Software engineering salaries have just hit an all-time high in the US, so it’s natural to think that this seems like a better time than ever to learn how to code.
With free services such as Codecademy and other cheap online courses, it almost seems like a no-brainer. But just because the information is accessible doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to learn.
Quincy Larson, a software engineer for online coding tutorial site Free Code Camp, recently shared his stressful and overwhelming experience learning different coding languages.
It seemed simple at first. Larson wrote in a blog post that he overheard some guy at a happy hour talking about how useful the language Ruby is for automating tasks. He then began playing with Ruby himself and learned how to automate some administrative tasks for the school he worked in at his previous job.
Then, Larson started attending hackathons — events where engineers and developers gather to collaborate on programming projects.
Soon after, a friend suggested he check out the customisable text editor Emacs, so he began learning about that language. Shortly after he began to dig into Emacs, someone told him about another superior language he should be focusing on instead.
In his post, Larson said he went “nearly insane” trying to keep up and learn all of the languages he thought he needed in order to become a successful programmer.
“I tried to do too many things,” Larson told Business Insider. “I tried to embrace a lot of the more esoteric programmer tools as soon as possible. But what I really should have done was get code up on the internet and get feedback.”
The ‘imposter syndrome’
Larson quit his job as a school director to become a full-time programmer, and now works as a software engineer at Free Code Camp. But it didn’t come easily — and spending time around developers that were more experienced only added to Larson’s stress.
“It makes perfect sense to hang out with people that were good,” he said. “But it was extremely unnerving.”
Larson suffers from a condition that’s common among programmers, known as the “imposter syndrome.” It’s the idea that many of the other coders you work with are better than you, which sometimes makes it difficult to accept credit for your own work.
“I had hardcore imposter syndrome,” Larson said. “I was constantly intimidated by [my friends] achievements and how easily they could come up with algorithms I couldn’t even understand. They were incomprehensible to me.”
According to Larson, imposter syndrome doesn’t necessarily go away — it just fades from time to time. But any instance, such as being surrounded by tons of talented coders at a hackathon, could cause it to bubble up again.
Get focused, and find a partner
Still, there are a few ways to manage your time wisely and avoid the stress Larson encountered when he was learning how to code. It boils down to two important tips: do some research to discover what kind of languages you want to learn, and find a programming partner.
Larson says one of his biggest mistakes was his lack of focus. In his blog post, he suggests that you choose one type of software programming that interests you and is relevant to your career. Once you decided on a type (i.e. web or mobile, etc.), you should pick just one language rather than trying to master a few. Then, pick one curriculum and stick to it.
Having a partner to go through the process with you is also key, Larson said. This is a process known as pair programming — when two programmers code together on the same computer.
“The process of talking over your code with someone else and having a conversation, it’s invaluable,” he said.
You should make sure you’re working with someone at the same skill and experience level as you, Larson advises.
“People think you’d want to be pair programming with someone better than you because it’s like a mentor relationship,” he said. “But that’s not the best way. The person that knows more will subconsciously take over the pair programming session and make the decisions.”
And, when it comes to managing imposter syndrome, it’s important to stay focused and not get discouraged by those around you.
“Just remind yourself that anybody can learn how to code,” Larson said. “It’s not some elite club.”