Sometime in the Spring Semester 2019, I started learning how to code.
I began a Responsive Web Design Certification on FreeCodeCamp, which is about 300 credit hours of challenges and project building using HTML and CSS. When you’ve gone to art school for about ten years of your life, you get used to hearing that there’s no money in writing.
And once I went to undergrad for Creative Writing, I noticed that the people that were most successful were well…pretty rich. And also looked like this:
I’d also been promising myself that I’d learn how to code for long time. I’ve wanted to learn for a plethora of reasons, mainly because I’m noticing the rise in cryptocurrency, as well as the economic benefits of working in tech. I know that artistry demands a social responsibility, but I’ve been learning that my first responsibility is my own long-term well being.
A friend of mine sent me the link to freecodecamp, because he knew that I’d been saying I wanted to code. One day, I sat down and committed to the cert, because I knew that graduation was coming soon, I needed to keep diversifying my skill set.
1. Start with a plan!
Some backstory is that I deal with (and have been dealing with) anxiety. As someone who was raised a “smart kid” (read: in gifted programs, maintained a higher reading level, AP courses etc.). I am not used to learning processes challenging me more than they excite me. At this point, my eyeballs are probably begging me for a break from blue light, and I oh so arrogantly thought that I could construct 5 web pages in a matter of two weeks.
And the worst part was that I thought I’d forgotten the code I’d spent about three months learning.
Enter my brain looking like this:
The solution was to treat each page like an essay; outline it!
Of course there were pages that I had to completely destroy to be stable again, and the end product turned out so much better. Much like how life will clear everything you think you wanted out, so that something better can fall into place.
2. Learn the mindset along with the skills.
The general format of FreeCodeCamp is structured like math homework (without the math), where they demonstrate an HTML or CSS trick, and you use that trick to solve a problem. And you keep working through the challenges until bam! You’ve finished one section. Boom! There’s another section! Blaow! You’re ready to start building projects.
The beauty in this was that I was able to get the instant gratification that Gen Z-ers like me get chided for. The moment I get the syntax right, I was able to change something in the frame! It’s so different than when you write a piece and have to wait for the workshop the next week.
But because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the mindset, I got super nervous when it came to actually starting projects…
Enter me sitting at my laptop on CodePen looking at the user stories (project requirements) like this:
3. Breathe and take another look for the thing you were missing.
The same way that coding can give you instant gratifications, you also are instantly made aware of mistakes.
These mistakes come in the form of bugs or syntax errors, and it seems a lot easier to make them when say, you’re coding from scratch (HTML & CSS, the bones and the flesh).
This mistakes also happen when your visions doesn’t always align with the requirements for the project. For example, a frustration I often had was that FCC’s code-checker was often looking for specific elements, or id tags.
So instead of writing a title like:
<h1> Strut! Looks Inspired by the Cheetah Girls in Barcelona</h1>
I would often have to do something more like:
<h1 id=”header”>Strut! Looks Inspired by the Cheetah Girls in Barcelona</h1>
To me, it was like the paper guidelines required MLA format with an intro, three body paragraphs and a conclusion, but I was outlining a lyric essay.
4. Learn the rules so you can break them.
I also struggled with the fact that the projects were geared towards appeasing strictly tech clients, and that’s not necessarily who I’d see myself working with (if you’re one of my future tech employers, pretend you didn’t read that). I’m a writer and editor with an interest in editorial design. I’m interested in digital publishing, and the web design surrounding that.
So when FCC projects are asking me to build something around content that didn’t suit me, I simply made it apply to my world. Let me give you a rundown:
My “tribute page” was built as a stan page in the style of a Buzzfeed or Tumblr list! So I essentially made a stan page for Angelica Ross, who you may know as “Candy” on Pose, who I decided to wholeheartedly stan once I found out that she created a social enterprise to integrate trans folks to working in tech.
My “survey form” is a quick survey that I could see myself sending out before teaching a workshop. Just another snapshot into my world!
My “technical documentation page” is a revamped submissions page for Paperback, the online literary journal that I work with. My idea was to simplify a lot of the language and engage the reader using color, while maintaining the font themes and the initial design ideas I had for their landing pages. The requirements to embed visible code into the page was definitely different from how I initially visualized the page, but I had to adapt to progress, learn the rules before breaking them.
My portfolio page was actually quite regular, but it made me realize how I wanted to change up the aesthetic of my current website. I have plans to simplify it, make it more modern, and align my aesthetic with the clients I want coming my way. A black, gradient background to draw the eye to scroll, along with neon-glowing borders and text definitely blended better with the audience I’m working to attract, and looks a lot less block-y. So keep an eye out for a total revamp of this whole site!
Which brings me to my last lesson:
5. Get out of your own way and get it done.
As a painful perfectionist, I’ve had to learn both sides of having a project done and having it done right.
In true Mars in Gemini fashion, I can flip between agonizing over the detail of my creations, or rushing to meet a deadline. Working in an accurate and efficient manner has been one of the major journeys of my young life.
With writing, I go between rushing through a piece to meet deadline, or dragging it out until I’m satisfied.
With coding, I wanted have the cert by the beginning of August and I was already running behind (there were personal matters in the way too). Sometimes I would be stuck on trying to make it look good, I had to get out of my own way.
The truth is that I didn’t have each web page exactly how I wanted it to look moving forward.
Refining the details is a decision you make every day, and often have to make rapidly. Having another skill set to practice this with made it more apparent to me. I highly encourage anyone whose interested in learning the syntax of HTML & CSS to complete the cert, but if your brain is wired anything like mine, you’ll probably run into similar hangups. You might whiz through it, you might stumble, you’ll definitely need to watch a few tutorials and check on the most current practices.
My beginner’s advice remains the same : keep going.