Making A New Code Trail

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My how time flies! We are still on the code path and are are hiking on to new trails.  It has been ten months since our last blog and a lot has happened.  It is Year 3 of code and we are on a new trail – we are building real projects and learning by doing.

codetrail16What’s Been Happening:

2015 ended successfully with another 500 hours. Our Mountain of Code visual board was filled up to the top. We spent the rest of the year creating mini projects and working with javascript, animations, and various jQuery plugins. We also continued our Treehouse tutorials on WordPress.

When January rolled in, we decided that Year 3 would be our “Internship Year.” We were at the point where we were ready to utilize our code skills and start building a portfolio. But before we delved into a project, we wanted to first do some research: what makes a website “good?”

We spent quite some time looking at numerous websites and developers. A few of the things we did:  investigating the code through Google Developer Tools, doing speed tests to see how fast the pages would load, checking W3C code validation, evaluating design layout, finding out what the platform was built on (WordPress, Weebly, WIX, etc.) or if it was custom, finding out if a site was responsive (surprisingly, there are many that are not), and if the design was user friendly.

After researching over 50 sites, we did discover a few things that we think are important to a good site:  responsiveness, space between elements, balanced weight between images and text, readable font-size and user experience.

houseofcodeWe made a new visual board for 2016, called “The House of Code” and have colored sections for each project and learning time.  We have been working on our first project, an art site. It is custom with a Bootstrap framework, a slider in the header section and a lightbox art gallery. So this year, the interns have been truly “learning by doing” and it has taken our code learning trail to new heights.

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Follow Your Intuition. It Already Knows…

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A quote from Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford:  “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

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This quote really resonates with me because our future is an unknown.  We don’t know where we will be in a year or two, but we do know that we both love to code.  We are halfway through 2015 and taking stock.  We are on track with our hours and making progress – currently jQuery and more Javascript.  We don’t really know yet where this code path will lead us, but we trust that “the dots will connect.”

One thing we know for sure is that we need to keep our momentum and passion alive as we move into the intermediate levels. Trusting our intuition is key. We are not afraid to pivot and switch trails when we explore a path that is not connecting with us or we are not ready for.  And we have been discovering trails off the path by our natural curiosity.

Lately, we have been building small projects on our own as we practice and implement everything we’ve learned to date, We start each week off with our code challenge goals.  A typical day for us these days goes like this:

“What cool thing can we build today?  Let’s see if we can do what this site does. How did they do that?  Let’s research that. Let’s try it. No, that didn’t work. Why not? Let’s try something else. No, that definitely did not work. Let’s try something else. OMG, I completely ruined my code! Debug. Let’s check it out with Google Dev Tools.  No wonder – it’s got a ‘fatal error,’ “

“Better go through our notes and check some of our trusty resources (Treehouse, Code Academy, Code School, Github, jQuery documentation, W3C, and more). We need to rewatch that tutorial. Let’s try it again. No. And again. Nothing. And again. We’re not moving on until we get this. Scratch that way, let’s try it this other way. OMG! it worked! High Five! That only took hours and days, but hey – we got it.”

Now we’ve got a few more dots to line up on our path. We know the dots will eventually connect. We trust our instincts and are doing what we love. Everything else will follow. “Let’s go that way. Do you think we can do that?”

Progress – Not Perfection

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“Progress – Not Perfection” is a quote by Kathy Freston, a best selling author on the body/mind/spirit approach to health and wellness. This quote reminds us that even though we have a way to go before we become accomplished web developers, we don’t have to be stressed about being perfect right now.  What’s important is that we keep on our path and continue learning code –  brick-by-brick, hour-by-hour, two hours a day – until we reach our goal.

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Today, we take a breath on our code trail and and see the view of how far we’ve come along so far.  Since the launch of our code-learning journey in 2014, we have definitely made progress.  Last year at this time, we had just finished a course on HTML were then learning how to make background colors with CSS.  Now here we are, creating for-loops, objects and variables so we can duplicate the hour blocks to our “Mountain of Code Tower” with javascript.  We still have our foam board grid and colored pens, but this year we will also create a tower with code (HTML, CSS and Javascript).

We are deep in the woods of our code learning journey and are making progress daily.  I feel like Cheryl Strayed from the book Wild, I’ve gone too far to turn back and I look ahead and see the many miles we need to go.  At least I still have my boots!

We are not perfect, but that’s okay.  We are getting some traction and have moved beyond the newbie stage of last year.  With Treehouse, Code Academy, and independent practice, we have delving into: frameworks, advanced CSS, HTML forms, Javascript, jQuery, responsive design, Sass, Console, Git basics, web optimization and more.  All these topics are like different puzzle pieces that we need to learn how put together.  We are starting to understand the different shapes of the puzzle.  Now it’s time start learning how to build something beautiful.

Code Trail is Getting Steep

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We have been moving slow and steady up our code path for nine months now.  The trail is going higher and deeper into the trees. We just started a new path of Javascript and are feeling the burn in our legs as the incline increases. But we are making great progress every day.

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My http://www.codemoms.org site has been updated several times as we keep learning new skills.  Some highlights of my lessons these last couple of months are:  I  have learned that all code should be written as a mobile-first approach so handheld devices can easily navigate a site. I don’t know how many times I find a site that is not coded in mobile-first and I lose interest because I just can’t see it on my phone.

I also learned how to place a small sized background image on my website that wouldn’t slow bandwidth and would still fill the page.  I picked a mountain path, of course.  We’ve learned about command line coding and Sass.  Finally, codemoms.org passed the W3C Markup Validator, which meant my code was clear of errors.  When I first scanned it, I had 21 errors. So to clean it up and pass was very exciting.

A lot of these things we have learned at Treehouse. If we get stuck on a problem, we can find answers at online support sites like Stack Overflow, CSS Tricks, and WC3. Sharing knowledge and open source is the key to helping us learn and stay on the path.

Reflection at the Midway Point

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We are midway to our yearly goal of learning 500 hours of code. I stop on the trail and reflect on how far we’ve come. Even though we have learned a lot, we know that the mountaintop we seek is many miles ahead.  We won’t be there at 500 hours – not even close.  We know that there is no quick way up there – we just need to keep moving forward.  Already planning on our next 500 hours in 2015.

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Here at this point, we are happy to have learned so much so far:  HTML, CSS, Javascript and Photoshop. Our goal is take our time and retain this knowledge.  After we watch the tutorials, we take notes and practice, practice, practice.  We even give each other code challenges.  And then we practice more.  One thing that is clear to me right now:  the more we learn, the more we see how much more there is to learn.

A good method we found is the Three Steps to Retention”  1. Learn it;   2. Do it;   3. Teach it.  We keep cycling through these steps and it really helps us absorb what we are learning.  Working as a team helps us stay motivated and productive.

 

Code Path Gets a Trail Guide

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Our code path to-date has been organic and self-driven.  However, since we are not in a ‘formal’ classroom setting, our journey can be a real adventure that takes us on various trails.  When we get lost, we need a map to find our way back to the path.

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Our path sometimes branches off to a steep trail with challenging new concepts to learn.  Then there is the desert trail, when all the code terminology gets confusing.  At times, there will be a dead end or a detour, where we can’t get our code to display properly and we have to retrace our steps.

A couple of weeks ago, we found a great book for code beginners called, “Learn to Code HTML and CSS”  by Shay Howe.  This book pairs nicely with our online Treehouse CSS class.  It covers the basics of HTML and CSS and reinforces what we have been already learning.

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We have been going through the book and taking some time to practice our own code challenges on topics like: display properties, box models, floats, typography, images, lists, layouts, etc.  By going over the terminology and taking the time to practice, we are starting to feel like the pieces are coming together.  Best of all, Shay Howe makes his book available online, so you can read it as an open source at http://learn.shayhowe.com/html-css/.

So I guess you could say, we are on a shady trail right now, as we practice and review our knowledge in conjunction with our lessons at Treehouse.  Once we finish the book, we will be ready to proceed on to the next adventurous trail on our code path.

Never Ever Give Up

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“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” ~Confucius

This quote says it all.  We have been moving steadily up the path and we are making good progress. The terrain is hot and dry right now, but we are not turning back.  We continue to learn and practice code every day for two hours.  When we are not taking lessons, we are practicing, debugging, reviewing, or updating our spreadsheet of notes.  There is no easy path to learning code.  It just takes time.

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The more we learn, the more we see how much more we need to learn.  Wrapping my head around the CSS concepts of: elements, attributes, pseudos, properties, classes, id’s, links, nesting, boxes, divs, structure, webkits, bugs, syntax errors, etc. – is a lot.  We have to just keep doing it until it becomes second nature.  I know we will get there.

Yet, even as we walk through this desert, we see beauty and promise.  We learn something new every day.   The pieces start to make sense.  It might take a while until we reach the next valley of trees, flowers and shade.  But we will not give up – ever.  When we get discouraged, we look at Our Tower of Code (which is slowly filling up with colored boxes) and it gives us motivation to keep on trekking.