How This Borderline Technophobe Learnt How To Code in Just One Day

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Which just goes to show that pretty much anyone with a pulse can

Programming editor for CSS language

Who’s in the mood for a sobering statistic? 47% of jobs will potentially be taken over by machines within the next decade. Cheery, isn’t it? But just let that settle in; nearly half of all jobs currently held today might not even exist in ten years’ time.

Upon pondering this terrifying titbit, I suddenly realised that boasting about my ‘sound knowledge of Word’ on my resume really wasn’t going to cut it anymore (granted, it shouldn’t have come as a massive surprise). But how could I, a borderline dimwit technophobe, keep up in a world where the work economy is moving faster than we can predict?

It was this question that led me to Decoded in East London, a technology educational company where they offer – among other masterclasses – a one day crash course in computer programming. The website promises an “unparalleled accelerated learning experience taking you from zero skills and confidence to coding your own app in a single day.” Yeah, hold that thought guys. I mean, I’m as adept in social media as much as the next Millennial but HTML? JavaScript? I know my limitations – or so I thought. “No question is too stupid,” Decoded co-founder Kathryn Parsons reassures me ahead of my course. “In fact, the stupid questions are often the really interesting questions.” Handy, that.

But if anyone can teach me how to code, I have a hunch that it might be Decoded. They launched their Code in a Day course in 2011 to much acclaim and have since taught over 100,000 people to code in over 65 different cities, so they must be doing something right. In addition to London, they now have a permanent presence in New York, Amsterdam and Sydney, while they continue to spread their digital enlightenment globally through their periodic pop up workshops.

Still, I’m pleasantly surprised as soon as I walk into the Decoded workshop (apparently I was expecting some kind of pizza-box strewn basement?), it’s light and bright and incredibly welcoming. I’m even more surprised when I walk out eight hours later having created my own multi-platform location-based app in HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

And I only had to retreat to the toilet in order to dangle my head between my legs (it encourages the blood to flow to the brain) three times in the process.

The day begins by becoming acquainted with our fellow attendees over fresh coffee. The male to female ratio is approximately 50/50, ranging from mid twenties to mid fifties. Again, I’m somewhat surprised. We’re so often subliminally (and sometimes even explicitly) told that women have neither the aptitude nor the inclination to learn to code, and it’s simply not true.

Some are managers who commission computer programmers but don’t have a firm grasp of the vernacular, some have been sent by their employers (like the 3,000 other businesses to date) and the rest are like me – semi-creative types fearing for the future of their craft. “Coding is creative”, Rosie Brigham, one of our two facilitators, maintains. “It’s a bit like knitting. You wouldn’t sit down to knit a jumper without a pattern, would you?” No I wouldn’t, Rosie.

We begin by learning a brief history of the web. Despite initially shifting uncomfortably in my seat for fear of being exposed as an impostor, I needn’t have worried – absolutely no previous knowledge is assumed. What is the Internet? Who invented it? How has it developed over time? All of these dots are joined up and forms the solid basis of the course. We then tackle HTML, CSS and JavaScript and identify their differences and unique uses. Sure, it’s tricky but it’s not beyond comprehension – especially delivered in such straight-talking terms. “If we start using jargon, we become the problem we’re trying to solve,” Kathryn explained.

After coming up with an idea for a location-based app, we then use Mozilla Thimble to start designing it. I’m immediately encouraged by that fact that no one is actually expected to look at lines of code and immediately decipher its meaning. If code is its own language, then Google is its translator. How do I integrate geolocation functionality on my app? Google it. While you’re there, ask it what geolocation functionality means (I’m still not 100% sure, to be honest). The good news is that there are countless websites – such as w3schools and MDN – dedicated to helping you on your quest to code.

As we (painstakingly slowly) type out lines of code in order to build our app, I realise that Rosie was right – coding is creative. From fonts to functionality, we all have the opportunity to create something beautiful from scratch from the comfort of our own computers. And while some of those clutching tightly to their Computer Science degrees might not like it, coding really isn’t reserved for an elite few. It is for everyone – even me.

Will you become a computer programmer after taking this course? Not in one day, no. But you will learn the fundamentals and gain enough confidence to continue with your coding journey, nimbly sidestepping that scrapheap as you go. Anyway, must dash – I’ve got a resume to update.

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