When You Hit That Wall

I keep having to remind myself that I’ve only actually been studying on Free Code Camp for ten days, in between taking care of kids and other daily necessities.

Sometimes, it’s to ensure I don’t get lured into a sense of hubris. I’ll be flying through tutorials, devouring them as though they were wrapped in bacon.

Riding That High

With HTML, CSS, Bootstrap — even some JavaScript — all coming together and flowing in a way that makes sense, it’s easy to keep chasing the high of another finished project instead of diversifying study materials to ensure an understanding of the fundamentals. By the time I got through a challenge to build a random quote generator, I was so ready to whip some code into submission. I’d just come off a set of fascinating algorithms and had now completed my first dynamic web project of any kind.

See the Pen Random Quote Machine by Chazona Baum (@chznbaum) on CodePen.

Crash And Burn

And I had been racing through tasks and challenges as quickly as I could access them. As I started getting into some of the more intermediate challenges, I started to encounter more and more JavaScript concepts that I had never heard of. I managed well with skillful Google queries and an eye for scanning documentation. But when I reached the first challenge where I needed to use an outside API to create a weather app, everything locked up.

As I poured through documentation about the recommended API, I could not make sense of how I was supposed to actually use it. And it hit me that I didn’t understand how to implement the API because I didn’t understand enough of the underlying JavaScript. By focusing only on the tutorials and challenges, I was learning at an incredible pace, but I was lacking in areas that would be critical in completing more advanced challenges and algorithms.

Regroup and Diversify

I’m still fully committed to the path Free Code Camp lays out to full-stack proficiency, and I am dedicated to completing it within one year, despite the challenges of finding time with two small children running around. As someone who has been interested in learning code for quite some time but — seeing the explosion of languages being sought — had no idea where to start, I this is the single most useful individual tool I’ve come across.

But I’m realizing that while learning by doing is critical to retaining and being able to use the knowledge, it won’t all come from one place. I went through and started evaluating what additional resources would be helpful for my learning path:

  • The book JavaScript & JQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development by Jon Duckett. Because it is designed to reach those with and without computer science backgrounds, it’s a great read with a lot of visuals.
  • JavaScript tutorials from CodeAcademy. These are a bit more in-depth than the Free Code Camp JavaScript tutorials (though FCC wins hands-down on HTML through Bootcamp, and their practical exercises are superior).
  • Flowcharts and maps. I’m a visual person in some respects, and especially when it comes to problem-solving, if I can separate myself from the problem and break it up into its parts, I’m golden.
  • Questions. I set up an account on Stack Overflow so as I get flummoxed, I can share my code and ask for techniques or flaws in my logic. It’s not easy to ask for help, but everyone has been a beginner at some point.
  • Journaling my progress. As I encounter problems or intriguing solutions, this will be a way to keep things fresh in my mind, especially since I am working with such a concentrated approach.

In addition to more specific resources, I am also taking advantage of practice that may come from day to day activities, like my blogging. Today, I needed to reconfigure my blog’s Twitter cards to enable photos and get the site whitelisted. It was frustrating, but I learned a great deal about Twitter’s integration, and I managed to create cards that should help drive engagement and conversation.

Of course, different forms of challenge and competition can keep things interesting, so finally I set up an account on HackerRank so I can progress through additional algorithms and participate in contests to show how my skills grow.

Needless to say, I’m not nearly ready for even the “Newbie” contests — if you want to feel better about your own progress, I’ll be happy to tell you how I scored. Eventually, I’ll get there, and in the meantime, the challenges and algorithms are helpful in gaining some of the academic knowledge I’m missing out on by not having a computer science degree.

And of course, lastly, I’m going to need to get more involved with other coders: share, comment, and interact as part of a community. Conveniently, Free Code Camp recommends local meetup groups for Coffee and Code and other types of events. The nearest one to me is in a neighboring city 30 minutes away, which is a barrier to attending; FCC recommends having the groups as local as possible, so setting one up for my town will probably be on the docket for tomorrow or the next day. And that’ll provide a great opportunity for some leadership experience.

Have you hit a wall (or many) yet in your coding adventures? How are you adapting to move forward? Feel free to share in the comments!

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