While part of the argument for building code literacy has to do with getting more people ready for coding jobs, I’ve found that just having a baseline understanding of how technology works, under the hood, has given me a far greater appreciation for being able to turn on my MacBook in the morning, or track a package on its way to my home.
So, here’s how to get your foot in the door, and get started coding:
Step 1: Get the basics
While Seattle-based Code.org’s Hour of Code tutorial is oriented towards a slightly younger audience, it does a really great job of introducing people to concepts like loops and conditionals, which are shared throughout different programming languages.
Step 2: Figure out what you want to do, and get started doing it
Once you have the basics under your belt, learning to code actually encompasses a wide variety of interests and projects. While there are some shared concepts that will help you out wherever you go, you don’t necessarily want to learn how to program a robot if all you want to do is build a website, and vice versa.
Here are some good starting points for figuring out where to focus:
- For learning how to build a website, you’ll want to build a background in HTML and CSS. Codeacademy offers some solid free tutorials that will get you started. For a deeper (if slightly less user-friendly) look, check out W3Schools’s offerings.
- If you want to start learning about how to make a computer do your bidding, Udacity’s Introduction to Computer Science course is a great way to get started learning Python, a simple but powerful language that has grown in popularity since its introduction.
- If you frequently need to handle large blocks of text, I’d recommend learning Regular Expressions, which will give you the tools to powerfully process the equivalent of whole novels at once.
- I don’t recommend starting with mobile app development, just because even starting a basic project and getting it onto your phone or tablet can be an ordeal. Plus, because mobile app development can be such a lucrative career these days, most tutorials are hidden behind paywalls. But, if you’d like to start crafting a foundation, I’d recommend starting with Python, because setting it up is fairly hassle-free, and it shares a bunch of concepts with the languages that drive mobile development.
Step 3: Dive deep
Now that you’ve built a basic repertoire (and put some of the concepts from step one into practice), it’s time to take a deep dive into a project you want to take a shot at, whether that’s building your first mobile app, or crafting a website from scratch.
Bento is an excellent clearinghouse of resources on a whole variety of coding topics, including PHP, mobile app development, ActionScript, Facebook’s APIs, and more.
A great way to get started with a more complicated project is to start by pulling from one or more open-source code repositories for things that interest you. Searching Github for a repository that suits your needs, and tailoring the code to fit your goals, is a great way to kick-start a project, though be sure to read the fine print before trying to make a business out of it.
Bonus: Get serious coaching
If you think you’re going to need a wide range of coding classes, you might consider throwing down a few bucks on a subscription service that specializes in providing quality interactive tutorials for a breadth of languages.
I’m a subscriber to Treehouse, which offers a variety of coding classes on everything from building a WordPress plugin to managing an app development business. They’re still building out more advanced tracks, but if you want to get a start in a wide variety of different languages, they definitely present a strong offering for $25/month.
NEW YEAR'S TECH RESOLUTIONS: See our special coverage page for more in this series.Lynda, one of the venerable players in the online tech tutorial business, also offers a variety of courses on programming and web design, as well as a whole slew of other topics including 3D animation and Adobe’s Creative Suite for $25/month. However, unlike Treehouse, if you want to download tutorials to watch later, you’ll need to pay for a more expensive Premium membership.
So, there you go: a quick-and-dirty guide to picking up some code in the new year. If you’re looking for some other tech resolutions, check out our past guides on creating a robust backup system and making it to Inbox Zero. Stay tuned for our guide on how to improve your password security.