Interested to build your own website or digital application but don’t know where to start? Here are some practical steps and useful resources to help you along.
Let’s face it—in this digital age, some of the most useful languages you can learn aren’t meant for human-to-human communication. Rather, a ‘mother tongue’ that allows one to speak to computers: fluency in a programming language (or two), is what separates creators of digital products from the average digital consumer.
From building websites to mobile applications, learning how to code unlocks a world of possibilities, not to mention career opportunities. According to jobs site Glassdoor, the top two highest-paying entry-level jobs are ‘Data Scientist’ and ‘Software Engineer’, with median annual base salaries in the range of US$90,000-95,000. Both are positions in which a background in coding and computer science would be advantageous.
So whether you’re thinking about pursuing a career in tech, or simply want to learn to code as a hobby, here are some things to think about before you get started, alongside useful resources you can reference to go deeper into the skillset.
1. Code with purpose
In other words, ask yourself: why do you want to code? What problem would you like to solve that requires coding? Setting these objectives right from the start can help you decide which programming language to pick up.
If your ambition is to create a whole new operating system, perhaps you ought to learn C++. For developing a website, HTML would be an essential starting point. Need help deciding? Check out this infographic on the different types of programming languages and their applications.
2. Get the right tools
Once you know which programming language you need, the next question in your mind might be: where do I type in the code? This is where you’ll need to download a code editor or integrated development environment (IDE) software. The difference between the two is that IDEs provide much greater functionality to compile and debug code in addition to just write it.
Code editors include Atom and Brackets, many of which are free an open-source—excellent if you just want to try your hand at programming. IDEs, on the other hand, usually come with a price tag attached. Once again, knowing ‘what’ you want to develop will help you select the right tool for the job. Click here for a list of some popular IDEs and what they’re suitable for.
3. Structure your learning
While it’s possible to learn to code just by watching YouTube videos, a proper course that takes you through fundamental concepts such as how computers function, how networks work and so on can be incredibly helpful. For example, thorough and well-curated courses for computer science and programming can be found online at Codeacademy, Khan Academy and Udemy.
Each learning portal typically includes video lectures and follow-up tutorials to help beginners put into practice what they learn. Many of these course providers grant certificates of completion for their programmes, but do note that these certificates cannot be used for formal accreditation.
4. Find inspiration
Learning to code is a long and cumulative process, so some persistence is definitely required. When you feel yourself losing interest or passion, why not check out livecoding websites like this to remind yourself of what you’ll be able to do once you’ve achieved a certain level of mastery? In the process, you’ll also get an idea of the challenges that programmers run into when trying to create an application from scratch—perfect for troubleshooting your own development project once the time comes.
Also, rather than code in isolation, you can tap into a whole community of enthusiastic fellow developers on the internet for motivation and advice. Stack Overflow is one such platform for peer-to-peer learning, with a vast repository of questions and answers on common and not-so-common issues faced by software engineers. GitHub is another collaborative development space that is even referenced by experienced coders.
5. Pay attention to code documentation
A piece of code can be very opaque on its own. While the code’s creator knows very well what each element does, making sure that someone else can integrate or adapt the code into an application is just as crucial. This is where code documentation is important.
Basically, code documentation is analogous to the instruction manual for assembling an IKEA chair—it is often descriptive, human-readable and ideally jargon-free so that it can be easily understood. By poring through code documentation, newcomers to coding can learn specific frameworks and features of code that actually works. And when you start writing code at a higher level of competency, be sure to pay it forward by documenting it well too!