When I was in high school, I asked my computing teacher for help with something, and he laughed and mused over how to teach someone as ‘computer illiterate’ as I.
And because I’d been told that I was computer illiterate, I believed it was true and continued to spend the next decade avoiding anything that seemed even remotely technical, in order to not feel like such a dumbass.
This proved to be a problem though, when I landed a job as technical marketer at Mindscape in 2012. I was like Robin Williams after disappearing into Jumanji, only to emerge 20 years later completely oblivious to advancements in the tech world. And sporting a wild, but impressive beard.
While I have mildly exaggerated the part about the beard, the rest is true and I had the hugely overwhelming job of learning even the basics of coding ahead of me, let alone how to communicate with these cynically witty people we call developers.
I documented my early process on the WordPress blog which I set up for the purpose of using the Raygun for WordPress plugin, so I could get some insight into what an exception even is:
These posts outline some of the things I learnt and struggled with in the beginning, and how codecademy.com got me started with the basics of code.
But it wasn’t solely Codecademy that taught me just how awesome coding actually is. For the most part it was changing my thinking to become curious about how the software I already use works. So I’ve made a list of things that worked for me for all the other technophobes out there who need inspiration, motivation or information.
Curiosity – this is probably the biggest impetus you need to learn, because if you have a desire to know more, you will naturally seek the answers. There are so many little things that I learnt/began to notice as a complete beginner that gave me a little more insight or provided me with new questions. This is a no-brainer to my colleagues, but when I found out about Right Click => Inspect Element I was all ‘what, why did I not know about this – I can see exactly how this webpage is made’. Other basic things I began to take notice of were what version the software I always use was, what language it was written in – things that I’d spent my whole life oblivious to.
Sublime Text – once curiosity becomes unbearable, it is only natural to want to start tinkering with code. For this, one needs a text editor – which is a program that allows you to edit plain text files. Now, if you’d said that to me two years ago – I would have stared blankly at you because the words ‘plain text file’ put together in a sentence meant nothing to me. So for all those two-year-ago Hilarys, a text editor is like Word, but you can’t format anything and you use it for writing and reading code. There are so many different text editors out there, but Sublime Text has been by far the most frequently recommended to me.
Meetups and Rails Girls – the community for beginning and advanced techies is large and growing fast. In New Zealand we have two Rails Girls chapters in Auckland and Wellington – and they openly welcome all levels of experience. Not to mention the various Meetups all over the world that are dedicated to a wide range of languages and users – if you look for it, I bet there’s one you can attend in your area. They’re great for meeting passionate developers and tech-enthusiasts (like I’ve become – it’s so weird how I’ve changed).
Custom WordPress themes – I haven’t dabbled with customizing WordPress yet, but Nick tells me that this is what helped him become more familiar with how code works. He learnt by playing with a self hosted wordpress site and an existing theme and then adapting it, or building one from scratch from a tutorial. To do this he used Sublime Text 2 to edit the code, and then transferred the files with Transmit 4.
Those are just a few of the things and tools which helped me to become enamoured with the tech world. I hope that all the other technophobes out there can gain some hope from the fact that I was the biggest tech scaredy-cat out there – but I’ve come out on the other side. It is possible, and if you have any further insight into quelling the fear – I would love to hear from you in the comments.