The journey is easier with a destination in mind.

/The journey is easier with a destination in mind.

This post is specifically about programming, but is applicable to a lot of skills.

I taught myself to code circa age 17, and my poison of choice was PHP. I chose it mainly because it’d been the language used in the rewrite of the then-huge forums, and Scott–the webmaster of said site–was the only guy I knew who was anything approaching a Real Life Certified Professional Geek. My previous coding experience mainly consisted of looking at forum code and making HTML tweaks buried in the echo lines, and I was pretty good at that, so I thought actually writing something myself wouldn’t be too hard.

I did have a project in mind: I wanted to write a weblog.

Don’t all laugh at once.

Remember, this was the early ’00s. LiveJournal and Blogger had only just launched, and though I had accounts on both services, I thought having my own homebrew script would be much cooler.

So I opened a tutorial, sat myself down, and decided to start with a login box.

About half an hour later I was literally in tears–actually bawling my eyes out in my study–because I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even know where to start. And, suddenly, the project seemed so insurmountable, the hill so impossibly steep…

I turned to Google: php login form. That lead me to someone else’s code, which–eyes still red from tears–I picked apart and reassembled for my own ends. Then, cookies conquered, I moved onto the basic blog post CRUD, and was pleased to find it easy.

I never looked back, after that; nowadays, I can and have written pretty much anything in PHP I’ve wanted to, from schematic mapping interfaces to RSS data aggregators to one script that logged itself into LiveJournal.

But I’ll never forget sitting in front of my very first <?php, tears running down my cheeks. Those first few steps were difficult. But I had a project. And I made it in the end.

2018-04-27T13:47:07+00:0029th January, 2014|Tags: programming, tech|


  1. (noun) (@nounbeast) 29th January, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I’m going a little off-topic (or rather, off The Point) here, but I had a very similar experience, right down to starting with the old home-brewed blog script as well. (Although I was way goddamn later to the attempt to learn than you were, haha!) Staring at someone’s explanation never taught me anything, even when a particularly one-plus-one-equals-two tutorial showed up on an extremely popular go-to site for simple php scripts.

    They provided a finished bundle at the end of the ordeal, and honestly downloading the finished product and playing with it–working to slim down the number of files, strip out redundant lines, take apart the admin login script to apply it to adding users to a privatized blog–that was where the learning happened. I’d almost wonder if it’s a common enough experience that another useful tip to new programmers is to consider that being told how to build it step by painful step sometimes doesn’t work; instead, pick it apart, learn how it ticks, and put it back together into something significantly more awesome.

    • Alis 29th January, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      Actually, yeah; the pick-it-apart/do-it-yourself method pretty much is how programming is taught formally. Like, step-by-step is the 101 class, but once you’re past that the instruction becomes more like “this is how to overload an operator”, “this is a null pointer”, “this is an MVC framework”… no go forth an implement my child!

      I guess it’s kind of like writing: a teacher can tell you what (a-har) a noun is, and can tell you about the three-act structure, but she can’t “make” you a good writer. The only way that happens is by using those tools to assemble your own stories… and to pick them apart. u_u

      Also… an extremely popular go-to site for simple php scripts, lol. Jesus. That would’ve been, what? Ten years ago?

      Man we’re old, noun.

      /throws herself onto the ground melodramatically.

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