Learning to code from a standing start

It's been nearly two years since I first wrote something that could be called code, so it feels like a good time to reflect on how I got into coding with a more personal piece. I hope that others who perhaps feel like coding is "not for them" might read this and realise that, actually it totally could be!


I have a background that does not naturally lead to coding at all, really. At school I favoured humanities, then at university I studied law, thinking I'd become a hot-shot lawyer with a tonne of cash. When I realised I didn't want to be a lawyer, I decided to become an academic - I liked studying, and I found the concept of law (how and why it works etc.) particularly fascinating. In the end I did a PhD in international law then became a lecturer, which I enjoyed for several years.

So my background contains precisely no coding. IT at school was all about making a nice poster using Microsoft Publisher, and there was never even a hint of code! I didn't even do maths after year 11 at age 16. For over half my life I was firmly situated within the humanities and social sciences.

My many friends who are programmers seem to have a good time at work, so when it was time for a career change I wanted to try coding, but I thought there was no way I could get into it due to my background. I assumed that learning to code took so much effort and time that if you hadn't started when you were a kid, there was no hope.

I also felt that I simply wasn't capable of being a programmer, like there was just something about my brain that meant it was impossible for me.

Thankfully, some friends disabused me of this misconception and I decided to have a go.

Getting started

Probably the biggest hurdle was getting started - I had no clue about where to begin, but I needed to start somewhere.

I knew I should start small and introduce myself gently so I googled coding games, and I came across Code Combat. This site is very clearly aimed at children - it was a great exercise in swallowing my pride to recognise that, while I was a supposed "expert" in international law, I was going to have to join the small kids. And I'm so glad I did! I paid for a month's subscription and learned about syntax and functions and how code works, all while controlling a little character on screen.

Code Combat was a great soft intro to coding. It didn't take long for me to start to understand the basics of writing code, which felt like a huge achievement.

Soon after, I found Sololearn, an app that teaches you to code via your phone. I decided to have a go at Python as I'd heard of it, and I spent the next few weeks working through their intro to Python course. Again, this was quite a gentle way for me to get to grips with how to code as it was beginner focused. Also, as the Sololearn lessons are quite small I was able to do it around my job as a lecturer.

Having completed the Sololearn Python course, I felt ready to step things up a gear.

Moving forward

Once I understood what code was it was time to make my learning a bit more instrumental, so I took a Udemy course in full-stack web development.

Had I ploughed straight into this course without previously playing around with code, I might have been put off due to my inexperience - I really was a fish out of water at first!

But because I'd built the foundation, when I took on the course it felt much more manageable, and before I knew it my knowledge had increased massively. Javascript felt very different from Python but the principles were the same, so I wasn't bamboozled. More importantly, I demonstrated to myself that I was capable of writing and understanding code, and that it I was wrong to think "I just don't have the right brain for coding".

During all this learning I spoke to my programmer friends about coding, and signed up for a local mentoring scheme. These interactions allowed me to deepen my knowledge and seek support when I needed it.

These previous experiences gave me the confidence to enrol with a bootcamp and hone my skills, which is what I'm still doing now!

Is there a coding brain?

So there you go, that's what it was like to go from being a humanities academic so "someone who codes".

At times it felt like turning an oil tanker - the pivot between disciplines was not always easy. It has often been quite stressful, with lots of soul-searching. But I'm extremely proud of my progress, and I hope this shows that anyone can learn to code.

If you've never done it but want to have a go then you absolutely should! As I found, there are so many beginner resources out there to help you. Have fun!

Avatar for Max Brookman-Byrne

Written by Max Brookman-Byrne

Self-taught junior web developer, currently honing my MERN skills with a bootcamp at The Developer Academy, Sheffield.


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