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.

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.

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.

Detour – Proofreading Code

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After learning about linear gradients on Treehouse, which  blends two colors on a web page background, I decided to add it to my codemoms project.  Yet, when I tried to add the code, it only covered half my page and not the entire background.  What was I doing wrong?  I had to stop on my path to figure this out before I went any farther.  It was a detour worth experiencing.

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I learned that there are sites that will check your code for errors.  This is very helpful since we are remote students with no teacher in the room to look at our work.  So I uploaded my html file to the W3C Markup Validator.  WC3 checked my code and informed me that I had more than one error (I won’t say how many).

Even though my web page was functional, I could see that the code was not really clean.  The validator helped me go through my code, line by line, and understand my mistakes.  When I reloaded my html, it said I passed.  Yay!

The big lesson we learned today is that coding needs to be clean, lean and orderly.  I am so glad that we had this detour at an early stage of our trek, so we can build good work habits.  So, after cleaning up my markup and learning a lot, we’re ready to hit the trail.

Endurance to Code

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Spending two hours a day on code seems like it will take forever to reach our goal, but we are staying on the path.  At this point, we are learning more and more about CSS on the Treehouse platform. Just yesterday, I uploaded some new code on our web page at http://codemoms.org and it felt great to implement what we have learned so far.

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On our trek up the mountain, I feel like we just reached our first mountain meadow, and we can enjoy the colors and calm air. Endurance is our friend. Going slow and steady works for us.  We take lessons, look back at notes and implement the new skills the best we can.

Ten hours a week is a good goal. Two hours a day.  Then there are those days that we work for four hours straight and my son says, “Can we hold off on the History class today? Coding is the most addictive and fun thing I have ever done. Let’s keep coding.”

Those are good days.  Onward we trek.