Cracking Code, and Subsequently, Life Itself

Learning JavaScript is stretching my brain and teaching me some awesome life lessons.

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By Julia Arciga

Art by Charlotte Southall

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a chemist. Then I found out I was really, really bad at all things STEM.

No, it’s completely true. I scraped through pre-calc on some kind of miracle. Physics was so intriguing to me, but I would always get those pesky equations wrong—no matter how hard I tried. But my apparent non-affinity for all things science never really stopped me from trying: I once enrolled in a free open course from Yale on Quantum Physics (bad idea, in hindsight). I was a part of my high school’s Science Olympiad club, and got 7th place in competition. I was never a scientific success, but I was just so happy to be surrounded by things that I knew nothing about that I didn’t really care if I embarrassed myself.

I got my start in coding in a completely unusual way: through supermodel Karlie Kloss.

Once upon a time, I also wanted to be a professional model (also a bad idea for me, in hindsight). Karlie Kloss was one of my idols—and she’s still such a muse of mine to this day, although my supermodel dreams are far behind me. I caught wind that she was picking up coding, and I thought that was super interesting: some glamorous fashion goddess was flaunting her geeky side. Mix that with companies like Google and Snapchat moving into my neighborhood of Venice Beach and my dad working on code around the house, and it wasn’t long before I decided to sign up for Codecademyjust to give it a shot.

I already knew a bit of HTML/CSS from the days where I wanted to be a graphic designer (you’re getting the idea that I love changing my passions often), so I decided to dive into JavaScript (JS). Again, I found myself immersed in a subject I knew nothing about. I felt the thrill of doing something for the first time, and truly learning something new. I loved it.

I’m currently only 71 percent done with my JS course, and I’ve been tinkering at this thing for a few months now. I’m pretty bad at it too. I go to the help forums probably every two lessons, and click the “Stuck? Get a hint!” button far too often. But I continue to muscle my way through this course, and will probably continue until I hit Python or Ruby, because it’s stretching my brain and teaching me some awesome life lessons:

Awesome Life Lesson #1: Attention to Detail

I hate getting all bogged down to with the little details, but they’re needed. If I don’t put a darn comma or semicolon at the end of my coding line, my code won’t go through. I have to put it in there (even though it seems like a completely unnecessary formality), or else Codecademy will think my code is wrong. So, the little details are infuriating, but I have to do them.

Awesome Life Lesson #2: Learning How to Use Logic

I’m self-admittedly not the most rational person at times. I have zany ideas, make weird connections, and I don’t make sense to others sometimes. That’s just the way I am. But everytime I open up Codecademy, I know I have to enter the sparring ring with my longtime nemesis: Logic. If a function starts with a bracket, it should very well end with one too. The “abstract” doesn’t exist in the coding world—either it runs or it doesn’t. No room for interpretation, no artistic agency here. You set your variables. You fill your function. You input your parameters. There’s a clear start and end to things—it all starts with a bracket and ends with one. That’s that.

Awesome Life Lesson #3: Instructions: Hated, but Needed

I quickly learned that my tendency to “just figure it out” without instructions was not a path to success. The instructions that Codecademy gives are super unhelpful at times—but I have to read them in order to suss out what I’m even attempting to do. I’ll have to read them over at least three times, only after I try to unsuccessfully run my piece of code five times prior. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s something that must be done.

Awesome Life Lesson #4: Help is OK

There’s a surprising amount of stubbornness and pride stuffed in my body, especially when asking for help. I used to tell myself, The whole point of this course is to figure it out on your own! You can do it, just keep trying. But after 20 minutes of trying to run the same code with minor changes, it was clear that I wasn’t getting anywhere. Help is absolutely acceptable, especially when you’re still learning and reaching out of your comfort zone. There’s no shame in that.

Awesome Life Lesson #5: Einstein’s Insanity Will Get You Places

Einstein (or, it’s commonly attributed to him) famously stated, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In my life experiences, however, I’ve found that doing something over and over again will likely yield a result if one is determined enough—especially in coding and STEM. If I came to the conclusion that STEM wasn’t something I should look into just because my first few tries in this realm were hard and yielded failure, then I wouldn’t be writing this article. I know where my natural talents lie, but the possibilities of something new are so enticing. Whether it’s the 3rd try, the 5th try, the 14th try—maybe the next one will be the charm! Determination is key; consistency is important; persistence is the name of the game.

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