Dive into the basics of coding with this beginner-friendly guide. Learn what it takes to master coding from scratch and build a strong foundation for your programming journey.
Coding — the idea of it, the writing of it, even the definition of it — has changed drastically over the years. It’s not just reserved for the folks who create computer games or build web and mobile apps anymore. It truly shapes our modern world and the technology within it. Without coding and the experts who write it, we wouldn’t have a lot of the advancements we use today.
Moreover, coding isn’t a practice that’s only used by tech professionals anymore. A ton of different industries could benefit from having coding-savvy employees in their arsenal. Plus, software engineers, web developers, and other types of programmers that work with code every day are some of the highest paid roles in the world right now.
All that to say: coding is arguably the most important skill any professional in any industry could learn right now.
Despite its importance, coding is super misunderstood — even by folks who do it on a daily basis. If you’re a beginner wanting to learn how to code, this deep dive is for you.
Let’s get started.
What is coding?
“Code” is, effectively, a set of instructions that tells a computer what to do. Code is written in languages that computers can understand. Coding is the basic communication between a human’s input and the computer’s output, using those programming languages as the binder. Now, that’s a super barebones explanation, but it’s the basis of how coding came to be.
Coding, programming, and software development get used interchangeably and, in a lot of ways, they are similar. However, “coders” need explicit coding acumen, where programmers don’t necessarily need to know how to code. They’re the problem solvers, the thinkers, and they can create the list of instructions that a coder can then write in a programming language. Development, on the other hand, involves both the coding acumen as well as the problem solving chops.
One myth you’ll hear about coding is that it’s hard to learn. Long strings of numbers and symbols and letters can look intimidating and seem impossible to understand. Any new skill, particularly a professional one, is hard to learn if you don’t dedicate time and effort to it. Some principles are harder than others to grasp, but there’s also a large scale of programming languages, with some significantly easier to learn than others. Once you have a few under your belt, learning new languages comes more naturally.
Who should learn coding?
In short, everyone should learn how to code. The technology we use on a daily basis — the apps we use on our phone, the websites we visit to shop, chat, and learn — is written in code. Learning how to code for beginners unlocks an especially exciting opportunity to know how these things work.
More specifically, though, these groups of people should have, at the very least, some coding acumen, if not full-fledged expertise:
- Those interested in tech, especially in software engineering, web development, or any role where you’re working hands-on with a product, app, or website.
- Those who work in jobs with a lot of data, like marketing, data analysis, business development, or administration. There are coding languages specifically written for storing, organizing, and manipulating data.
- Anyone interested in leveling up their careers: coding is useful in all kinds of roles. Like the roles above, knowing how to code and being able to make immediate changes or improvements within the code itself could save time, money, and resources for your company.
Before you determine why and how to learn coding, it’s important to know what you want to do with code and the path you want to take with it. This could also help you determine the best languages and skills to learn for your unique use case.
Why should you learn coding?
The reasons to learn coding are endless and, in many cases, personalized to the individual, but we’ve boiled it down to three distinct reasons everyone can agree on:
There’s money in it.
Software engineers, web and app developers, and data scientists are some of the highest paid professionals in the world.
It’s not just tech companies that are needing these pros, either — retail, music, food & beverage, e-commerce, healthcare, and finance companies all need coding help to bring their products, goods, or services into the tech age. Because there’s such a broad need for niche experience, companies are paying top dollar for talent.
It’s great for your resume and skill set.
There are endless projects and advancements one can make by knowing how to code and, as we just mentioned, it’s applicable to nearly every industry. No matter how, what, or where you learn to code, it’s an awesome skill to display on a resume or showcase in an interview, particularly if it’s a “nice to have” on a job description. You’ll have a leg up over the competition.
You can automate a lot of the work you do with data entry, spreadsheets, etc.
If you spend a lot of your time sifting through, organizing, or using data, or you’re in a customer-facing role or work directly on the customer experience, there are programming languages that can make your job so much easier. Consider it upskilling in your current career, which could even help you move up the ladder.
What can you do once you learn how to code?
Once you know how to code, there’s a wealth of opportunities available to you in your current career or beyond it. In many roles (with that number growing steadily year over year), coding is becoming a must-have skill versus a nice-to-have, so getting ahead of the curve could mean promotions or increased compensation.
You could even start an entire new career, which is what a lot of our bootcamp students choose to do. They want to switch into high growth, high earning potential career track, and software engineering is just that.
If you really commit and have strong acumen in one or multiple languages, there are tons of freelance and gig work opportunities for people to make additional money on the side.
No matter what you want to do with it, learning how to code could be just the thing that takes you to the next level.
How to start coding for beginners
So now you know all about coding and the possibilities around it; where does a beginner start to learn how to code?
Luckily, there are countless options for aspiring coders. Some have more structure and guidance than others, but trying a few different methods and seeing what works best for you — especially if they are free or inexpensive — gives you more insight into what that best choice is, as well as giving you a bigger picture of coding as a discipline.
If you aren’t already in the know (which, maybe you aren’t, considering you’re reading this piece!) YouTube is a haven for free coding lessons, tutorials, and troubleshooting videos. The creators making these videos are often software engineers or developers themselves, or they’ve made YouTube their full-time gig after years in the industry.
YouTube may be a tough place to start if you don’t already know what you’re looking for, so we recommend using YouTube tutorials in tandem with other programs or forms of learning. Chances are, you’ll get stuck on a skill or on a problem and can use YouTube to work your way through it.
Free coding courses.
There are more free coding online courses available than ever before, because the tech world and beyond has learned that making this education accessible to all actually gets people into roles at jobs where engineers and developers are greatly needed. These resources remove financial and cultural barriers, among others, that may have prevented someone from pursuing this skill earlier.
We compiled a list of the 11 best free coding resources out there, including our own App Academy Open.
App Academy Open was created in 2018 for the exact reasons we listed above: to expand access to coding education for everyone, everywhere. You can read more about the program and whether it really works here.
Bootcamps or higher education.
If you get really serious about learning how to code and turning it into a full-time or a side-gig career, bootcamps are the most efficient, immersive way to pack your brain with the most in-demand coding languages, skills, and proficiencies. We have three bootcamp courses of our own, but there are a number of programs to choose from.
A lot of people can land a job as an engineer or developer by learning how to code for free, but a bootcamp equips you with the tools, the portfolio, and the expert instruction. App Academy is even more unique in that we offer 1:1 career coaching to help you nail interviews and negotiate your compensation.
Things to keep in mind when learning how to code for beginners
Beginners learning how to code will be overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge they’re taking in. It’s super important to keep note of what you’ve learned and track your progress.
In order to showcase that progress, create projects — no matter how big or small — using the new skills you’ve developed. It will be invaluable to memorialize the work you’ve done, especially if you plan on using it in the future at an interview or to get a promotion.
Finally, don’t stick to one program or think you’ll find all the answers in a single resource. Any skilled coder will tell you that there are endless resources like YouTube, Github, Discord, and Reddit, among others, that pros use every single day to find solutions to their problems. The ability to find answers on the web and implement them is a massive coding skill in and of itself, and flexing that muscle from day one will put you in a solid position to do so later on.
Learning how to code for beginners can be intimidating and oftentimes, defeating. Every professional working as an engineer right now can tell you they were there once. It’s as rewarding as it is challenging, though, and knowing how to code will make you more marketable and ultimately, more successful.
Don’t miss a beat with The Cohort!
We’ll send you the latest Tech industry news, SWE career tips and student stories each month.