by Kevin Gardner
How to keep learning and become a better coder
Coding has come a long way since the days of Robert Taylor and ARPANET and Sir Tim Berners-Lee and CERN — and it continues to advance. When it comes to mastering the art of coding, there is always room for improvement. The better you can code, the more options you’re likely to have in your career. It’s important that you don’t let yourself get complacent with where you’re at and that you constantly strive to learn more and keep pace with developments and your community.
The following are five great tactics you should incorporate into your learning practices so that you can constantly become a more effective coder.
Plan out how you’re going to overcome limitations and distractions
Let’s start with the basics. One of the most important things you need to do to raise your coding abilities is to know what you need to work on. There is so much to learn when it comes to coding, but every coder usually has some task or language in particular that they struggle with. Knowing what you don’t know can sometimes be hard in coding if you’re not pushing yourself often and trying to do new things.
Something to consider also is where you’re coding. Georgia Institute of Technology released a study that found online developers take about ten to fifteen minutes to get back in the flow of work if interrupted. Plan for how to eliminate controllable distractions like social media, background noises, and so on. Make a good environment conducive to focus, in whatever ways work best for you.
Don’t stop with just one iteration or example
You’ll never perfect your coding abilities if you write code until it works and just stop, or if you copy and paste without learning why something works. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of writing code three times to perfect your work and understanding before you call a project complete. You might also write your code by hand. This may sound counterintuitive — computer code via pencil and paper — and will more than likely take a bit more time, handwriting code sharpens your proficiency at any level.
Code can almost always be improved upon. Improve your coding by rewriting it to work faster, to be more reliable, or to make it easier to document. If you really want to be a master coder, you should get into the habit of throwing code out after it’s complete and starting over. This way, you know that your final product, after the third time writing code to fulfill the spec, will be as good as possible and your grasp of it firm.
Always have a project in the works, especially with new code
In addition to your routine work, you should have projects and challenges in the works at all times that push your bounds and allow you to grow as a coder. Try to always be doing something you have never done before in your programming experience so you’re consistently learning.
It’s easy to master a few sets of skills that allow you to fulfill your role, and then be tempted to stop there. But you should have side projects that will allow you to work on some area of coding that’s problematic for you and that you haven’t yet mastered.
Build side projects as you learn new material. Personal goals and projects are often the best starting points for experimenting with new subjects, languages, and techniques.
Avoid only learning one language
Each programming language has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Don’t fall into the bad habit of thinking one language reigns supreme and all the others are more or less useless and unworthy of understanding.
Learning another language gives you a new perspective and could help you to handle projects down the road with greater expertise. Some of the many new languages you could start working on that you might not yet be familiar with include C/C++, Ruby, Python, Django, Pascal, and NodeJS. Learning other coding languages, with different approaches and viewpoints, offer you a chance to think about problems from multiple angles. Expand your mind and creativity.
A helpful resource for coders with this learning process is a coding coach. This is a robust training program with detailed procedures that will help you learn languages along the way.
Consult other more experienced coders whenever possible
You can learn so much by taking part in projects with fellow coders — for example, among IT staffing at your organization — who are more skilled and experienced than you. This way, you can ask those with more experience for assistance and explanations when you encounter some task or issue that you’re unfamiliar with. Another useful approach is to consult online resources and solutions; simply Google questions and learn from people on Reddit, YouTube, blogs, or Codecademy, among many others.
When you work with other skilled coders — in-person and online — make sure you read their code. Reading code produced by better coders is a great way to expand your horizons and see how others with more skill tackle tasks that you would have handled differently.
Network and partner with those whose skills you admire and wish to acquire. When you work on projects with better coders, you get to learn new things while being paid. And as you work to elevate your skills, explore the breadth and wealth of online resources out there, ready to be consulted.