The White Noise of the Learn to Code Movement Talk


I gave this talk in April 2016, just 7 months into my learning to code journey. I was frustrated with the lack of a clearly delineated path to learn to code. Open Google and type in "learn to code" and you're instantly inundated with billions of results. Ask any programmer or programming community and they will tell you that you should learn whichever language they know. Ruby devs suggest learning Ruby, JavaScript devs suggest JavaScript, some subset of devs suggest C as your first language.

So I created this talk and presented it at my local JavaScript Meetup group with three goals: inform existing devs that there is a problem here and give advice on how they should answer beginner questions, try to help beginners with answers to their questions, and call on the industry to be willing to hire and train juniors.

Talk Overview

The talk had three parts. The first part was just pointing out to the experienced devs of the group that there even is a problem. In my experience speaking with devs who have been doing this for years, they sometimes aren't aware that there are people out there who didn't take their exact route or who haven't been doing this since they were 10 years old. So I outlined the 5 questions a beginner might ask and walked through what happens when you google one of those questions:

  • Should I learn to code?
  • What language should I learn?
  • How/where do I learn to code?
  • Do I need a CS degree? Should I go to a bootcamp? Should I teach myself?
  • How do I find an OSS project to contribute to?
For each of those questions there are, as expected, millions or billions of results and this is bewildering to beginners.

The second part of the talk was aimed at any beginners in the group. I provided the answers to those questions that worked best for me.

  • Yes
  • Just pick one and focus on it for at least 6 months
  • Find a MOOC that teaches the language you've picked and focus on one at a time
  • No, you don't need a degree. Self teach yourself for 6 months, then you'll be better able to determine if a degree or bootcamp are right for you.
  • I provided several resources here to help beginners find first-timer labels on Github

The third part was focused back on the experienced devs trying to lay out what seems like helpful advice, but actually makes things harder for beginners. Things like avoid answering questions with other questions. The most common example of this is:

Beginner: What language should I learn?
Developer: Well, what do you want to build?
It seems like a logical question to ask, but most beginners probably don't know what is even possible to build, let alone what they want to build. I wrapped up the talk with a call for the industry as a whole to be more willing to hire juniors and train them. The shortage of developers is self-inflicted based on high end talent poaching rather than an actual lack of capable people. Companies have to be willing to hire juniors and train them knowing that they are eventually going to leave. A really great blog post on this is The Tech Talent Shortage is a Lie

Cartoon about investing in employee training

Talk Download

If you want to take a look at the slides, you can download them here.