I have been learning my whole life. As a current undergraduate student studying Economics and Government, my daily task is to learn as much as possible. During my first two weeks at LaunchPad Lab, I have certainly learned something: how much more there still is to learn. However, I have also quickly learned that this is an actionable realization. Though this may appear to be a familiar tale, nothing says “more to learn” like working as a business intern in a web development studio with minimal prior coding knowledge.
Let me explain. The office environment was extremely welcoming to me when I began; I was particularly struck by the camaraderie. It was obvious that the goal is not simply to work but to work together, a significant deviation from what college can offer at times, where the environment can be competitive and self-focused. For instance, during the company’s Demo Day last week, individual innovation on blogs, apps, ideas and coding was highlighted while collaboration on individual skills, tasks, or problems was stressed as altogether crucial to complete a task.
But one thing that supportiveness and camaraderie can’t do alone is teach code. As I worked through my first week and observed with both my eyes and ears open, I was simultaneously impressed and overwhelmed with the web and mobile development. As hard as I tried, I quickly understood that I could not simply learn code by osmosis. Regardless of my listening and note-taking skills on the intricacies of Ruby on Rails, proper syntax, or how to nest “div”s, I couldn’t master the intimidating jargon. As opposed to a typical college class, rote memorization, practice problems, exams, and sheer brainpower were moot here.
Until I learned to code (I’m using ‘learn to code’ incredibly loosely).
I was lucky to attend an intro to HTML/CSS coding workshop at the Starter League, taught by two of my LaunchPad Lab colleagues, Ryan Francis and Kurt Cunningham. Over the course of the 3 hours, I was tested, excited, intrigued, and enveloped by the new world of code. By the end of the session, when I was able to deploy my own live website from scratch, I felt a strange sense of relief. Some of the familiar terms I heard bounced around in the office now clicked. Simple analogies helped me understand the work on our projects. For example, I was taught that HTML is the skeleton and CSS is the clothes, which worked because I could use what I knew in my everyday life to help me through what I didn’t on my screen.
The most enlightening moment was learning to properly link content; it was an ‘aha’ moment because I learned that different sheets and languages could communicate with each other. I learned this needed to happen in the brains of the code, “head.” My fingers flew across the keyboard as I learned basic coding shortcuts separate from my familiar word processing programs (shift+command+d copies and pastes the above line, command bracket allows you to indent, etc.).
Afterwards, Ryan and Kurt explained the difficulty yet importance of teaching novices from an expert perspective. I realized that even though learning code may have been temporarily challenging for me while I absorbed new terms and logic, teaching code as an expert to beginners is a much deeper challenge. While I briefly built up, they had to endlessly breakdown. The difference between element, ID, and class selectors may be second nature for them; however revisiting the fundamentals helps facilitate better practice.
By no means would I consider myself to know code; I am still leaps and bounds behind the complexity of the work being done by my co-workers. However, that brief initial workshop gave me crucial takeaways about coding and web development. Ryan and Kurt made it clear that learning code would not come from a syllabus, textbook, or exams (as I was accustomed to), but rather incessant questions. They stressed that it was impossible to master coding after one session.
Furthermore, an intro to coding class accomplished one major thing for me: it gave me context. Whenever I would ask my friends who knew how to code to explain, they would always start by saying, “Well, it’s a language…” I didn’t realize how HTML/CSS could be a language like Spanish or English, read by a browser, until my introduction. That language gives me a foundation of context to try to keep up and learn.
Simply put, there are 2 types of people: those who don’t know code (me) and those who do know code. To those in my group, whether you are a college student working at a web development studio for the summer or not, try to learn! Mastering a few key tags, elements, and syntax rules can go a long way in establishing a foundation. To those in the other group, whether you work at a web development studio or not, try to teach! It can refresh your expert perspective, and people like me will need your continued help!
So let’s give it a shot, but just remember, I’ve still got more to learn:
<!DOCTYPE html> <html> <body> <div class=”coding practice”> <ul class=”takeaways”> <li>its invigorating to feel lost</li> <li>its more invigorating to feel finding something new</li> <li>ask questions and seek out context</li> <li>observe</li> <li>try</li> </ul> </div> </body> </html>