“Code Year” and Programming (in JavaScript)

So it’s 2012 now. And we all have our new year’s resolutions. Work out more, eat healthy, be on Facebook less. It’s all stuff we want to improve on… Or at least say we’re trying to do. But how about trying different endeavors… Like programming? Codecademy has a concept that surely will interest some people. And it’s worth trying, whether you’re a nerd or not.

A friend sent me a link to this new programming course called Code Year. Basically, it’s a one lesson a week course that started earlier this week. It teaches people how to program in JavaScript. And if you’re curious, it’s actually a useful programming language… You’ve probably used it while surfing the web. In any case, you get a lesson plan that teaches you some basics and you follow that up with a little “challenge” or application to what you’ve learned.

I decided to try it out myself since I’ve always wanted to learn JavaScript (but just been too lazy to actually buy a book and read up on it or ask my buddy Benji to borrow one of his books). One of the first things that stood out is that it starts users with a console instead of just an empty area to write a block of code. This allows you to see immediate results from what you’ve coded. It also makes finding errors a breeze. Try finding an error in a block of code as a beginner, to only find out you were simply missing a semicolon.

In any case, the early lesson plans are suited for the beginner. So for those with programming backgrounds, it’ll be somewhat boring and quick to complete. You go through the basics of what a programming language is capable of doing and then proceed to learn the syntax and other capabilities of the language. Afterwards, you get the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned through writing your own first application (and thus facing the arduous task of reading and writing a block of code). However, it’s worthwhile and pretty fun to complete.

Code Year definitely opens up an avenue for many people who haven’t even considered with free programming lessons for the masses. But it also opens up even more than just the ability to program. Farhad Manjoo of Slate.com wrote this in his article of Code Year:

But knowing how to code will improve your life even if you don’t ever program anything useful. I learned the Basic programming language when I was a kid, and then I sharpened my programming skills in high school and college. I am by no means an expert programmer, and I rarely take up coding in my job, but I learned enough to alter the way I approach problems. And that’s the most interesting thing about taking up programming: It teaches you to think algorithmically. When faced with a new challenge—whether at work or around the house—I find myself breaking down the problem into smaller, discrete tasks that can be accomplished by simple, repeatable processes.

I think he is accurate on this. I know when I took programming classes in high school, it made me think more “algorithmically”, that is, looking at a problem logically and attempting to solve it in a specific way. In essence, it helps improve our ability to approach problems that we might encounter, whether around the house to a specific task on the job. It makes us think differently about how we see those problems. I don’t just go about things in a guess-and-check methodology these days. It’s analyze the situation and work through it step by step. It also improves your efficiency as well, which is crucial in a day and age where you can’t be wasteful with your time.

Overall, Code Year definitely provides an opportunity to learn to code and does a good job of it for the person that has never touched programming in his or her life. Code Year won’t make you an expert programmer and get you a job at Google after finishing it by the end of the series (though that would be awesome). But it does allow you to think differently and enables people to learn how to program. For some people, they might find their calling and actually enjoy programming. From there, learn Python, Java, C#. Then you potentially get a job at a huge company like Microsoft or Google. Who knows? Anything’s possible right?

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