Development

9 minute read

How Long Does it Take to Learn How to Code: Answers from the Experts

Nick Mertens

Nick Mertens

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So, you want to learn to code or have already started on your journey. You find yourself wondering how long it will be before you are fluent in the programming language(s) of your choice.

That’s an excellent question and one that has no easy, one-size-fits-all answer. As you might imagine, it also varies from person to person. Not everyone learns at the same pace and we all have different backgrounds. Luckily, that’s a good thing! The more we can learn from each other, the better we’ll all become and the easier it will be to teach others.

In this article, we speak to the experts to answer your number one burning question: how long does it take to learn how to code?

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Why should you learn to code?

Tech job opportunities are expected to increase by almost double the projected growth of other industries by 2024, making coding one of the most important job skills of the future. Learning how to code is now more accessible than ever before, thanks to online courses and tutorials.

Learning to code may seem daunting, but it’s not impossible. There are many successful developers out there who once knew nothing about coding, and today hold high paying jobs at top companies or lucrative contracts as freelancers. You too can follow this path if you have chosen a career in the development industry.

If you don’t want to be a programmer by trade, there are still benefits to learning to code for many job roles. In fact, half of job postings in the top income quartile that require coding skills were found outside the technology industry,  proving that even non-developers like graphic designers and marketers can benefit from having some programming knowledge under their belts.

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Advice from those who have learned to code

Start with the basics and build from there

There are a great many fields where you might need or want to use code. This could range from making websites, analyzing statistical data, setting up web servers, writing embedded software for physical devices, creating mobile applications, making games, the list goes on!

Many coding related tasks require you to have an understanding of multiple programming languages and frameworks, and you’ll find most web developers are adept at a number of languages. If you were to try to learn to code for all the fields above at once, you’d need a thousand lifetimes. Instead, it’s best to start with the basics and build a foundation.

Alexander Winston from PPC Protect has a great personal example. Being part of a startup, they wanted to save money wherever they could, which included creating their own website. Alexander learned HTML, CSS, JavaScript, some PHP, and even other frameworks such as jQuery to create their website. He spent about 4 hours each day practicing and learning, starting with the basics, before moving onto more advanced stuff.

“When I first started learning I had zero experience. The first languages I started with were HTML and CSS, as they are the foundations for every website. Once I'd mastered them I started to try more advanced things with JavaScript including a custom pricing widget and FAQ sections.”

- Alexander Dean

Alexander was happy with the quality of the website he built and believes his time spent learning to code has definitely paid off both in money saved for his start-up, and the valuable skills he now possesses. He recommends finding the best learning method that works for you. His preferred method is online courses with video tutorials.

Time Alexander spent learning: 4 hours each day over 6 month​s


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Failure is part of the process

Sometimes you’ve got to jump into the deep end to learn fast, which is exactly what Paul Bliss from RankSurge did. When he started his job as a programmer for an insurance website, he didn’t know anything about programming. On the job, he learned how to use ColdFusion and ASP.NET, spending 40 hours a week learning to code. He mentions, “I remember one page that collected information had over 10,000 lines of code to make everything work. Terrible design on my part and taught me that I was not a good programmer!”

“Break code and break the site. That's how you learn what not to do, and will make you better at knowing what works and what won't”

- Paul Bliss

The great thing about failing fast and failing early is that you learn a ton! Back when Paul started in 1999, there weren’t many resources available online, so breaking things was one of the fastest ways of finding out how to do things. Even nowadays with so many resources available, it can be easy to search for a direct answer to your questions. However, sometimes it’s better to just try stuff out and see what sticks. Having said that, don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep an open mind. If someone is willing to teach you, hear what they have to say.

Time Paul spent learning: 40 hours a week over 3 months

Define your end goal first

Like Paul, Sunny Shah from ClimbCareer also landed a tech job before knowing how to code. He wanted to make something he would actually use himself. “My goal was to build a mobile app that wakes me up before I sleep past my bus stop.” This meant focusing on the languages and frameworks that allowed him to do this, i.e. Node.js, MongoDB, Express and React Native.

“Define your end-goal before picking up any languages.”

- Sunny Shah

By defining your end goal first, this gives you something to work towards. You can hone in on all the specifics you need to know to build that particular thing, and won’t get lost floundering in a sea of code with no direction.

Time Sunny spent learning: 32 hours a week over 2 months

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Learn in your free time

If jumping in guns blazing is not your thing, not to worry! Taking it slow can be very effective and is sometimes the better way to go. If you have a pretty full schedule or don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket just yet, you can easily do a little study and practice every week. Jesse Harrison, the founder, and CEO of the California Employment Attorneys Legal Group, did exactly that. His career takes up most of his time during the week, so he studies primarily during the weekends.

He first got interested in learning to code because their website occasionally had a bug that frustrated him. He took it upon himself to learn how to fix these problems, by following online tutorials and YouTube videos. “I began learning Python because it was user-friendly and there were dozens and dozens of guides for it. I didn’t see a point in studying an extremely difficult language that would possibly frustrate me, so I stuck to the easy route.”

Within a few months he was able to fix the bug that frustrated him so much in the past, and now he manages the day-to-day aspects of it too. If there are big changes that need to be done, he will still contract someone to take care of it.

“If you wish to start coding, my advice is simple: take advantage of the myriad guides and tutorials that are present, and never be afraid to ask questions.”

- Jesse Harrison

Jesse recommends following online tutorials and asking questions. The internet is a very helpful place and you should be able to find everything you need. He tried reading a few books on the subject, but found them to be less helpful and they go quickly out of date.

Time Jesse spent learning: 6 hours a week over a year

Never stop learning

Regardless of how much experience you have, learning to code is an ongoing process, Seb Dean from Imaginaire Digital explains. He started learning to code at age 14 and with constant learning over the years now owns his own web development company. He says that he is still learning and refining those skills 16 years on.

“In terms of the time involved, it's more of an ongoing process than something you can fit into a number of hours. Even today, 16 years on, I'm still learning new things each day.”

 - Seb Dean

Seb started by learning HTML and CSS, on to JavaScript and then PHP and MySQL. He recommends following tutorials on building complete systems, as these will help to give you a bigger picture and lets you explore what areas you might find most enjoyable. Focus on building practical projects - things you’d actually use - this will see you learn faster.

Time Seb spent learning: 8 hours a day over the first year

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It's time to start learning

While there are many different ways to learn, there are definitely some common threads. Think about where you want to end up and do a little research to find out what you need to learn for that. Having a practical goal helps keep you motivated and will allow you to learn that little bit faster.

When you do get stuck - and let’s face it, everyone does - turn to one of the many online communities, who are often keen to help out beginners and veterans alike! Be sure to keep an eye on the GoSkills blog for more articles on development or try out some beginner-level courses -  they might be just what you need!

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Nick Mertens

Nick Mertens

Nick is a web developer, focusing on front end development and UX, as well as dabbling in any new technologies or frameworks that catch his eye. In his free time, he enjoys playing video games, listening to metal, and being an all-round geek.

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