Coding lesson 1: The tiniest things will drive you batty

comfort zone shirt

First off: As I writing this it’s about 5:30 am. I’ve been up since about 1:30 am. Welcome to Codeville.

Wednesday I attended my first Da Vinci Coders class in web front-end development skills. I started a little behind; I missed the real first class on Monday because I was away giving a presentation in Chicago.

Right away I was in over my head. But I expected that. Hence, the motivational t-shirt.

Our instructor, Richard Jones, did a pretty good job of catching me up on what was covered in the first class. I like his approach — he sets the context with the higher-level concepts so we first learn to think like developers, to think very carefully about the nature and purpose of content on a page, and make our decisions about how to use HTML5 and CSS based on that assessment.

For our first assignment he gave us a PDF file exported from a webpage that was a very textbook-like discussion of the Pacific Temperate Rainforest. The topic doesn’t really matter, though. I was really only paying attention to the structure of the content. I do a lot of writing and editing work, so it was somewhat of a relief not to have to consider whether the content made any sense. I only had to pay attention to the structure of the content — what sections, figures, and other major elements it comprised.

That relief didn’t last long….

When I started recreating what I saw on the PDF using HTML and CSS files, I started feeling stupid. Yeah, I knew that would happen.

In practice, the process of repackaging that simple rainforest information as a webpage reminded me of drawing classes I took ages ago. There, I had to focus an inordinate amount of energy into really looking at that damned bowl of fruit I was trying (and mostly failing) to sketch. Tonight my refrain was, “Why didn’t I SEE that there’s padding at the bottom of that figure box!” (facepalm)

But I soldiered through my annoyance, and after about 3.5 hours I finally finished it! I think I did OK.

…Well, except for one tiny detail. And I do mean tiny.

stubborn character

All I wanted to do was nudge that stupid angle quote a bit to the left… Grumble…

In the next-to-last section of that page (“fungi”), there’s a box at the end which contains a short excerpt from a book. Just under the excerpted text there’s a line of text citing the source. That line begins with an angle quotation mark. And on the PDF, that angle quote falls just slightly to the left of the excerpt text’s left margin.

I figured out how to use CSS to give that source cite text the appropriate font size and styling (which was different from the excerpt text). I felt really proud of myself for that. Until I realized I couldn’t figure out how to nudge that %^&^$$^#@%!@# arcane piece of punctuation just a tiny bit leftward.

After wrestling with that stylistic nit for another half hour, I finally threw in the towel. Hell, the rest of my page looked right, as far as I can tell. And my code validated. For now, that’s good enough. I did learn a lot from this exercise.

And I fully expect that as soon as Richard sees my page later today he’ll spot several things wrong with it. Oh well, that’s OK. That’s how learning works.

… Now, just as the sun comes up, I’m going to try to grab a couple hours sleep. Then I’ll do some client work, then read through the articles and research assignments from Wednesday’s class (yeah, I’m behind on that), and then go to class.

And after that, I’ll head to my cabin in the mountains overnight. And I’ll probably sleep 12 hours, then take a morning walk to clear my head, then head home and code again.

I’m regretting that after the Wednesday class I came home, got dinner, and mostly took the evening off from work and code. And then yesterday I put off doing my class homework too. I woke up 1:30 am today (normal insomnia, not stressed) and realized since I wasn’t going back to sleep I should just do the assignment. I’m glad I did — it took a lot longer than I expected to. I couldn’t bang it out in an hour.

But I see why I procrastinated on my homework: When I’m starting a new learning curve, actually diving in for the very first time is the hardest step. That’s why I’ve put off learning coding for years — no, for over a decade. It was wanting to avoid the head-bashing “I don’t understand this and it’s not working and I’m failing!” feeling.

That’s why I’m taking this class, and why I don’t want to waste this opportunity by simply not trying hard enough to push through my discomfort and frustration. My teacher seems capable, and my classmates seem supportive. Being a beginner is always awkward, but it’s less awkward when you’re not the only one, and when you have help.

So: we’ll see how things go from here. But for now, I’ll try to sleep a bit.

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