Alumni Stories

4 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Programming

Flatiron School / 16 December 2015

This blog is part of a continuous series that highlights experiences, insights, and tutorials from learning developers at Flatiron School in Web and iOS. 

By Gabi O’Connor

I first became interested in programming at my previous job, where I worked in a non-tech role at a tech startup. Initially, I started learning in order to work more effectively with our engineering and product teams. Soon after that, I discovered I liked programming more than anything related to my job. I’ve since left that job and am in my first week of a programming immersive at Flatiron School. The path here was not by any means crystal clear, though.

In retrospect, I struggled more than I needed to, and wish I’d known about the following when I first started learning:

Let software do the work for you

Instead of trying to download and configure the latest versions of languages, libraries, package managers, etc., I would have saved a lot of time and energy just downloading software that would do it all for me. I used Pivotal Sprout Wrap eventually, but Flatiron’s tools app is great too. I also wish I’d known about Shortcutfoo, where you can learn and practice command shortcuts. That way you can navigate your command line and text editor without ever needing to use your touchpad.

Find a mentor

I recruited my friend (and QA engineer) to become my mentor pretty early on, and I’m so glad I did. When you’re learning on your own, it’s incredibly helpful to have someone to talk to about what you’re doing and ask for the help you’re inevitably going to need. I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much in such short a time if it weren’t for my mentor’s encouragement and support.

Meet up and co-work with friends

Aside from being a great resource for workshops, meetups are awesome for meeting fellow learners. Being part of a community of people who are, or were, in your position helps underscore the attainability of your goals. These people can also offer up whatever tips and resources helped them. I found co-working meetups like Hacker Hours particularly helpful, because they helped me focus on my projects, while providing general support as well.

Don’t be so hard on yourself

It’s easy to get frustrated when you don’t get things immediately — way too easy. But I’ve learned that it’s just a part of programming, that it gets easier, and that everyone is humbled all the time. There will always be things you don’t know and will struggle to understand, whether you’ve been a programmer for 10 days or 10 years. The key to being a great programmer is having the tenacity to push through the frustration.

The key to being a great programmer is having the tenacity to push through the frustration.

If I could go back 10 months, I’d tell myself, “You’re eventually going to cry a lot at a Pixar movie called ‘Inside Out’”. But I’d also tell myself that in 10 months, I’m going to be at a programming immersive and well on my way towards becoming a full stack engineer.

The time I’ve spent learning on my own helped me confirm that this is a discipline worth leaving my job for and prepared me for the challenges of an immersive. Despite not having a clear path at the outset, everything I’ve learned so far has paved the way to help me get where I’m going.

Gabi O’Connor is an recent graduate from Flatiron School’s web immersive program.

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