for both, but these are the best from what I can tell:
Podcasts are an excellent way to learn about concepts and immerse yourself in a particular culture without needing to be actively tied to a screen. Basically a good way to keep learning while I get the dishes done or pick up after my kids.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve been writing HTML and CSS (and playing around with other technologies) for years, so I’m a bit biased on some of my tools. I mostly work with Sublime Text on my Mac, so I plan on sticking to that for writing code locally. But, as I’ve been working more on my iPad Pro lately, I’d like to augment Sublime Text with a few additional tools for writing and testing code while I’m learning.
The main one will be CodePen. I’ve been a Pro subscriber for a while and find that it’s tremendously useful for writing code no matter what platform I’m using. Since it works in the browser, it’s easy to pop open a pen on my iPad while I’m hanging out at the coffee shop and have a full-fledged JS development environment ready to go. It also has a few features that I’m sure will come in handy at some point: private pens and collections for when I want to keep embarrassing code secret, projects for when I want to work on more substantial stuff and have it hosted somewhere without any pain, and collaboration mode for if I ever need to tap some friends to help me out with some tricky code in realtime.
I looked at other tools like JSFiddle and JSBin, but I’m comfortable in CodePen and their features are killer, so I’m sticking with it.
One other online tool that I plan on using at some point is Glitch. It’s a relatively new tool for writing code and sharing it online and has a wonderfully eclectic community that’s built up around it. While I think most of my coding will be done in CodePen or locally in Sublime Text, I think Glitch will be vital when it comes time to learn about more complex things like interacting with APIs, making weird bots, and testing out some of those scary frameworks.
My Learning Plan
- Code locally in Sublime Text but primarily online with CodePen
- Keep up with news via the blogs, newsletters, and podcasts I found
- Start working through the videos and books listed above after I’m done with Wes Bos’ tutorials
- Build some (hopefully) cool stuff in the process
One of the most important aspects of learning, though, is getting feedback on what you’re actually doing. For that, I’m going to be calling on a few friends and anyone reading this who wants to pitch in.
Finally, if you have any other resources or strong opinions on the ones I’ve listed above, let me know in the comments below. I’m sure a lot of you have been through a similar learning process and have some amazing tips you can share. I’d love to hear from you, so drop some knowledge right here on CSS-Tricks or email me.