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CCATP #625 — Tom on the Internet on Teaching Himself to Program

Tom on the Internet poking his head up in a creepy wayTom Steven, aka Tom on the Internet from joins me to tell the tale of how he went from knowing zero about programming to landing a full-time job as a web developer in two years of self-training. Then he talks about the things that surprised him that he learned as a developer in that first year. In listening to Tom, you’ll feel like he’s not extraordinary and like maybe you could do this too. That is, if you’re willing to put the time and energy into teaching yourself all with a laptop and the Internet. I found Tom delightful and entertaining and inspiring, and I hope you will too.

mp3 download

Rough outline of our conversation:

Let me set up how we “met”:
Tom caught my attention when he wrote a blog post about a fabulous podcast he was enjoying called Taming the Terminal, created by Bart Busschots and me! That started a love fest where I blogged about him blogging about us, and now I’ve asked him to come on the show to talk about yet another blog post he wrote. Tom got his first job as a full-time developer and after a year he wrote up what he’d learned. It’s not about syntax and if/then statements and for-of loops, it’s a human story of learning. He’s 2 years out from his first programming job so we may learn even more.
I’ve Been a Developer for One Year | Tom’s Blog

  • Tell us a little about your background before you became a developer
    • Taught English in Korea for six years (and it was amazing)
    • Moved back to Canada and couldn’t find work
    • Worked a nightmare job
    • Clock was ticking. I was in my mid 30s, my wife was pregnant, and I was
      about to run out of studying time.
  • Did you go to school to learn to code or use the Internet to teach you?
    • All by myself
    • Never talked in person with other developers until my interview
    • Really got into tech podcasts, and slowly started understanding what
      people were talking about.
  • How did you prove in an interview that you knew what you were doing?
    • I had a demo application I had built that would make Bart very uncomfortable. Ha ha.
  • That took guts, yes?
  • Things you learned on the job
    • The senior developer who hired me, Kevin, seems to know about everything. Kind of like Bart.
    • Network requests.
    • Learn by seeing how other people write code.
  • Precision matters
  • As Bart is teaching us programming, he ​always​ makes me use the right terms and it drives me nuts. Is that really all that important?
    • Yes! Experienced developers look at you like you’re lassie. “What happened Lassie? Did Timmy fall down a well?”
    • When issues arise, they are often pretty complicated, and can involve issues in both the “code” and the “domain”.
  • What does a productive programmer look like?
    • Great question.
    • It’s not the person who writes the most code.
    • It’s sometimes the person who stops code from being written. Code can
      be a liability.

      • Spending time planning saves time
  • Does it bother you how much faster the other developers are?
    • New developers are slow. Really, really slow
      • It did at first. I was terrified of losing my job.
      • They aren’t faster anymore. I’m overtaking them.
      • I watch Dorothy’s speed on Programming By Stealth challenges vs. mine and it’s discouraging (she coded for 30 years as her job, I’ve been on it for about 4 years now as a hobby)
      • For sure. There’s always people who are faster. And they haven’t always been doing it longer than you.
      • I try and steal things from them. How are they faster than me?
      • A nice thing about coding is that physical gifts aren’t very important.
  • Have you figured out what the best technologies are?
    • Nope! Always changing.
    • Were you qualified to answer that?
  • How about languages
    • As a new developer, do you think it is important to learn a bit about a lot of
      languages or to learn one or two really well first and then move on?

      • Focus on one. Learn it until you think you’ve got it.
      • Then learn another. The contrast will show you how little you knew about
        the first one.
  • Have you got favorites yet? Are they your first languages or something you
    learned later?

    • I love TypeScript. I enjoy ruby. I’m intrigued by Go. I’m not a fan of PHP.
  • You said everyone dislikes JavaScript – but that’s one of the few I have learned!
    • I personally like JavaScript, but a lot of developers do not.
  • Once you got a job, do you learn everything at work?
    • I don’t, but some people I work with do.
      • If I want to get to the place I “ought” to be at, I’ll need to work harder than other developers.
  • Do you like programming more or less now that you’re two years in?
    • More and more. As I get more comfortable, I get sucked further in.
  • Do you have any resources for people learning to code?
    • I think Programming by Stealth would be great.
    • Eventually, you need to choose a problem and try to solve it. You learn a lot from the detours.

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