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More making, less magic: my experience learning to code at HackerYou (so far)

I’m halfway through week five of nine weeks here at HackerYou and I simply cannot believe how much I’ve learned. Of course I knew going in the curriculum was going to be super fast-paced, and that the weeks would be intense and challenging, and they certainly have been. But there really was no way for me to grasp even what it feels like to just learn this much information in such a compressed time frame. I know one thing for sure: it’s exactly what I always wanted from a learning experience. It’s almost completely hands on – you learn a concept and within ten minutes you’re in the console or in your text editor hammering out code. Do some examples, have some discussion, questions answered, and now you’re on to the next concept, building on that previous one. But at the same time, all of the intimidation, fear of failure, and frankly the loneliness I felt trying to learn to code online or in a gigantic university classroom is completely gone as well. It’s everything I expected, and a lot more.

Getting rid of the “magic”

Certainly the most important thing I’ve gotten from attending HackerYou so far, though, is simply that I no longer see any “magic” when I look at or hear of technical things. Even if it’s a topic I know absolutely nothing about, I’m completely comfortable just throwing myself into whatever it is, and trying to find out if it’s useful to me, now or in the future, and if it is, how I’d going about using it. Nothing is “too difficult” for me anymore – for more advanced things it’s just “there’s n number of things I need to learn before I can learn this” (Node.js is a perfect example). And those who create technology (at least on the software side of things) are no longer magical themselves. Although they’re still my favourite people, of course :).

So what the heck have I learned anyway?

Based on my previous experience trying to learn code, if I had had to guesstimate what I’d learn at HackerYou by the beginning of week five, I’d have probably said “oh probably a lot of HTML, some advanced CSS stuff I’d hope, uhhh probably you’ve made a couple websites and are starting to build on the basics, maybe you can start thinking about using other people’s plugins or…something”. Yeah that would have been completely incorrect. In the shortest possible way, here’s SOME of what we’ve covered so far at HackerYou, in FOUR weeks:

  • Intro to html, basic concepts
  • Intro to CSS, basic concepts
  • Floats, the box model, laying out a page using CSS
  • Normalize, display, positioning (oh my)
  • Lists, navs, drop down navs using lists, forms, hidden and visible to create awesome navigation
  • More forms. I like forms. Other people do not like forms.
  • Best practices when writing HTML and CSS, best practices of design for the web
  • Design fundamentals, web design fundamentals, typography, some photoshop
  • Creating wireframes (both lo- and hi-fi) and style guides using HTML and CSS
  • Design resources, intro to UX concepts, learning about front end frameworks and why people would want to use them
  • More UX, why it matters, including talks from professionals working in the field
  • Responsive design: why to do it, how to do it, do it.
  • Embedding webfonts, media, etc.
  • Advanced CSS, start working with a preprocessor and start using SASS
  • More advanced SASS (I also like SASS)
  • Refactoring all the things
  • git, the command line, command line basics, using git in the command line (I freaking love the command line), git in a GUI (boo)
  • FTP and hosting, keyboard shortcuts and other ways to optimize your workflow
  • All the things you ever wanted to know about being a freelance dev. Just really, all the things. Even though I want to work for a company when I leave, this has been incredibly interesting stuff to learn.

And so far, in two days of Javascript:

  • Basics, syntax, that kind of thing
  • if statements
  • for loops, while loops, for-in loops
  • functions
  • arrays, objects

(This last bit, by the way, took about a month and a half to go over in my intro to programming course in my undergrad, and I understood less of it then.)

ALL including many, many, many examples, exercises, full on projects, and presentations. And then most of the students stay late in class, go to developer meetups, help each other day in and out on chat and in person, even go to hackathons or meetups to learn new frameworks, or create their own little side projects and a constant barrage of sick codepens. Blogging and tweeting, being active on github, and so on. Aaaaaaand so on.

Am I really learning? Short answer: yesyesyesyes.

You may be tempted to think “alright well sure you can go over those things…if you talk really fast…but you’re not actually taking them all in”. But an awesome thing happens when you get a group of people together who’ve been chosen because they have an amazing drive and willingness to learn, expect a lot out of them, and then give them a completely immersive learning experience where they gain knowledge through trial and error – we actually do learn, and quickly. Sure, we’re not going to be senior developers when we graduate – our job once we leave HackerYou is to keep coding awesome stuff and learn like mad while contributing to our own freelance business or the companies we work for. But we’re some of the quickest learners out there, with the strongest drive and willingness to grow as both developers and people, because frankly you couldn’t get to week five here any other way.

I’m interested in hearing about front-end internships and jr. dev positions in companies that share my values, and I’ll be available for work in late June! Let me know if you have something in mind for me at eeporta@gmail.com.

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