Learning to code: My next adventure

It’s been a very busy summer since I moved back to Boulder, which is why I haven’t posted here in a while. (All my writing energy has gone to client projects.) But I’m excited to announce that I’m about to embark on a new adventure that I will be blogging on Contentious.com:

I’m learning to code.

Took me long enough to get around to it, I know.

Specifically, starting next week I’m taking an intensive 3-month full immersion course offered by the Da Vinci Institute in nearby Louisville, CO in front-end development skills: HTML5, cascading stylesheets, and Javascript. It’s part of their Da Vinci Coders program, aimed at bringing beginners quickly up to speed with useful, in-demand tech skills. (They also offer Ruby on Rails training.)

The training isn’t cheap. But serendipity struck: Local tech startup Callisto.fm offered two full scholarships for women, to encourage more diversity in the Front Range tech scene. And I won!

I’m deeply grateful for this opportunity, since (because my move from CA back to CO this year ate the lion’s share of my discretionary budget for Major Life Changes) I otherwise would’ve had to wait until next year to do this course. And I feel like I’ve put off learning to code long enough.

Financing is also available for Da Vinci Coders. Had I not won this scholarship, I would have gone that route next year. But this time I got lucky.

Admittedly this adventure involves seriously stepping outside my comfort zone. While I know a lot about technology and know many coders, I’ve no prior programming experience. But I’m sick of getting tech ideas that require coding, and then having to either let them go or else beg a developer to help me even start to test out my idea. Both of those options frustrate me.

My goal is to learn enough front-end technology to be able to build simple, functional mobile web apps — that is, interactive app-like functionality delivered through the web browser on a phone or tablet.

Why mobile web apps? Because I’m passionate about mobile technology and what it can do for people’s lives. But I think the current overwhelming focus on platform-specific “native” apps (which users must find in an app market, download and install, and remember to run) is complete overkill for many of the interactive things people want to do on their phones and tablets. To back this up, research shows one in four mobile apps never get opened more than once, and 75% never get used more than 10 times.

Since mobile users are so fickle (and, let’s be honest, most mobile interactive features are things you’d only want to use a handful of times anyway), why not deliver more of this functionality via the mobile web? It’s low-overhead, inherently cross-platform, cheaper to develop, and — thanks to newer browsers and the growing penetration of smartphones (by the end of this year, half of all cell phones in use in the US will be smartphones) — pretty damn nifty.

My goal is not to become a full-time programmer. I’m a good journalist, writer, and editor, and I think that will always be my mainstay. But I realize that coding has become a key literacy skill, and I’m sick of being illiterate. I don’t expect to do anything fancy or impressive with coding, but I think it will give me more options and allow me to work on even more cool projects.

Plus, when I go to hackathons, I’ll be able to really pitch in and help. I hate standing on the sidelines.

And if Lisa Williams can learn to code, I can do it too. Seriously, she’s one of my best friends and mentors, and I’m inspired by her example.

Wish me luck! And watch Contentious.com for my observations, frustrations, and triumphs from this project.

4 thoughts on Learning to code: My next adventure

  1. Hi Amy!
    Love this…I’m planning on writing a similar blog outlining my experience with Python. I work for GIS software company Esri, and the move to Python to handle geoprocessing has led me to conclude “learn some programming skills…or be left behind.” I, too, HATE standing on the sidelines.
    Anyways – wanted to say hi! Good luck! And I look forward to reading more about your adventures. So far…mine have involved some screaming, much swearing, and more than a few fist pumps!
    Best of luck!

  2. Amy,
    Best on the code writing. I am also stating this adventure this month as well. Unrelated to this post – a prior post on an ethical quandary for logins had a picture with the post. May I use the picture in a firefighter oral interview book I am completing The image would be a positive addition to my work. I of course would cite the source.
    You can check out my recent textbook in the apple bookstore if interested.
    Best regards,
    K. Gregg Boles

  3. Thanks John! I know so folks at Esri HQ, very interesting company. I’d encourage you to blog your learning curve. I think it’s helpful to others to see each others’ learning process — for both educational and emotional reasons. Often people who are new to something will choose to write about something that other beginners really need, but that experts wouldn’t even notice or consider. Important context tends to fade into the background. You tend to forget about stuff like, “Oh yeah, gravity exists!”

    Good luck with Python!

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