Learning to code can be a boost to almost any career. The skills you can learn from programming can enhance your daily work regardless of your current field. There are a lot of methods to choose from when deciding how to learn to program. You can pick a formal classroom setting, an online course library, or even look for support in your current company. The range of possibilities means that you can find the learning approach that works best for your learning style and goals.
Why Do You Want To Program
Your reasons for learning to code provide valuable insight into which learning route you should choose. Your end goal can dictate what you hope to achieve from your efforts. Learning for personal development and skill enhancement will take you down a very different path than wanting to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. Before deciding how to learn, make sure you have identified what your end goal is.
Questions To Ask
- Are you learning to improve your career, change your employer, or for personal growth?
- Are there particular languages/technologies that are important in your field, in the field you want to join, or that interest you?
- Will the additional training improve your compensation?
- Are there friends or colleagues that would also be interested?
- Will you need verification of your accomplishments for your employer or prospective employers?
- How much time can you commit to your studies?
Classroom learning will never go out of style, especially for those who prefer a firm structured approach. A conventional method will come with classwork, homework, assignments, and classmates. You will need to be prepared to set aside a certain amount of time each week for your courses.
Formal education involves attending a university, a university extension, or a community college. Attending a University is a serious commitment for a working individual and may require a full course load. However, if you’re the goal is a bachelor of science degree, a master of science degree, or a doctorate, then this is your most reliable option. Working with an understanding management and having a commitment to significantly limiting your free time can make this plausible. This option is the most prestigious route, and a degree can provide opportunities previously out of reach.
Community colleges and university extensions are a more reasonable way for busy professionals to attend classes while still striving for a prestigious accomplishment. University extensions and community colleges usually have options geared towards working students. You won’t be able to earn a degree through these routes, but they do often offer certificates of achievement for completing organized programs.
For example, the University of California, Irvine offers a Data Science certificate after earning 15 credits (2-3 credits/course). University extensions like UCI’s often have many online options to make attending easy. It is not a degree, but it is a significant accomplishment that will impress most employers.
The younger cousin to the university and the college is the boot camp. Boot camps are high-intensity crash courses in programming designed to teach you skills quickly. The main benefits of a boot camp are the individuals you meet, the connections you can make, and having programming code to show employers. Boot camps are a good option for those looking to jump into the programming field with little to no previous experience. However, boot camps can have a mixed reputation. Find out if your current or prospective employers find boot camps to be a compelling learning resource before committing the time and money required. Ask if there is a particular boot camp they would recommend.
- Structured Curriculum – Learning is regimented. Individuals who prefer a set structure and external accountability will do well in a formal environment.
- Confirmation of Completion – Completion of a formal course is a verifiable accomplishment. Colleges and universities have transcripts. Colleges, online classes, and boot camps will often issue certificates as proof of achievement.
- Proven Track Record – Formal systems will have matriculated large numbers of students successfully and with proven skills.
- Demonstrable Code – Boot camps, and sometimes university courses, will leave you with code to showcase your new skills.
Informal education is probably the most well known and most commonly taken route. Informal educators include large online libraries of educational videos, reading materials, and quizzes. Online information is organized into a syllabus to follow or a course package. Informal education allows you to learn at your own pace as time permits. Some of the most popular sites for this approach are:
These sites are rich in options and teaching styles. Unlike a formal program, there are often courses on similar subjects taught by different individuals. If you find one teacher isn’t meeting your needs, you can find a comparable program with a different instructor. These types of sites rarely provide formal certification programs and are focused on providing information rather than prestige.
One notable exception is Udacity’s nano-degree program. Udacity offers a university extension style curriculum at the end of which you can earn a nano-degree. Although it may lack the academic rigor of a university degree, it is no less useful and comprehensive. A nano-degree may be just the thing to make you stand out at your company or help you shine in a pile of resumes.
- Unstructured Curriculum – You are free to use the online libraries and courses as you see fit, whether or not they have a set curriculum. You are free to skip sections or repeat sections as needed.
- Learn at Your Own Pace – Informal education websites come with a membership cost or require you to purchase a course. Once you have access, you can use the available materials at your own pace or as long as you pay the membership fee.
- More Adaptive To Language Growth – As languages develop and grow over time, these sites will update their courses or acquire new programs to match. A formal institution can be slow in adapting to more recent changes in a language’s development.
- Learn Where You Want – These sites only require an Internet connection to use and are often available on multiple devices.
Learn By Doing
If you already have some programming experience, and learn new languages best with hands-on experience, then it is reasonable to eschew education options entirely. Learning by doing is the most independent of all paths. Learning on your own can feel overwhelming at first since you are jumping directly into the deep end. However, it doesn’t need to be. Keep focused on the why and what of your goal to learn to program, and use that to guide you:
- Solve a Business Problem – Use your work environment to help you find a focus for your learning. Is there a particular issue that occasionally frustrates you at your current job? Is there something you would like to add to your existing daily operations that would be useful? Finding a need in your current environment can be a strong motivator to learn.
- Recreate a Tool – Use a currently existing application as a reference for an end goal. Can you recreate the application? Can you find ways to improve upon it?
- Connect It To Your Personal Life – Is there an issue in your personal life that you could address with a programming application?
- What Is Interesting About the Language – Are there particular facets of the language you want to learn that fascinate you? Are there parts of the programming language you have chosen that you would like to explore further?
The personal nature of learning on your own, without the benefit of a structured curriculum, can be very fulfilling. Choosing a focus that is personal will imbue your learning with a passion.
Learning to program on your own, without a curriculum, can leave you with no evidence of your work. Like the boot camps discussed above, making your written code available can be a tremendous benefit when interviewing for a new position or when asking for a raise. There are many free and inexpensive options for code hosting and code editing/writing:
- No Curriculum – Learn by finding specific ideas that you find intriguing or by following a book or online tutorial
- Work At Your Own Pace – The thing that will drive you to continue is yourself. You can learn to program as time and responsibilities allow.
- Driven By Needs – The ability to use your learning to solve a real-world problem is a powerful motivator.
Consider where you are now as your next learning environment. Your current employer might welcome your interest in learning programming and help you. Corporate assistance can range from regular “Lunch & Learn” opportunities to internal mentoring to onsite training. There are likely others at your company who would also like to learn and may join you. Your company probably also has programmers that you can use as resources when you need assistance with your studies.
- Learn Where You Are – There is no need to buy books or register for classes. The learning resources you need are all around you.
- Community – Your colleagues might also welcome an opportunity to learn how to program. A group of people to learn with can make learning fun and can encourage each other to be successful.
- Guidance/Mentoring – Companies might have mentoring programs in place to assist employees who want to learn new skills like programming.
Learning how to program is a rewarding, challenging, and fun journey. There are many paths to choose from, and you should be able to find a route that works best for you. Even better, you can often use several different approaches simultaneously to flesh out your education. You could attend an online university course while having a membership to Pluralsight and hosting a once a week learning session at work. Your desire to learn is your most significant motivation, and harnessing it can make all the difference.
Related: Expert Roundup: Coding Bootcamps