How to Get the Basics Down


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Last updated:5/05/18


Q: How do you get the basics down?

- Enrique

Melissa:

Don't Worry

This is an interesting question—and one that we hear quite often!

In my experience working with junior developers, both at work and in a mentorship capacity, I’ve observed that many people to get caught up in worry about “keeping up” with the newest technologies when they’re still struggling with fundamentals.

If this is you, don’t worry; it’s possible to both catch up on the basics and prime yourself for the point in your coding career when you ARE going to be ready for the latest and greatest!


STOP READING DEV BLOGS

A lot of developers who run blogs make a LOT of money by generating new content about cool tech—web components, CSS Grid, native browser APIs, you name it. These blogs can be great resources, but here’s the thing: These aren’t the blogs you should be reading.

If you’re still working on the basics, don’t try to take a deep dive in CSS Grid yet. Instead, acknowledge that many of the hot topics you’ll see on Reddit’s r/web development threads require intermediate to advanced proficiency. Instead, scale back your expectations!

Instead, find resources that are more tailored to your skill level, then graduate to your favorite dev blogs when you’re feeling more comfortable.


Pick one "theme" at a time

When I’m trying to learn something new, I have to reckon with my tendency to allow “scope creep.” Scope creep is a term that describes new or additional expectations or requirements for a project often added after the initial project kickoff of the planning phase.

I use this term at work when a client tries to add new requirements after my team’s work has begun, but I also use it in my personal projects when I realize that my endeavors or expectations of myself are getting out of hand.

To offset this, I recommend setting a theme for your study—whether on a weekly basis or even just when you sit down to code each evening.

What will you focus on? Instead of trying to learn the basics everything at once, drill down into HTML tags and don’t write any CSS; challenge yourself to make a fully functional webpage with only HTML and see what happens.

Or dig deep into how the CSS box model works using only 2-3 elements on a page; how many ways can you change the layout using just margin, padding, and display properties?

You’ll be surprised how much more accessible coding can seem if you’re not overwhelmed by trying to learn everything at once.

Plus, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when themes overlap and you can apply your knowledge from one week/coding session to the next.


Relax

Contrary to popular belief, the web development police don’t exist; no one is going to come after you if you write imperfect HTML or have CSS errors while you’re getting the hang of things.

And certainly no one is going to show up in your inbox to berate you for not learning more quickly!

If you find that you’re struggling with a topic, ease up and consider what you’re finding difficult. Is it the way you’re trying to learn it (i.e. reading blogs if you’re a visual learner), or is it something to do with the concepts themselves? The distinction seems minor, but can actually be key to breaking through the mental barrier.

If you know that you don’t learn well by reading blogs, try learning via an interactive tutorial or by finding a coding meetup where someone could pair program with you.

If you think you’re struggling with a concept, on the other hand, consider trying to document or explain the concept in a non-technical way, in your own words; using non-technical terms or metaphors to describe a concept can help bridge the gap between the code and the concept in your mind.

Pat

👆 This is really important. One of the techniques I learned to code was by teaching others.

See I often think out loud and my ah-ha moments come when I'm explaining it to someone else. A technique to consider would be to try teaching to someone else.

And if that doesn't work, or you don't have anyone to teach it to, try writing a blog post about it. The point isn't that someone will find it and proclaim it the second coming of Dan Abramov, but instead, it will force you to think about the concepts in ways that will help solidify them for you.

Resources

Syntax: FM | How to Learn Things Quickly Confident Coding: Master the Fundamentals of Code Advice for New Developers, Imposter Syndrome


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