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Why I Want To Teach Myself How To Program

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I always did well in school.

I worked hard and it paid off. I graduated Summa Cum Laude and was one of the top, if not the top, student in my program.

Nonetheless, as a history major at a small liberal arts college…

…my employment opportunities looked bleak.

Initially I thought I wanted to go back to school and move into the field of Economics. Ideally something pertaining international development. Specifically in Asia.

So I relocated to Thailand for nine months. There I taught English, studied for the GRE and secured an internship at an economic policy center at a Thai Think Tank. Perfect, right?

But the more and more I researched masters programs and studied useless GRE test-taking tips, I realized dishing out 50k a year for two years just to obtain another degree didn’t seem worth it.

In fact:

I knew it wasn’t worth it.

There Was A Demand for Tech Workers

Meanwhile, I kept reading and hearing about the high-demand of workers in the tech industry:

People who could program, design and build web apps. So, I looked into these jobs and the skills they required.

At first, navigating the terminology was impossible:

Most of the words mentioned left me clueless.

But what did stand out was the salary.

Even for junior positions with basically no experience, I saw starting salaries at $80K.

And lots of these jobs didn’t even demand a degree in CS:

A person just had to have the programming skills necessary to get the job done.

Moreover, I repeatedly saw the especial need for more women to get involved in this flourishing industry.

The more I learned, the more intrigued I became:

  • All these organizations promoting women to code?
  • Businesses sponsoring women-only tech events?
  • For free?
  • Literally, giving away expensive training and resources so that women learn this stuff?

As a young, fresh-out-of-college girl, it hit me that I was a complete and total moron if I didn’t move into this field.

Or, in the least, pick up some coding basics to throw onto my resume.

So…I Decided to Take an Online Programming Course

While still living in Bangkok and with no computer knowledge in the slightest, I jumped right into Udacity’s online Intro to CS course. And at first, I was moving along just fine.

“I’m a smart person, I got this.” 

But then, as soon as I moved into the second lesson (about a few hours into the course), I hit major roadblocks.

The jargon became incomprehensible.

What was going on?

I read the course notes and felt overwhelmed. I went to the discussion boards and saw people making references to other languages, saying things like, “Python operates in the same way as ____.” and mentions of functions and arrays and so on.

My First Taste of Programming Left Me Frustrated

It was clear a lot of these people going through this same course had some background—as minimal as that may be. So I gave up.

But not entirely. I dabbled in Code Academy. And Lynda.com. And more Udacity courses.

I then soon returned to the US where I took several Girl Develop It workshops — which actually helped me a ton. Not that I became some master, but certain key concepts made more sense.

I dabbled here and I dabbled there. I even went to a Ruby on Rails (free) three day jump start, intensive class.

…months passed by…

Several months after from my initial Intro to CS blunder, I had a better handle on core concepts.

  • I knew what the command line was (Could I use it without direction? No.)
  • I also understood HTML and CSS
  • And I figured out enough PHP to make simple changes to my WordPress blog

But I was faking it. Wait, I am faking it. I am still faking it.

Because to this day I do not understand essential programming fundamentals.

And, then in January 2014, I completely stopped learning new languages.

But I still want to learn

  • I want to know how programming works.
  • I want to tell a computer what to do and it will listen.
  • I want to understand functions and arrays and all that intimidating terminology I still can't wrap my head around.

I began learning Python basically a year ago to date on Udacity. And guess what? I am still on Lesson 2.

Why am I doing this?

Why on Earth am I making myself sit down and learn how to program?

I am doing it for me. And to (hopefully, fingers crossed) show people that it's possible for a liberal arts history major to teach herself how to program.

(Yes, I had to emphasize my gender because I especially want to show other girls in the world that computers can be fun.)

Do I see myself as a programmer full-time?

No. Not really.

But I do see the value that knowing how to program can bring to other careers.

In the end…programming is empowering

I'll never forget the end of that three day Ruby on Rails workshop I attended.

As tired and drained as I was, when I saw my dinky web app live, a shock of satisfaction ran through me:

I built something. I told a computer what to do and it listened.

And despite how far I have to go still, I'm not quitting.

It's just taking me awhile to finish what I started over a year ago.