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It’s Never Too Late to Become a Programmer

4 November 2019 | by Michael Henderson
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The internet is flooded with posts from people who wish they could set the clock back to the good ol’ days when they were a young whippersnapper.

They think it’s too late to start learning something, so they wish they had just started earlier in life.

“What if I fail?”

“I wish I would have …”

“I’ll never get a job as a programmer if I start learning now.”

Yadda yadda yadda … the list goes on.

Get over yourself. You can become something if you really want to.

I have been programming professionally for years and have been around all types of developers — old and young. They all started with a want to become better at something in life; just like yourself.

Don’t worry about your age. Honestly, age has nothing to do with how well you perform when you sit behind the keyboard.

What does matter is the amount of discipline and drive you have.

Of course, not everyone is cut out for the painful journey of becoming a programmer (I use the word painful because I went through hell to get to where I am today).

It’s painful in the end because if you try it and like it, then programming becomes challenging and addicting in a way— for me, at least. You start to push yourself to the limits and, most importantly, it becomes fun.

But if you set your mind to it and want to learn something, go for it. From a person without a college degree, I’m here to tell you that it’s possible no matter what walk of life you are coming from, old or young.

The “Skill” of Programming

A lot of people compare skill to programming as if it’s something you get better at as you get older. Yes, you do pick up on certain things the more time you spend in the field, but this depends on the type of personality you have.

Just remember, skill has nothing to do with the length of time someone has been programming. Skill is how well you adapt, remember how to fix common errors, and can learn new things.

When I was learning to code my brain acted as a sponge soaking in any information I could, whether it be online or at the office. I was able to learn to identify certain mistakes without having to bare-knuckle my way through them firsthand like the old guys in the cubicle next to me had to do when they first started.

My point is, people think the length someone has been programming determines how good they are. That just isn’t the case. Oh, and I know some of you think just because you are older this means you’ll never learn how to code or don’t have time to become good at programming.

Yeah, if that’s you, I want you to step away from reading this now, and go dump those thoughts in the trash where they belong.

Mike, Tell Me What I Need

When it comes to learning how to program, you just need to understand the big picture of how programming works.

If you understand the big picture of programming: OOP, functions, types, etc., then you have what you need to expand your knowledge across different languages and frameworks.

Just because it’ll be your first time learning how to program doesn’t mean you can’t get a job as a developer after you learn your first language and understand the big picture.

There have been a lot of great JavaScript developers created in six months.

You have to quit measuring yourself on what you currently know and measure yourself on how quickly you can catch onto things.

I could go into work tomorrow, and the lead developer could tell me that we’re going to change the architecture of the application and write it using Ruby on Rails.

You know what? On that day I’d feel just as you do now: intimidated, doubtful and scared about learning Ruby on Rails.

But luckily there are huge online communities out there full of developers who are awesome and willing to help you out to an extent.

Plus, I get the big picture so all I have to do now is understand the Ruby syntax and I am good to go.

I’ve never worked with Ruby on Rails before, but I understand the big picture of how programming works. I know how the code needs to interact with the computer. I understand that code is compiled (some of it different than others, but you know what I mean).

I understand I have literally unlimited amounts of resources like official documentation and Google that I can use to understand how Ruby on Rails should work. My god, most languages even have a getting-started app or tutorial.

The content is there; you are the only person stopping yourself from consuming it.

Just Go For It

If you understand how programming works in general, which you will learn whenever you learn your first language, then I think you should be good to go.

When it comes to learning and adjusting to other languages and challenges that may come your way, just use what you learned when learning your first language to build upon that.

If you want to get a job as a developer, learn JavaScript. Build a few projects using that language, and use the projects to showcase your ability to a potential employer.

I’m not saying you’re going to spend a week learning JavaScript and then get a job at Apple as the lead developer. No.

But as you practice, you’ll become more confident in your ability to code. It’s going to be hard, frustrating, and annoying — but very rewarding.

Just set a learning schedule for six months out, and reserve an allocated amount of time every day to sit and learn JavaScript. Once you build a few applications and have a nice portfolio, then you’re already of value to a company.

Plus, when you learn plain old JavaScript, then the introduction to certain frameworks like Angular or React will be a little bit easier for you to pick up and understand too. Don’t rush into a framework too soon. You’ll know when you need to use one.

But Will I Ever Be As Smart As the Others?

The question is: Does it matter?

Sure, experienced developers know certain tips and tricks and, most importantly, they have experience. But when you meet people that have been programming for 20 or 30+ years and talk to them, I think they’ll tell you the same things I’ve been told.

They just became good at understanding and remembering certain problems they’ve had in the past which makes them write better code today. They still Google and scan Stack Overflow for answers.

Also, I think you just get good at predicting how the computer will react, and you also get good at reading the documentation of technology and applying it to the problem you’re trying to solve.

As you begin to learn and build things, you’ll see reading Stack Overflow and understanding the solutions will get easier. The research and way you address problems and explain them to other people to get an answer will also get easier and more precise.

For those people that have been programming for years, they’re going to see new technologies released and they’ll have to learn just like you’ll have to learn your first programming language.

But the advantage they have is they’ve already learned their first language and they get the big picture.

Seasoned developers still ask questions. They still make mistakes. And every day is a constant learning process.

I swear, when people ask me what I do for a living, I am no longer going to say “I’m a developer.” I’m going to say “I practice software development” because a year from now I’ll most likely be learning something new I had no idea existed today.

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