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Actualize Blog

September 4, 2015

If You Want to Learn to Code, Be a Mad Scientist

By Jay Wengrow, CEO of Actualize

As more and more people realize the benefits that learning to code can provide (you know, like landing an awesome job or creating your own projects just how you want), everyone is looking for the best tips and tricks to get them up to speed quickly and climb the heights of programming prowess.

While I think people realize that no single ‘trick’ will magically stuff their heads with technical knowledge and skill, there are a number of learning techniques that actually will put your learning experience on turbo mode. I hope to cover many of these ideas over the course of a number of articles, but now I’d like to focus on one.

This one critical educational method can make or break your success in learning to code. At the same time, it's a method that many people fear. It’s mean. It’s scary. It's. . .

mad scientists

Photo by JCO Studios.


Although experimentation is not unique to computer programming, computer programming is uniquely suited to be experimented with. You can really go to town trying out all sorts of technologies and various approaches to solving problems. When learning a new skill or computer language, you can just try things.

Write code that you are doubtful will work. Download a new software library and toy with it, not knowing what you’re doing for the life of you.

With this approach (the "practice before theory" approach), you will get the hands-on experience of tackling problems and actually working with technologies rather than simply learning about them. Sure, you'll encounter more problems than someone who is reading a book about the topic. That’s exactly the point. If you’ve encountered a hurdle and leapt over it, you are leagues ahead of the person who reads along, merely thinking about problems and solutions.

It's great if you’re reading a book about a new language or technology. Just make sure you take time out in the middle of each chapter to try out the techniques mentioned in the book. Then, try to stretch those techniques past the limits you're comfortable with. Even if you have no clue whether they will be successful.

Which brings us back to the fear of experimentation. That fear is unfounded. You won't break your computer, I promise! And you won’t bring down the Internet. If you manage that, anyway, you’ll be famous.

I think people actually don’t think they’ll break their computers by trying to write code they aren’t sure will work. So what is the source of this fear?

My theory is that the fear of experimentation stems from the fear of failure. If I write a line of code and the computer says “ERROR!” it feels as if I failed. My code didn’t just fail to do what I intended it to, but I actually triggered an ERROR (IN CAPS!!!). I’m just not cut out for computers and coding.

The thing to remember is this: no one gets harmed by an error. Error is not synonymous with failure; it just means that the code didn’t work. That’s all. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It doesn’t mean you have no technical aptitude. It was just an experiment, after all, and learning what doesn’t work is an integral part of the learning process.

Learning what doesn’t work is just as important as learning what does. So go ahead, be a mad scientist. Try every wacky idea that comes to mind. You’ll discover new things and also learn what things don’t work – both of which can't be learned from a book.

-Jay Wengrow, Founder of Anyone Can Learn To Code

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