How to Become a Programmer in 9 Weeks: Week 2

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Recap: Follow Me from HTML Illiterate to Professional Programmer

In case you haven’t read Week 0 (about my preparation), I am currently a student at a programming bootcamp called Coding House in the San Francisco Bay Area. I finished college a few months ago, but decided my business degree wasn’t going to let me do what I really wanted: to build rather than manage. This realization and my love for startups (and California) led me to begin working toward a career in software development.

 

3 Highs:  Practice means Progress!

Learning Made Easy:  Okay, this is kind of misleading – learning to code without any background in programming is not in any way easy.  Getting used to the daily regimen and long hours, however, makes it easier to focus and learn for longer hours without zoning out.  The constant feeling of never being able to completely catch up is inherent to a boot camp, but it has been a whole lot easier to work with since I’ve physically fallen (more) in sync with the schedule.

Seeing Results:  It is also been extremely helpful to set mini goals.  Everyone learns in different ways and at different paces, which becomes very important to keep in mind in such an intensive learning environment.  Recently, I’ve been taking what the instructor is teaching as a relative syllabus rather than forcing myself to try to learn things at his pace.  It helps to note down the topics and terms that are mentioned during lectures and then spending the evenings re-learning them on my own at my own pace by setting personal mini goals(sometimes even allowing some material to spill over to the next few days).  I’ve actually been able to retain and successfully use more information this way over the past week.

Building Stuff!  Considering the fact that I’ve only been here at Coding House for 2 weeks and only looked into programming for a few weeks before that, I am no expert any any language quite yet.  During my HTML/CSS preparation before coming here, though, what I did learn was a result of using the tools to actually build a website.  In the few bouts of free time I have (often giving up social interaction for it), I’ve taken on a few side projects to help me pick up more material in a short span of time.  For example, I’m currently working on creating a simple single-page website for an international charity I’ve been involved with for a few years.  The site itself is very small, but I’ve been trying to include some interesting features and plug-ins to get some practice in with front end development.  It can be tiring at times to spend even my free time working, but seeing what I’ve learned in such a short amount of time turn into a viable product has been absolutely worth it.  Not only does it serve as encouragement, but I can also add these things to my currently sparse development portfolio.

 

3 Lows:  The Case of the Missing Time Turner

The Command Line:  Using the command line has been…frustrating to say the least.  The command line is an interface that allows users to literally command everything on the computer from a single window.  For someone who has never used it before, though, it looks like a load of Gibberish.  Don’t get me wrong – the command line is a powerful and useful tool once you learn how to use it properly.  The issue is the ‘learning to use it’ part, though.  The tool literally requires its own language which simply calls for a whole lot of memorization and understanding of hierarchies.  It hasn’t necessarily been difficult to learn, just extraordinarily time consuming.  I’m looking forward to becoming capable of using it quickly, though – it makes it a lot easier to search through files and organize.

The Never-Ending To-Do List:  Like I mentioned above, the feeling of never being able to catch up is inherent to a bootcamp.  The entire point is to glean huge amounts of information in a short amount of time.  Making mini goals has certainly helped organize things for me, but the list of said goals seems to get longer faster than I can check items off.  Its like that dream where you are running toward something and can never seem to get there – except less creepy and unfortunate.  The Never-Ending To-Do list is less characteristic of a programming bootcamp and more a usual component of life in the real world.  Preparation is key!

Lack of Time Turner:  No, seriously.  I would pay a whole lot of money for Hermione’s time turner right about now.  I’m here for 60 days and have made every effort to spend as much of my time as possible learning, but there still isn’t enough to do everything I want to while I still have access to the teachers and resources that make the learning process so much easier.

 

The Immersion:  Kudos for Kung Pao  

Camping:  We capped this week off with a camping trip to the Redwoods as a team bonding event.  We played Airsoft and other games, which were a lot of fun.  Then it got dark.  And cold.  And I needed a toilet (which – surprise! – didn’t exist).  And lets just say I’m a city girl.  Being so out of my element was a good experience, though.  Learning to deal with discomfort is a pretty solid life skill.

Dining with Developers:  Sarah (our Food Service Director) put together some pretty awesome meals that definitely provided some bright spots whenever I got stuck debugging!  I’ve been extremely homesick for my mom’s home-cooked Indian meals lately, so seeing Indian stews and spices popping up has been amazing.  Plus, we had some awesome Kung Pao chicken this week.  Not having to worry about cooking and groceries is a huge plus when there’s so little time to learn so much – kudos to Sarah for making life a bit easier at Coding House!

Stockholm Syndrome:  Usually, I’m the kind of person who gets extremely irritated if I don’t get to leave the house and have a change of scenery at all for a full day.  I’ve been going days without setting foot outside here, though, and the kick is that I don’t mind that at all.  I definitely could take breaks and go out for a bit if I wanted to, but I’ve been more interested in figuring the next problem out or designing my next project so it hasn’t bothered me at all.  Stockholm syndrome setting in?

 

Takeaway Advice

  • Don’t beat yourself up over falling behind the instructor’s pace.  Instead, create your own mini goals and work toward fulfilling them on your own time.
  • Build something!  The fastest way to learn something is to throw yourself into the deep end and make it work.  Programming is no different.
  • It is never too early to begin putting together your portfolio.
  • Choose Coding House for the food!

How Shrek is an Autodidact

Shrek sand sculpture

Shrek is possibly the coolest ogre to ever exist – he also happens to be super smart, as he demonstrates time and time again throughout the Shrek franchise.  I’m sure you can guess what I’ll say:  Autodidact alert!

Construction Master

There are clearly other ogres in the world (cough – Fiona), but Shrek lives completely on his own in the middle of a forest.  Granted, he’s an ogre.  Regardless, the forest hardly has the modern medieval facilities available to the other characters in the movies!  Still, he successfully builds an awesome house with amazing amenities – and even creates his own system for finding, cooking, and serving himself the kind of food he likes!

So basically, he literally handles every aspect of his life on his own.  He catches, cooks, and eats in own food; builds, cleans, and maintains his own house; and plants, grows, and cares for his own garden.  Imagine how perfect he would be if he weren’t a violent ogre!

 

 

Fearsome Fighter

Nobody is born a fighter – they usually learn it to protect themselves, in fact.  Shrek is an ogre who is literally at the top of the food chain – so fighting isn’t really something nature has had to teach him.  Still, he is able to defeat every brave knight in the area…only to be challenged to fight a dragon…

…which he does effortlessly and frees the princess – and doesn’t even seem anxious about it!  That’s raw talent and self study.

 

 

Cultural Adapter

There are currently four Shrek movies and each one explores Shrek’s life with his family through his wife.  Interestingly enough, Fiona was born human – which means her entire family is human and lives a civilized lifestyle.  Of course, its unreasonable to expect that he could completely blend in, but he certainly didn’t do badly.  He became quite close to his extended family-in-law by the end of the second film.

 

 

The Flight of Autodidactism: The Wright Brothers

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When we think of the Wright Brothers, its easy to remember that they were the team responsible for the world’s first functioning airplane.  It is worth it to pause and look at the way each brother came to become some of the world’s greatest innovators with their invention.  You can probably guess what it is that made them capable of their achievement: autodidactism, of course!

By definition, innovators are people who pave a path that hasn’t been taken before.  As such, a formal education could have only gone so far for Orville and Wilbur Wright.  What they needed was a desire to learn on their own beyond the limits of school – a trait that both had in abundance.

 

Wilbur Wright

The older and more responsible of the two brothers, Wilbur was a well-rounded child with a lot of focus and dedication.  He was an avid athlete growing up and did well in his classes.  In fact, he was going to go to Yale after finishing high school.  Just before leaving, a hockey accident caused Wilbur to loose his front teeth. Although his injury was more harmful cosmetically than physically, the loss of his teeth delivered a heavy blow to Wilbur’s confidence, causing him to become more withdrawn.  Shortly after, his family’s quick move to Ohio from Indiana resulted in Wilbur never receiving his high school diploma.  These two incidents combined prevented him from attending Yale.

Wilbur’s dedication and ambition began to dwindle a bit at this point and he took a break of sorts for the next few years, helping his mother at home and father at his Church.  The big turn-around in his life came when Orville (who was five years younger) caught up in age and drew Wilbur into his own endeavors.

 

Orville Wright

Orville was always a mischievous child who was constantly getting caught and into trouble.  Largely different from his brother, he had very little interest in school and dropped out after his Junior year in high school to start his own printing business.  He pulled Wilbur into this business as well, extracting him from the rut in which his injury had placed him.

Taking on a leadership position over his brother, Orville led his newspaper to becoming a daily print and eventually turned to commercial printing.  Ever the entrepreneur, Orville went on to capitalize on the biking craze and opened a bike repair shop with Wilbur taking more of a partnership position.

 

Two Heads are Better Than One

Their bicycle repair shop is where most of their autodidactism occurred – at least in terms of the skills they later used to build the first functional airplane.  At the same time, during the mid 1890s, there was an increase in global interest in aeronautics.  Flying high due to the success of their shop, the Wright Brothers decided to take part in the craze.

Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Museum to request some of the more recent publications about aeronautics and the brothers began essentially teaching themselves aerodynamic engineering, building only on the knowledge of mechanics they had amassed from building their bike shop.

The rest is history as Orville and Wilbur began their experimentations and failed every time, filing for patents in aerodynamics along the way.  Eventually, they successfully developed the world’s first human flying machine in 1903.

 

Their work was surrounded by controversy and questions about their legitimacy, but regardless of all that, the Wright Brothers successfully pushed forward the concept of an airplane – an invention that the modern world probably couldn’t exist as it is without.  What’s more impressive, however, is the fact that Orville and Wilbur both managed to teach themselves the aerodynamics of the time and rose up as the world’s foremost engineers without so much as a high school diploma.  Autodidactism at its core, people!

How to Become a Guardian of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

After a fantastic opening earlier this month with great critical reviews as the cherry on top, Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be a win for Marvel.  Of course, being the superhero nerd I am, I went and saw it opening night.  Superhero-Nerd-Me loved the action, tech, and comedy while E-Learning-Nerd-Me spent the entire movie whispering loudly to my poor friend (and everyone within a 4 seat radius) that Star-Lord is a total autodidact!

Just as a quick reminder, autodidacts are fabulously awesome people who love learning and teaching themselves new things.  Star-Lord probably turned to autodidactism more out of necessity than a pure love of learning, but he still dances to sweet ’80s music and refers to ‘The Legend of Kevin Bacon’ from Footloose – so he retains the awesome factor, in my opinion.  Check out these instances that proved Star-Lord AKA Peter Quill caught the autodidact bug.

 

 

Musical Tech Prowess

Depositphotos_9262656_xs26 years after being abducted from Earth as a child by ‘space pirates’, Peter still listens to music on the same
walkman from the same audio cassette with the same headphones.  It is probably safe to assume that in all his struggles and travels from planet to planet, Peter’s beloved music system broke down from time to time.  Considering that he likely didn’t have contact with too many Earthlings, he had to figure out how to fix everything himself.  The key words here being: ‘figure out how’.  Plus, I don’t know of any battery from the ’80s that would still have enough juice to power a tape player after 26 years – so Peter probably had to engineer a replacement power source on his own.  Conclusion: Autodidact.

Bonus:  Peter’s ship, The Milano, had a cassette player and speakers installed.  Considering we don’t make extraterrestrial spaceships here on Earth (at least not to the knowledge of us ordinary folks), he probably installed that himself too.

 

The Ultimate Linguist

Here on Planet Earth, we have hundreds of different languages – sometimes dozens within the same country.  Unless every being on every planet except Earth exclusively speaks English, there were probably several different languages that Peter had to learn in order to jump from world to world and continue to communicate with ease.  Considering the fact that he grew up around pirates, there probably weren’t too many maternal figures or teachers around to teach Peter – which means that he largely picked that up on his own too.

When he left Earth, Peter was definitely more than 8 or 9 years old – well past the threshold where humans can pick up languages extremely rapidly.  The fact that he picked them up so well at his age points to his fantastic self learning skills as well.

 

So You Think You Can Dance?

Well you don’t have much on Star-Lord, the Amazing Dancing Alien!  Kids don’t have fully developed motor skills – that’s a well known fact that explains why kids are usually not the best dancers.  That’s also why it is so extraordinary that Peter left Earth as a child, didn’t have access to Terran movies or culture, but picked up how allguardiansmovieto dance (albeit ’80s style) completely on his own based solely on 26-year-old memories.  He beat his ultimate nemesis in the movie by distracting him through a dance off !

Imagine what he would have been able to do on Earth with access to a dance teacher and pop culture.  Granted, becoming known as a Guardian of the Galaxy is a pretty cool title, but the Next Michael Jackson would have been pretty spectacular too.

 

If you think Star-Lord is an ultimate autodidact, check out Groot!  He learned to dance as a baby:

Images from: Marvel Comics and Marvel Cinematic Universe
http://marvel.com/guardians

 

 

 

Mahatma Gandhi: Learning by Doing

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After researching autodidacts for weeks, a trend has become quite apparent – often, these self learners start out performing poorly in school and formal education.  They then begin teaching themselves what they love and go on to be geniuses.  Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci – and Mahatma Gandhi.

 

Humble Beginnings

It is difficult to imagine that the pacifist who strategically and very intelligently inspired an entire nation was a poor student.  Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was exactly that as a child.  More enamored by sports and games, his performance in school was mediocre at best with his only real strength in English class.

This may have been what inspired him to study law (on his family’s insistence) in England.  Gandhi never became a great lawyer due to his inability to interact cooly with witnesses, particularly during cross examination.  His profession eventually took him to South Africa, however, where perhaps his true education began.

 

Education to Inspiration

While Gandhi always had a passive interest in politics and ethics, he never became truly passionate about them until his time in South Africa.  In the late 1800s, South Africa entered a period of drastic change with its Civil Rights movement.  Gandhi had arrived to serve as a legal representative for some Indian traders in the country, but law was soon forgotten as he began to witness the turmoil unfolding around him.

By this point, Gandhi had spent his time in London focusing less on Law and more on reading texts that interested him and began to form what would become his later stance on life – the Bhagvad Gita and the Bible. These texts eventually influenced his perception on the truth and the purpose of life, but more immediately they sensitized him to think deeply about the conflict in South Africa.

The discrimination started with the native Africans in the area, but Indian immigrants weren’t spared either.  Gandhi was even thrown out of a train once for refusing to leave the First Class car and beaten later for refusing to move for a European traveler.

Exposed to discrimination and racism up close as he had never seen it before during his sheltered life in India, Gandhi began to question the rule of the British Empire and its impact on his people back home.  The sizable Indian population in South Africa faced extreme oppression and as he learned and developed as a social reform leader for the Indians in South Africa, Gandhi’s attention already began to shift toward the conditions back home.

 

The Great Spirit

After gaining great acclaim in South Africa for his work for Indians and later the native Africans, Gandhi returned to India with his nationalist reputation and a new vigor to reform the Indian government.  He entered politics and eventually rose as leader of the Indian National Congress, which served as an intense learning period for him as he met some of the greatest minds in India and picked up on the crippling issues throughout the country.

While he believed in Independence from the British Empire, Gandhi also believed strongly that the problems India was facing was largely because of its own people.  Wedges between political parties, the internal oppression caused by the caste system, unethical cultural traditions like child marriage and feminism were issues that he sought to educate Indians about.

What made Gandhi’s efforts so different from others, though, was his utter devotion to ahimsa, or nonviolence – a concept he picked up during his childhood due to exposure to Jainism.  This point combined with his newly pioneered philosophy of Satyagraha (devotion to the truth) touched his ‘students’ in an authentic way that had yet to be achieved.

He performed long term fasts, led peaceful protests, and spread his word to the entire country.  He taught people that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.  He preached the biblical teaching that if someone slaps your right cheek, turn your head to offer them the left – nonviolent aggression.  Advancing his goal of equality by largely decreasing the negativity of the caste system, Gandhi achieved some level of success in the majority of his goals.  He became a national hero and earned the title Mahatma, a Sanskrit term from the roots maha (great) and aatma (spirit).  He literally became The Great Spirit.

 

Although Gandhi didn’t achieve every one of his goals exactly the way he hoped to, he inspired an entire country (one of the largest in the world) to accept change and embrace unity – he did it by learning from his life experiences and spreading his knowledge quickly and efficiently to those around him.  His main strength wasn’t his IQ or ability to devour and apply theory quickly.  It was his ability to learn from the situations around him and find the appropriate solutions for a given problem.  That’s real world experience!

The Smartest Disney Character: Tarzan?

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When I think of autodidactism, I automatically think of an old Sherlock Holmes’ picture with a gentleman from the 1800’s smoking a pipe at his mahogany desk in front of a fireplace, surrounded by heaps of books and parchment paper.  This is honestly a very different picture from what most autodidacts paint, but one self-learner blew this image out of the water while I was watching a Disney movie the other day.

 

Let’s Start From the Top

Yes, I am an adult.  Yes, I was watching Tarzan last weekend – its a good movie!  As I watched baby Tarzan grow into a vine-swinging, hollering ape-man, I realized (in the nerdy way that one realizes such things) that Tarzan is the ultimate autodidact – one that represents the origins of self-education.

In the Disney movie, Tarzan is found in the jungle by a female gorilla after his parents are killed by a tiger.  She adopts him as her own and raises him in the jungle with her family of gorillas.  A large part of the story focuses on Tarzan finding it difficult to belong, considering how different his human features are from his gorilla family’s.  He finds it difficult to make friends as a child because he is physically slower and weaker and he constantly makes mistakes doing things that are perfectly normal for a gorilla, but more difficult for a human.

 

Growing up

As Tarzan grows, however, his human brain kicks in and he begins to find different ways to keep up with his adopted family.  For example, he finds it difficult to match his friends’ speed while traveling on foot, so he
teaches himself to swing on vines and leap through trees to keep up (and stay ahead).  Later, while foraging for food, he uses his elephant friend’s trunk to help blow out food from narrow spaces instead of trying to fit his too-large hands into the space like the gorillas.

 

Back to the Beginning

This is probably how humans began to differentiate themselves from other primates during evolution, and so Tarzan goes all the way back to the beginning of the entire process of learning – which was autodidactism at its core.

Granted, Tarzan was probably a smarter human than the average.  Just look at his parents – they were stranded in a Jungle and built a flippin’ awesome treehouse to live in with awesome amenities.  They literally had no resources to work with!

 

 

Still, he was a baby – who grew up in a family of gorillas.  He finished off a deadly tiger using his brain when nobody else could, found ways to get food more efficiently, and figured out how to get around the jungle faster than the companions he constantly fell behind as a child.

I’d say that earns him the title of the Ultimate Disney Autodidact, wouldn’t you?

Ultimate Autodidacts: Einstein to Moffat

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The Guru

Going from a high school dropout to one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, Albert Einstein was the embodiment of autodidactism.  His idea of a perfect date was to read physics texts for fun with his girlfriend – enough said.

Einstein’s introduction to science and mathematics by a childhood friend established an interest in a topic far beyond what he was learning in school.  He taught himself calculus by the age of 13.  Thirteen!  Thus began his foray into the world of self learning; It was simply far more interesting than the grammar and basic mathematics he was forced to sit through in school.

Perhaps Einstein’s greatest secret for success was his approach to learning.  He said:

“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

He always believed in imagination, individuality, and inquisitiveness.  This is likely the reason (along with his accomplishments in the field of physics, advocacy for civil rights, and general good human-ness) why he became so widely admired.  This is also likely how John Moffat came to regard him so highly.

 

The Disciple

In the 1950s, Albert Einstein’s career had taken a nose dive.  He had written and spoken about theories that he had been unable to provide proof for over the last several years, which caused his reputation to take a tough hit.

At this point, a Danish painter by the name of John Moffat had just depleted the funds he was living off of in Paris as he honed his art.  He returned home to Copenhagen, Denmark where he returned to his love for reading at a nearby library.  Moffat devoured book after book about mathematics and physics, in mere months learning what took years for the average student to learn at University.

As he absorbed the knowledge, he became a fervent follower of Albert Einstein and his writings.  Familiar with the genius’ slump, Moffat (a high school dropout and painter with no credentials in physics) wrote Einstein a critical letter that analyzed all the things Moffat believed Einstein was doing wrong.  He didn’t expect a reply, of course, from such a famous and admired physicist.

Lo and behold when several weeks later, a hand-written letter in German came addressed to Moffat.  His lack of fluency in German forced Moffat to ask his local German barber for help translating the letter, which proved to encourage his efforts in physics.  Einstein took Moffat and his thoughts very seriously, pointing him to his newer writings and encouraging further replies.  This conversation continued for several letters during which Moffat successfully pointed out a poorly based mathematical assumption in Einstein’s calculations.  This interaction expanded into meetings with other great scientists of the time including Niels Bohr and Erwin Schrodinger.

It was Schrodinger’s recommendation, along with the extensive knowledge Moffat had amassed on his own, that allowed him to become the first accepted PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge without completing an undergraduate (or even secondary school) degree.

 

The Ultimate Autodidact

Albert Einstein is an undisputed genius who took on autodidactism as a fortunate hobby in addition to his more traditional education and work at Princeton University.  John Moffat took his Guru’s efforts a step further and forwent 8 years of (usually) compulsory formal study on the path to his own prestigious PhD.

Einstein and Moffat didn’t even have the beauty of the Internet at their disposal back in their times.  Imagine a modern day Moffat immersed in a MOOC with a Physics e-text on his Kindle in one hand and his online mind map on his tablet in the other.  Now that would be a force to be reckoned with.