Cupboard door with resolutions

Writing my resolutions on a cupboard door didn’t have the effect I hoped

In 2012, in those funny few days between Christmas and New Year, I made a pledge to learn to code during 2013.

It was one of three New Year’s resolutions that I set myself after a few Christmas sherries (I wrote them on my cupboard door in a vain attempt to motivate me, see image above) and the only one that I managed to achieve in any form (the comedy circuit will have to wait for my German-speaking, ukelele-playing comedy act).

Even then I’ve got to say I left it rather late. It got to about October when I realised that these resolutions existed and that it didn’t look particularly good to fail on three counts.

So I signed up to do a Front End Web Development course with Steer and over five days in December, I was taught the basics of HTML, CSS and a bit of Javascript (three languages that are basically the building blocks of every web page you visit).

Why bother? Well, from a professional perspective, the digital team I work within at The Times has three developers and we often work together to build new things as well as improve what we’ve already made.

Over the past 18 months, it dawned on me that those new features and fresh ideas would have been easier to create if I had a better understanding of the technical work involved and was able to better communicate my point of view in terms everyone could understand. It’s what Knight Mozilla Open News fellow Noah Veltman would class as ‘technological literacy’.

Also, from a personal point of view, I’m often frustrated by my inability to act on simple ideas I have (changes to blog themes, creating static web pages, making maps) and which I’d have to resort to favours from friends. I tried Codecademy on a couple of occasions earlier in the year but never really got my head around how and where to apply the tags and attributes I was learning. So, for those two reasons, a course seemed a good option and I was recommended Steer by a friend (other coding schools include General Assembly and Decoded).

Steer coding courseThe guys at Steer were great. Their project based way of working (we made eight sites in the five days) allowed me to see where the skills I was learning were applicable and Tim and Sam, our tutors for the week, went at a speed that was testing but not unmanageable.

Also, as guys doing this stuff every day, Sam and Tim were able to teach the class about a lot more than just the languages, including the Web Standards Project, an accessibility project called a11yproject and some slightly more advanced javascript frameworks as well as a whole bunch of resources to read up on. In short (and this is the big benefit of a course in my opinion), they helped me get an idea of how everything knitted together rather than just learning a skill in and of itself.

Now I know the basics, my challenge will be putting aside time to practice and I’ve set myself the goal of doing an hour of coding a week in 2014. The proof will be in my participation in the projects I am involved in at work.

If you think learning to code might be something you want to do, my advice would be to work out if it will help you better tell the stories you’re writing, inform the projects you’re working on or get the new job that you’re going for. Learning to code is a valuable skill but learning it at the right time is more important.

And, whatever you do, don’t make resolutions after having a couple of sherries.

This post first appeared on Wannabe Hacks here.