Take the First Step

While attending another phenomenal Maptime MSP event last week I overheard a few others around me say, “I can’t code”. I can’t remember my exact response, but I tried to tell those gathered around the table that anyone can code and not to think of coding as something that only developers can do.

Another individual responded with, “I can write SQL statements, but that’s as dangerous as I can get.

“YES!”, as I almost flew out of my chair while exclaiming my excitement, “Exactly, that’s coding! Even if it seems small, take baby steps, and build up as you go. Just because you aren’t writing applications doesn’t mean you can’t write code.” But Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated it best:

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

I returned home from Maptime and couldn’t stop thinking about the discussions. I felt the same in the not-to-distant past, and I know others, even those leading the charge in the development community that have as well.

I wanted to ask others how they felt, whether they were just learning how to code or are experienced developers. Mostly, I wanted those that attended Maptime to know they weren’t alone and that it is normal to feel this way.

As a result of asking the Twitter community, I was incredibly blessed to watch an overwhelming amount of organic discussions take place. I also want to give a “Thank You” shout out to those that sparked these conversations in Minneapolis last week, those that participated in the Twitter conversations, and those that were watching from afar. 🙂

Note: I apologize in advance for the repetition of my question below but thanks to WordPress, despite countless member complaints, there is no workaround to remove the original tweet while showing replies. But at least you’ll see how and why each person responded in the manner they did, right?

A few of the responses via Twitter:

I really like Adrian’s response because coding seems complex when we look at the level of effort needed to implement a solution from start to finish. Many times coding, like geospatial analysis, has many different solutions and no person would necessarily answer a resolution in the same way. Difficult, yes, but that’s why the geospatial and development communities are so dynamic and rewarding. Even if something seems completely overwhelming: break it down into smaller more manageable tasks, tackle each task as it comes, and if you can’t solve a task find or ask someone for their input.

YES x 1,000, and spot on Penny, François, and others! I’ve said this one countless times and its one of the most common things I have heard from colleagues across all sectors and jobs. Dedicated training time is hard to come by, even if we have the backing of upper level management. We still have deadlines, projects, and customers waiting on us. The Twitter conversations this past week helped me sit down to think about the last year of my career, which has been seriously lacking training and inspired me to block time off in my calendar.

In a discussion with another young professional getting into development we talked about not only the need for training, but the time to do it. If we take even a few hours to sit down and learn something new not only will be adding to our skill set along our coding journey but we’ll be saving time by learning effective strategies to do our jobs.

We may not use our new found knowledge right away but we can apply it to other on-the-job responsibilities. Training opens our minds to new possibilities, and even four hours a week will go a long way. Make time for training, block off your calendar and ensure you don’t have any distractions during this time.

Will brings up another great point. Even if we are learning, we feel like we are still running at least fifty paces behind others. I struggle with this realization often but recently saw an image that really put things into perspective. It’s not that someone else knows more than you, it’s that they are more knowledgeable in one specific area. Think of all of the skills you bring to the table and how you outshine others in many other unique ways.

Imposter Syndrome

Lastly, and most importantly, as Emily mentions the biggest realization that we must have as individuals is to believe in ourselves. Once you believe you can do it, anything is possible.

Learning to code is like learning to ride a bike. It takes time and patience and hopefully you have someone by your side helping you along the way. Sure, you’ll fall from time to time but when you get your bearings and start going, nobody can stop you. Over time you’ll learn some new tricks, some of which others may never learn in their lifetimes. And in time you’ll be teaching someone else to do the very same thing. But first, you have to take the first step and believe you can.


One thought on “Take the First Step”

  1. I believe that if you can read a text book about syntax of the programming language of your choice, have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and some time on your hand then you can write code. However there is a significant difference between writing a commercial application as opposed to a tool to help you out with some task. There are some common sense rules to follow whichever the intention was of the application, and chief among them is to break the code into many smaller components rather than one mammoth piece of code. Those who have done courses in Object Oriented programming have that rule drummed into them.


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