Are you experienced?
December 4, 2015 11:22 AM   Subscribe

I have started getting interested in how websites work, and am intrigued by the stories about those coding camps where people can jump right in. I am kind of wondering if I could make a go of it in coding, but I don't have much of a background. How can I learn more about front-end coding, experience design, etc. in an efficient, cost-effective way? (Is this a stupid idea?)

(Writing this whole thing feels doofy because I'm not even sure if I'm using the right terms.)

I am a writer. It's a real growth industry :P I am intrigued by the potential for more money, more demand and more concrete tasks in coding, particularly front-end coding (which has a lot to do with how we work with clients, etc. in my current job). Information architecture, perhaps through a library and information studies program, also appeals to me. I really enjoy the editing and proofreading side of things, and am good at it.

Buuuut I am not the kind of person who has always been tinkering with code on the side. One of my colleagues thinks I'd be good at front-end coding, but all I know about front-end coding is that it's basically the stuff people see.

I am also in my late 30s (that's the first time I've typed that...) and the owner of a new mortgage, with a family, so any training would have to be cheap, preferably online, and/or take place outside of my full-time job. I do happen to be female, though, so hopefully I can get a scholarship of some sort.

I have adequate WordPress skills and am willing to break stuff -- I can make changes in source code, do basic CSS updates to modify themes, etc. I know nothing about JavaScript and jQuery. I pick things up fairly quickly, though -- I have taught myself Photoshop, video editing and very rudimentary animation.

--Has anyone gone to these kinds of bootcamps? How was your experience? What kind of experience do you need before you get into them?

--I hear that there aren't as many front-end coders as people need (or will need). Is this true? If not, is there something related that is more of a growth area?

--Are there other sites or programs that provide hands-on projects and some direction? I can look up stuff on my own and play with the usual w3 kinds of sites, but if I don't know what I'm looking for, it's kind of difficult.

--Is this silly? Are there certain qualities or skills I should have in place before considering it?

posted by St. Hubbins to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I think it can be a long road if you want to be a front-end developer – the kind that makes web apps built with JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. There is a lot of work, however, in WordPress customization.

Maybe you can start by narrowing down what you'd want your first job in this field to be. Then, look at the kind of sites or apps they're making, and take a shot at making some version naive of that. This will give you a clearer idea of where your skill gaps are at, and then you can pick a training course or bootcamp that addresses that specifically. After that, trying to code every day can help you quite a bit. It costs time, but at least it doesn't cost money.

If it turns out you want to do something like WordPress customization, maybe it will turn out there's not that much for you to learn at all. If you want to make real-time sockets-based web apps, then maybe there will be a bit more.

Either way, you'll know what you need to get at.
posted by ignignokt at 11:34 AM on December 4, 2015

Try freecodecamp. I'm wary of the cost of bootcamps, because already have financial obligations and am not willing to relocate. So far I've been liking the format (free, online). Also subscribe to the Women Who Code email list, they have links to boot camp scholarships for women. There's also Course Report, which gives more in depth info about a lot of bootcamps out there.
posted by shinyshiny at 11:46 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am not a front end developer, but have been working through (and enjoying) the corresponding track on Team Treehouse. It is $25/mo to join, after a free trial period. Unlike some of the other free options out there (Code Academy, Free Code Camp) I feel like I am picking up skills I could actually apply. However, I'm only doing this as a hobby. I can't speak to whether, at the end of the track, I'd be hireable; I suspect I'd have to do a lot more actual building and have a portfolio for that. I do think that once I am done I will have the tools I need to start on that portfolio.
posted by synecdoche at 12:23 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey! I'm a Dev Bootcamp graduate. I graduated last September, got a job in January, and have been working there happily ever since (in fact, I should be working right now, but it is a lazy-ass Friday and everyone is out of office except me, soooo...). To your questions!
  • There are tons of cost-efficient ways to learn about programming right now. I don't think they're the greatest way to actually learn how to code, but CodeAcademy and CodeCombat are good ways to get your feet wet and see if you actually have any interest in coding. They're beginner-friendly, hold your hand as needed, and are great for getting a taste of writing code. They'll touch on some of the things that tend to break brains - recursion and iteration being two of the big ones. If you can work through that stuff and you don't hate it, coding may be for you.
  • It's not a stupid idea. I was a teacher. I loved parts of it, hated other parts of it, and overall wasn't happy with what I was doing. So I walked away. It was the best decision I ever made.
  • I was also not a person who was always tinkering with code. I learned a little bit of HTML and JS when I was a kid, then promptly forgot most of it. That's just a hump to get over, not something that kills this plan in its tracks. Most of the people I graduated from DBC with had not been writing code on a regular basis before they came there. (This is also my answer to your "what experience do you need" question: not much. Just a willingness to learn.)
  • My experience was wonderful. I loved my time at DBC. As mentioned above, it did the main thing I wanted to do, which was get a new job in an industry I liked. But it was a lot more than that; it's a great community, where I made tons of new friends, pushed my own boundaries as a learner and a person, and now have the opportunity to help other people doing the same thing I did. Again: best decision I ever made.
  • Front end coding is definitely an area where there are lots of jobs. The nice thing about a bootcamp is that it'll give you a decent overview of a full-stack, so you won't be pigeon-holed into front- or back-end work. I spent half of this year writing a back-end app, and then the last five months writing the front-end for a different app.
  • Again, CodeAcademy, Code Combat, Treehouse. You didn't say where you are, but in most decent-sized cities there will be Meetup groups for various languages, and sometimes generalized "learn to code" meetups. Those are great opportunities to get some hands-on experience and instruction and to meet people.
  • This it totally not silly. The only real skill you need to have is a willingness to keep learning and growing and the drive to keep pushing yourself.
Feel free to MeMail me if you have any other specific questions.
posted by protocoach at 12:29 PM on December 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

Codecademy and Free Code Camp are your best options. Treehouse is really good, if you don't mind paying.

If you're a writer, presumably you enjoy using language to achieve some end. Coding is the same thing. They're called programming languages for a reason. Just like writing in English, it's all just syntax.

If you know CSS already, you'll be golden. jQuery is basically just using JavaScript to manipulate CSS.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:46 PM on December 4, 2015

Writer/ex-journalist/coder here who turned down a job at a coding bootcamp because the school seemed a bit unnecessarily greedy. "We do ask for an amount that is non-trivial," said a guy in an '80s jacket and hip haircut as he described the promise of making people hireable Ruby on Rails programmers in a month.

It made me morally uncomfortable. I had learned for free (though it took a while). Boot camps exist because businessmen saw a chance to jump into one of the last places you could make money without student debt, where people like me could make money slinging a skill learned from Google searches and a few books. I was also bothered by unease over whether I could honestly promise people they would become good at Javascript after 30 days in a boiler room environment many times the price of a 3-month community college course.

Boot camps are an unnecessary middle-man standing between you and free knowledge. So many resources and programmer interest groups and meetups are out there that it must make Unix god Richard Stallman cry every time someone pays $10,000 to learn things open to everyone and developed in a spirit of freedom.

Yeah, Codeacademy is good and so is Khan Academy
posted by johngoren at 1:09 PM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by j_curiouser at 1:36 PM on December 4, 2015

If you know CSS already, you'll be golden. jQuery is basically just using JavaScript to manipulate CSS.

This is a gross oversimplification and misrepresentation of the complexities of JS development in general and working with jQuery specifically.

CodeCademy is a great starting point, but I find the problem with a lot of intro courses like that is that they are great at teaching you the syntax of a language but don't delve very deeply into how to think about what to build. The best way to get that is real world experience, whether that's by thinking of something you want to build and figuring out bit by bit how to build it, doing a structured course, or just getting a job and learning on the job.

I asked a question a few years ago about moving beyond the absolute 101 beginner stuff and there's some good resources there for project-based learning. Udacity and Coursera are great alternatives to coding bootcamps - they have structured lessons and evaluations and instructors, but you do them on your own schedule and they're much much much cheaper than bootcamps. I also recommend something like Codewars, that give you increasingly challenging puzzles to solve in whatever language you prefer (if you want to break into front-end I'd recommend Javascript). The great thing about challenge based learning like that is that not only do you have to think about things you probably would have never thought about on your own, but when you're done you can see how other, more experienced programmers have solved that same problem. I also really like Hello Web App (full disclosure, I backed the kickstarter and know the author on Twitter) for conceptually walking you through the life cycle of an app and helping you build it without restricting you to an artificial or arbitrary project.

Professionally speaking, I'd agree with ignignokt that WP development is a good entry point. Look at some free themes and figure out how to add non-cosmetic functionalities to them. Get a better understanding of how The Loop works. Look up SQL syntax you don't understand. Etc.

Your job market is going to depend on where you are geographically located, and who knows where the market will go in a year or two, but at this moment at the tail end of 2015 there is absolutely a need for front-end developers. My company is based in SF and just spent about 9 months looking for a front-end. I know more than one engineering manager in Toronto who has trouble finding good front-end devs because the community here is just saturated and everyone is already working for someone they like.

With your writing experience it might be worth looking at something like BuzzFeed when you're ready to venture out - they're always hiring and their growth rate is ridiculous.
posted by Phire at 1:46 PM on December 4, 2015 [8 favorites]

You can learn a lot on your own, but paid resources are not completely useless. I've learned more (and more quickly) in one actual college-level class than I have in all my independent learning put together. I'm thinking of one particular class that was especially challenging, but... don't underestimate the power of being surrounded by peers in learning and having a schedule that pushes you.
posted by easter queen at 1:47 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're a writer, presumably you enjoy using language to achieve some end. Coding is the same thing. They're called programming languages for a reason. Just like writing in English, it's all just syntax.

I find them to be radically different skills, TBH, but I would say that there's nothing magic or special about programming as a skill that anyone used to logical problem solving shouldn't be able to pick it up. It's essentially writing an incredibly literal set of instruction that have some logical choices in them and the main difficulty is making sure there isn't some odd case you haven't thought about that's been left out of them.

If you know CSS already, you'll be golden. jQuery is basically just using JavaScript to manipulate CSS.

Hmm. Not exactly. It's basically a set of tools you bolt onto JavaScript (the browser scripting language) to allow manipulation of the page, which is a collection of "elements" like paragraphs and links that are "styled" (ie given their visual appearance) by CSS. jQuery lets you select elements by their class, which is also how you'd commonly apply CSS to them, and it can let you add other classes to them or apply CSS directly to the element but they are really two different technologies.

As for how best to learn, I'm a big fan of the approach of picking small projects and learning through doing, but everyone is going to differ in their approach.
posted by Artw at 1:50 PM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

As regards the contention that is already popping up here that you can teach yourself everything and so boot camps are pointless, I'm going to say the same thing I said in the thread j_curioser linked: yes, in theory, anyone can teach themselves to code and get a job. In reality, lots of people struggle without structure in learning and getting a foot in the door as a self-taught programmer is way harder than it was even 5 years ago, never mind 10 or 15. A bootcamp gives you structure for learning, the cost can give you motivation (it lit a fire under my ass), and it gives you a ready-made community that can help you get jobs and get into the industry. So I'm sorry I made Richard Stallman cry, but he can dry his tears on his beard and I'll continue happily trucking along doing work that interests and challenges me at double the salary I was making before DBC.
posted by protocoach at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not a front end coder (I work on platforms and tools that front and back end coders utilise), but personally I think that front end these days is so convoluted and full of frameworks, workarounds, magic and hacks that unless you have a decent grounding in programming you'll potentially find yourself cargo culting it and never truly grokking what you're doing. So I think your goal is totally worthwhile and doable, but I would get a basic grounding in programming before jumping into front end.
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 2:31 PM on December 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I thought about adding a comment to my jQuery/CSS remark that it was a gross oversimplification, but I assumed that would be obvious. I tend to exaggerate a bit (like, perhaps, just now when I said "a bit"), and that doesn't always translate well online. I apologize if I was misleading. The point I was trying to make is that if you already understand CSS, you'll probably find it easier to get started with jQuery than someone starting from scratch, and that should then help you get the rest of jQuery.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:54 PM on December 4, 2015

Front end coder (mostly), here. Not a stupid idea at all, though I'm a bit dubious of bootcamps - the learning never stops, and the vast majority of it is via googling stuff and figuring it out from the docs, from stackoverflow, from other people's blog posts and code. Might as well start that way.

In terms of getting into programming in general, I think the Python course on Coursera is good. There may be something similar for JS, but JS is a really a horrible first language with a ridiculously confusing ecosystem (there's a small subset of things I find sane enough to actually use) - Python is likely to get you thinking the right way, even if you never do any serious work with it (though for anything non trivial you'll need some sort of server-side code and a database, so it's good to know).

Similarities to writing for humans? I don't see it that way myself, really, though I know people who do. For me it's all about how stuff fits together and how information flows, architecturally - the code is just expressing those relationships. Good structure/data and crappy code is a lot better than the other way around.

Give yourself a couple of years to get good, and it's important to have projects to work on - for yourself or maybe for friends/family who aren't in a rush for results.
posted by foolfilment at 9:33 AM on December 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can be a front end dev if you want to. It will take time and projects and it's totally a doable thing. If you're an autodidact you can make a lot of progress just using free resources and what not. You could go the bootcamp route or hire a tutor when you get stuck or need a deeper explanation about something. Where I work front end is in a lot of demand. I feel like coding/qa would be a much easier to get into than information architecture. Free Code camp as mentioned before is a really awesome resource and I have met some amazing people just getting into coding from that website. They have a pretty awesome community of people helping each other. Consider what you're learning style is and what you think would be best for you. I probably would have joined the coding community much earlier had I found opportunities for scaffolded learning. Resources are much easier to find and pay for these days and if you go front end the javascript community is huge with a lot of easily accessible information. Thinkful has a part-time frontend course that's about $300 per month and you get an hour session with a mentor each month and can contact them with questions. That's a decent value if you want a balance between bootcamp cost and having someone to ask questions if you're lost.
posted by andendau at 8:28 PM on December 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

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