It all started when a payslip from an experienced developer caught my eye. It was on top of a dresser and the amount caught my attention. That moment was when I decided I would be a programmer too.
[Editor's Note: this article was originally published in February 2020, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness].
It’s not the motivation I defend, but it’s my story. So, now that I have achieved my computer engineering career, I’m sharing the 3 keys for you to become a self-taught programmer.
…and hopefully answer the question: How to learn coding on your own?
Key 1: Challenge Traditional Education
The generalization of traditional education can be limiting. When we have something new to learn, we feel more comfortable looking for a paid course, long or short, instead of using the free information we can acquire over the internet. In some cases, the credibility of the training is essential. For example, we can only practice medicine with a diploma. But even those who attend a medical or computer engineering course do not guarantee the necessary training for their entire career. For ever-changing areas such as engineering, constant learning is necessary to keep up with technological advances. The difference is the need to make this training official. And in the case of programming, the flexibility is undoubtedly greater. So why do we limit ourselves to traditional education?
Key 2: Search For Happiness
When I think about this subject, several questions arise. The first goes against my own experience: it’s about betting on a training area based only on the financial return. We’ve all heard it before: "Hey, I'm going to learn "x" because it pays money now." The big problem with this motivation is the lack of interest in the subject that ends up hindering or delaying the progress of training. Interest in financial returns is very common, but ultimately it can be an obstacle to professional and personal fulfillment.
Another motivation that I often identify is to have the example of a friend, older family member or even a superior who traces us to a certain educational path that may not correspond to our vocation. Whatever the reason for choosing a professional path, there is a value that we insist on putting in the background, or even ignoring altogether: happiness.
The problem is that happiness is extremely important for the success of any learning. I know that we are not taught from a young age the logic that “happiness comes first, money comes second”. But, truth be told, how can we be motivated to learn anything if the subject in question does not speak to us and our only goal is its monetary income?
There are rare times when, before moving on with something, we ask ourselves questions like: “If I could, would I do this profession for free?” If the answer is positive, I think we have found our vocation.
Yes, I believe that it is possible to learn something on our own even if we’re not motivated to do so, but the necessary effort to reach this goal will undoubtedly be much greater and the process a little painful. Taking pleasure and satisfaction from what is being learned is, for me, the key to the success of any self-taught person. Only in this way can we be hungry for knowledge and have the willpower to look for sources and methods that satisfy that same "hunger". That's how I managed to become a programmer.
Key 3: Cultivate Self-Confidence
"I can't do it." "This isn’t for me." "I’m too late for it." Three extremely destructive phrases that are heard too often from those who really have a thirst for knowledge and happiness. When I hear these sentences it’s like stabs to the heart. From learning code, a new language, music, etc., there are several areas that can be mastered by us, autonomously, through free information that can be acquired in the comfort of our homes. But of course, only if our self-confidence and willpower are strong enough to take that ever so important and decisive first step.
These days, I believe 100% in my abilities. Any moment of uncertainty that may undermine my confidence, is automatically erased from the mind the moment I remind myself that, if others succeed, I too will succeed. And it is through this spirit of self-worth that I managed to succeed as a self-taught programmer, always filled with motivation, while overcoming obstacles and reaching my goals as if it were any other form of learning.
How to Learn Coding on Your Own: My Experience as a Self-Taught Developer
After finding my colleague's payslip, the decision was made, against my current ideology of success as a self-taught person, only with financial motivation. But it turned out to be a case of luck.
I thought to myself, "I kind of like math, I might be able to do it successfully". I started by looking for paid courses in which I could be physically present in the classroom, interact with the tutor in a faster and more effective way and then receive some kind of opinion regarding my evolution as a new apprentice. All to speed up the learning process, apply for a programmer job and start to receive those exorbitant amounts of money that at the time were the only thing I could think of.
After enrolling in a paid course where I could learn the basics of programming, I started to deepen my knowledge in this area and, behold, something that I didn’t anticipate happened: the more I learned programming, the more interesting I found it. Without ever having that intention, I started looking at programming as something fascinating, something that challenged my intellect in a pleasant way. Happiness.
I found myself always wanting to know more than what was discussed in class and, by my own means, I set off looking for more information on the internet and more importantly, voluntarily, something that had never happened before. The absorption of new knowledge was done almost in a cascade effect, knowledge after knowledge, information after information and, the funniest thing of all is that I could keep pace. Vocation.
It was then that I decided that it wasn’t worth continuing to pay tuition for courses where I would learn things that I could teach myself through free information on the internet. First I learned HTLM and CSS through Youtube videos, and then on Pluralsight. Later, I learned JS and on my first job I got into Java and a bit of C#. During my first steps on the workforce I also did some Udemy courses. And with a lot of motivation and without giving up when confronted with the first difficulties, I kept improving my knowledge and my technique until I managed to succeed in the area. Self-confidence.
Nowadays, I’m an experienced developer, and since I startd programming in 2014/2015, I've been involved in several projects, I managed to help countless companies, this without ever having a single university degree. All because I managed to identify what I like to do, and full of motivation and self-confidence, I managed to achieve my goal.
How to Learn Coding on Your Own? Final Thoughts
By applying these three key principles I hope you get to find find your place in the tech world. I wish you all the happiness and I would like to encourage you to work on your self-confidence. As you know by now, those are two of the three main ingredients for success.
As regarding the third, here's an article with more ideas to help you challenge traditional education: from learning through computer games, to crash courses to watch on Youtube!