Three Bad Pieces of Advice New Programmers Should Ignore

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When I first started programming, there weren’t enough resources to learn to code. Now, new programmers suffer from a different problem: there are too many. That is one of the reasons why I built Coding List: a website that helps you learn to code by ranking twenty-five thousand programming courses.

Still, it isn’t just programming courses that beginners have a hard time sorting through; it is advice too. When I see new programmers ask for help in my Facebook group and other platforms, I often cringe at some of the answers. So I decided to put together a list of the three worst pieces of advice you need to steer clear of as a new programmer.

1. You Can’t Get Hired Without a Degree

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I’ve been fighting against this one forever. Critics (that are usually jealous of the people bettering themselves by learning to code) love to say new coders are wasting their time because “companies don’t hire programmers without CS degrees.”

Of course, that is not true. Some of the biggest tech companies in the world, like Google and Apple, don’t require degrees for any of their jobs. My Facebook group is filled with self-taught programmers that work at all kinds of companies in every position: from junior software engineers to senior software engineers.

Recently, I wrote an essay questioning whether or not colleges will be around in the future. One of the points I made was as COVID-19 forces schools to embrace remote learning, students will start to question why a Udemy course costs $15, but a similar online course at a college costs $500. Sure enough, I just read a comment on Hacker News where a college student said,

My parents and I have been discussing whether it even makes sense for me to enroll next year. It seems unlikely that they will cram us into 400+ person lecture halls come fall. Paying 60k for zoom powerpoints seems absurd. 

So not only can you get a programming job without a degree, but it looks like we are moving to a future where colleges are becoming increasingly irrelevant and it will be easier to do than ever.

2. Free Code Camp is Always the Best Place to Start

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I get it. Free Code Camp is great. It is the best coding platform anyone has ever made. And it is free! It’s right there in the name. It isn’t always the best place to start learning to program, though.

Free Code Camp fans are very vocal, and they advocate for Free Code Camp hard. Most people that respond to new programmers asking for help figuring out where to start learning give several options. Not Free Code Camp fans, though. For them, it is the only place to start regardless of your situation.

Are you an accountant looking to learn to code so you can automate some of your work? Great! Start with Free Code Camp. It doesn’t matter that it focuses on JavaScript and web development, which is completely unnecessary to learn for an accountant that just wants to automate some tasks. Or that there are courses like Automate the Boring Stuff specifically designed to help people in that situation. No matter, you should always start with Free Code Camp.

As I said, Free Code Camp is a fine resource. It just isn’t the only programming resource in the world, and it doesn’t make sense for everyone in every situation. There are tens of thousands of other courses you can take, and often they are a better fit for a student’s goals. And many of them are just as free as Free Code Camp.

3. Learn C or Java First

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The last piece of bad advice I hear comes when someone asks what the best programming language to learn first is.

First, someone will say, “There is no best programming language to start with.” That is not helpful. Ok, it is technically true. Only because the word best doesn’t mean anything in this situation.

However, what the person asking the question means is what programming language will I have the best chance of success with? And when you think about it that way, the answer is not, “There is no best programming language to start with.”

This leads me to the next response, which is equally unhelpful, “Learn C or Java.” If you took two hundred students and taught half of them Python and the other half C, I guarantee more students would successfully learn to program in Python than in C. One day; I would like to sponsor a scientific study of this so that we can end this debate once and for all.

In the meantime, you are going to have to take my word for it.

Final Thoughts

As the admin of a Facebook group with more than 50,000 members, I’ve seen tens of thousands of new programmers ask questions. Most of the advice they get is super helpful, and we have some fantastic mentors that help new coders every day. Some of the advice, however, is not only unhelpful but downright harmful.

The problem with the internet is anyone can give advice without any qualifications. You have no way of knowing if the person telling you to learn Java first is a software engineer with ten years of experience or someone that’s been programming for a month.

Of course, I am not telling you not to listen to anyone. As I said, there are tons of amazing mentors in my Facebook group and other online communities that help new coders every day. Just don’t believe everything you hear…

Best of luck learning to code!

Published by Cory Althoff

Cory Althoff is the founder of Coding List and the author of The Self-Taught Programmer, which Book Authority named one of the best software books of all time.

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4 Comments

  1. I am interested in AI , I am Certified Financial Planner and have been practicing for 30 years. I am officially burnt out. I would like a career in data science focused in AI. Can you give me a list of all the classes I need to take, that build on top of each other sequentially, that will prepare me for a job. Thanks in advance for your help. By the way I do not mind paying for classes. I just finished a class with coursea Python for Data science and AI. It was good and I learned a lot. However the Watson Studio sucked and getting help from forums is a nightmare. If you can guide me on my path would be greatly appreciated. BTW I bought your book on Amazon and it is helping me quite a bit. Thanks and stay safe

    1. So glad to hear you liked it! Check out codinglist.com, you can find tons of data science classes. Best of luck!

  2. I couldn’t resist commenting. Very well written!

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