I spent the last year learning programming. I talked about the different languages I learned and projects I worked on in my last post. This post contains my notes looking back on the year and a list of my favorite resources. Enjoy!
This is a collection of notes I put together as I reflected back on the year.
I didn’t realize it a year ago, but when you learn your first language, the language itself is the tip of the iceberg. I think it is helpful to find a language with tutorials and books to learn beginner and intermediate programming fundamentals using the language as examples.
I think Ruby is a good first language to learn because there are a ton of resources that will especially help you learn the non-language aspects of programming. For example, how the web works (Learn Rails Book One), testing/refactoring/programmer tools (Upcase) & design patterns (Practical Object Oriented Design in Ruby, i.e POODR), and development environment setup, Git & GitHub workflow, deployment, (Ruby on Rails Tutorial).
Ultimately, I wouldn’t worry a whole lot about picking a language. If you want to switch, learning a 2nd language is much easier because you won’t be learning the fundamentals of programming at the same time.
I started learning both and picked whatever I found most enjoyable on that day. I would bounce back and forth as sections got boring or if I felt like I was wading too far out in the framework “deep end” and didn’t understand what was going on. It probably depends on if you learn better from the bottom up (learning the concepts in depth bit by bit) or top down (learn overall how everything fits together and then going back to learn the details).
Typing out all of the code helped me learn the lesson that 95% of my errors or bugs are typos. On multiple occasions, when going through the Ruby on Rails Tutorial I had an error I couldn’t it figure out. When I searched StackOverflow, someone else had already posted the error…haha, we had the same typo. It’s one benefit of having a bunch of people learning programming with the same language.
The first time through a tutorial, I focus on understanding the big picture and often go through it twice. If I don’t get a concept, I just keep going and make a mental note to look for ways to better understand it during the rest of the book. When I go back through the tutorial, I understand how things fit together, so it is easier for me to understand the more challenging topics. On many occasions, the concept I struggled with on the first time around makes sense once I understand how everything fits together.
It was helpful for me to find a project once I finished a couple of tutorials (before I had a basic understanding, it was hard to know what was reasonable to build when starting out.) The main project I picked was building the fantasy sports app. As I mentioned above, I built it 3 times. Picking the next thing to learn was easier because it was based on the next feature I was trying to add to my app. Having a project also created the right amount of stress and urgency for me to break through barriers and not give up as I was learning.
There is a ton to learn and it can be overwhelming. Justin Weiss gives a lot of great advice about learning Rails as an intermediate, e.g. “With So Much Rails to Learn, Where Do You Start?”. The most important thing I learned from him is the importance of your setting aside the things you plan to learn later. I always have a large list of things I am setting aside so I can focus on learning one or two things in depth.
There were many opportunities to take pieces of tutorials and modify them to fit my project. One advantage of going through multiple tutorials is that I had a bunch of patterns and ideas for how to solve problems when you will run into them in your project. For example, I used the Wes Bos Learn Redux tutorial app Reduxtagram to model MetroApp. For one of my next features to add to MetroApp, I plan on using the implementation of the FilteredTodo from the Redux docs Todo List tutorial to add a filter by rail line color for the list of metro stations.
StackOverflow can help you find something when you don’t know what you are looking for. However, the more I’ve learned, the more useful the docs have become. Part of that may be because Elixir has great docs and there isn’t as much info on Stack Overflow. The Elixir Forum is a great resource if you run into problems with Elixir…pretty cool when the creator of the language answers your question himself.
One of my favorite part of screencasts was learning that even the pros make typos and other mistakes. They also have to reference the docs and look stuff up just like us regular folks.
I’ve tried to read more open source code, but I found that libraries were tough to understand at first. I joined Upcase which is a learning site from Thoughtbot and I think the best thing about it is access to the Upcase repository. The structure generally mirrored my app, so I could see how they solved problems similar to problems I faced. Now that I’m more experienced, I’ve found libraries useful for style and understanding how people organize classes/methods, and modules/functions. Reading more open source code is something I plan to work on in 2017.
When I hit a roadblock and I start forcing a solution, I learned that it is best to step away from the problem. So many times I’ve struggled for an hour or two and then the next morning I see the problem in 5 or 10 minutes. This is a tough one because it feels like you’re right on the edge of figuring it out…if I just play around with it for a few more minutes! …nope, time to take a break.
Another one of my goals for 2017 is to look into remote pairing and maybe learn more “in person” from a more experienced programmer. I feel like many of the authors of the books I’ve used are my unofficial mentors, but seeing how experienced programmers work would probably help me learn more quickly.
Many books and tutorials are available online for free, but if I find them useful, I buy a copy to support the author.
These are my favorites, but there are many other great resources I haven’t listed here. Thanks for reading!
Last year, when I first discovered you can use Elixir with Nerves Project on a Raspberry Pi, I bought a Raspberry Pi and started playing around with a "hello world" blinky project. I got...