Wannabe wired: learning to code later in life

We didn’t have STEM when I was in school. But I was in school when AOL was still a thing, so I suppose that’s not saying much. My point is I never learned to code as a kid. I could have, sure, but in the late 90s coding wasn’t nearly as accessible as it is today. But these days, anyone can learn to code with some patience.

But let’s take a step back for a minute. What is coding, exactly?

You may have learned about coding under a different name, computer programming. The terms are interchangeable. Computer programming as a term has fallen out of fashion over the years as code is used in so many different devices, not just computers. Code is the way we communicate instructions to computers. It is a series of steps, branches and loops used in everything from your smart watch to your favorite apps.

Coding these days is taught in schools right alongside English as just another kind of language. But for those of us that missed the boat, stepping into the world of coding on our own can be intimidating.

For starters, coding isn’t uniform. There are many different languages to choose from when learning to code: Javascript, Python, Cobol, C, C++, C#, PHP, Ruby, SQL, Java…the list continues. Figuring out which coding language to learn is the first step in the process. And to do that, you have to decide why you want to learn code in the first place.

For me it was about game design. I’ve been fascinated by the non-traditional storytelling that video games allow for a long, long time. I’ve always wanted to see my own stories come to life through video games. So last year I picked up Twine, a great program used for creating narrative games. For the most part Twine is relatively code free, but I quickly learned that if I want to really kick my game design up a notch, I would need to learn at least a little bit of code.

So I downloaded the Grasshopper app.

Grasshopper is an awesome little free app that helps you learn to code. It has many levels to choose from and hammers home the simple concepts for beginners so that you get a good understanding of the basics. And that’s where I’m at now, the basics of JavaScript.

If you’re looking to make the leap to coding that’s your first task. Once you do figure out why you want to learn to code, then you’ll be better equipped to pick the language that suits your needs.

Now Grasshopper is only one learning avenue. It’s the one that worked best for me because I was just learning casually. I open the app on my phone when I have some downtime and complete a level or two. But there are other, more intensive options out there for those looking to learn coding as a potential career move.

One that I have had recommended to me by friends is EdX. EdX is a great learning resource that allows everyday users to audit classes at prestigious universities like Berkley, Harvard and MIT. There are several computer and coding classes available through EdX, many of them are free. You can also earn certificates through EdX if you work hard enough, which can go a long way toward helping you change careers.

And of course, there are always books. Despite what Egon said in Ghostbusters, print is not dead. There are plenty of books out there that can help you learn to code if you prefer that method.

The biggest thing I’d tell you is to not be intimidated. Learning anything new later in life can be difficult, but with the right attitude and some proper patience, anyone can learn to code.

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