How I'd Learn to Code in Less Than a Year

Brian Casel
Brian Casel
January 12th, 2024

Two years.

That's the time it took me to learn how to code to the extent that I could confidently build and ship just about any product idea.

However, if I were to start learning coding today, armed with the knowledge and experience I have now, I'm certain I could achieve the same level of proficiency in half the time.

In this blog, I'm going to share with you five strategies that can significantly accelerate your journey toward becoming a full-stack software product developer in less than a year.

My goal is to guide you through the same transformation I underwent: from being employed, to freelancing, and eventually to building a products business.

If this resonates with you, I invite you to continue reading or check out the video above!

Here’s your roadmap to learn to code and start building your own apps:

  1. Strategy 1: Becoming a Full Stack Developer
    Discover the essential skills for full stack development and learn how to prioritize your learning to become proficient more quickly.

  2. Strategy 2: Building Your Cheat Sheet for Efficiency
    Find out how creating a personalized cheat sheet can save you time and enhance your coding workflow.

  3. Strategy 3: Utilize AI to Get Unstuck
    Learn how AI tools like ChatGPT and GitHub Copilot can be invaluable in overcoming coding obstacles and enhancing your learning.

  4. Strategy 4: Fast-Tracking Your Experience with a Coach
    Understand the importance of having a coach to guide you through the complexities of coding and fast-track your experience.

  5. Strategy 5: Dive into DIY Projects
    Embrace the challenge of building your own projects to truly understand coding and evolve from practicing to creating real products.

Your Roadmap to Coding Mastery

If you aspire to learn to code and start building apps this year, you're in the right place.

The roadmap I'm about to share isn't just a set of abstract ideas; it's a practical guide based on personal experience and successes.

So, let's dive into the 5 strategies that can help you become a skilled coder in a remarkably short time.

Strategy 1: Becoming Full Stack

Understanding Full Stack Development

The term "full stack developer" can be quite daunting. It usually refers to someone proficient in all the technologies that come together to create a software product.

This includes a wide range of skills from user interface and design chops, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, to backend programming languages like PHP, Ruby, or Python. It also involves understanding databases like PostgreSQL and MySQL, server infrastructure, Git, development workflows, and other nuances in between.

A lot. I know.

The Reality of Full Stack Development

The extent of knowledge required can vary based on your goals.

If you aim to be hired as a senior software engineer at a big technology company, a comprehensive grasp of all these areas is essential.

But if, like me, your goal is to design, build, ship, and bootstrap your own products, I’ve got good news and… less good news for you…

The less good news? You do have to make your way through that list.

The better news? You don’t need to be proficient in everything on that list.

These proficiencies fall under three categories:

  • Confident command of the technology - you’ll spend most of your time building and working in this area.

  • Beginner-level, but productive - you can build what you need to build, but you’re not going crazy advanced with it, and you probably don’t need to.

  • My motto: “Just enough to ship” - you can typically rely on tools that make it easy to implement, or you might look to hire someone to help in these targeted areas, when needed.

Let's break down the list:

  • User Interface and Design: A beginner level with productive skills is necessary, even if you're not a designer. Fortunately, many non-designers have a good sense of design.

  • HTML and CSS: These are probably the easiest types of coding to learn, and you'll need a confident command of them.

  • JavaScript: While often considered part of front-end development, JavaScript is a full-fledged programming language and is crucial for app development. A beginner-level understanding is essential, but don't get overwhelmed by its complexities initially.

  • Backend Programming Languages: Instead of trying to master multiple languages, focus on one (like PHP, Ruby, or Python) and gain a confident command of it. It's more effective to become proficient in one language and repeatedly build and ship in it.

  • Databases and Server Infrastructure: Here, a "just enough to ship" mentality is sufficient. Understand the basics but rely on tools and services that simplify implementation.

  • Git and Development Workflow: A basic understanding of Git for version control is necessary, but you don’t need to delve into its complexities. Familiarize yourself with common tasks in the Git development workflow.

This approach to becoming a full-stack developer is about focusing on what's necessary for your specific goals.

It’s about being strategic in your learning process and not getting bogged down by the need to know everything.

Strategy 2: Learn Faster with a Cheat Sheet

As you delve into full-stack development, you'll be bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information.

Learning and mastering this vast array of knowledge requires seeing, trying, and relearning concepts multiple times.

However, you'll soon notice that certain elements recur frequently in your day-to-day development tasks.

Identify Repeatedly Used Elements

Some aspects, like a few essential Git commands, will become part of your daily routine. Similarly, there are certain steps you'll repeat every time you kickstart a new project with a fresh codebase.

Since your ultimate goal is to build and ship products efficiently, it's crucial to avoid the time sink of repeatedly relearning these fundamental tasks.

Build Your Personal Cheat Sheet

This is where the concept of a personal cheat sheet comes into play. A cheat sheet is essentially a document or a collection of notes that contains all the critical bits of information you frequently refer to.

If something isn't ingrained in your muscle memory yet, your cheat sheet becomes your go-to resource.

For instance, it could include Git commands you occasionally forget or a snippet of code you use regularly.

The cheat sheet is not just a learning tool; it's a practical resource that helps maintain your momentum in development.

Streamlining Your Development Process

The idea behind this strategy is to minimize the time spent on recalling and searching for essential commands or code pieces. By having these at your fingertips, you can keep moving swiftly through your projects.

This approach is particularly valuable in the fast-paced world of software development, where time is often of the essence.

Strategy 3: Utilize AI to Get Unstuck

Embracing AI as a Learning Tool

The third strategy is something I truly wish had been available during my early coding days: using AI to get unstuck.

When I began my coding journey, I found myself hitting roadblocks constantly, sometimes multiple times a day.

It involved a lot of banging my head, endless Google and Stack Overflow searches, and frustrating hours or even days trying to solve problems.

One of the biggest challenges as a beginner was not even knowing the right terms to search for or the questions to ask.

The Role of AI in Modern Coding

Today, AI has become a game changer in the coding world. While there's a misconception that AI can build entire functioning apps, making human coders obsolete, we're not quite there yet.

However, tools like ChatGPT and GitHub Copilot have become indispensable. They're incredibly helpful, especially for those just starting out in full stack development.

AI as Your Coding Companion

When you're learning, and you find yourself stuck – which will happen often – AI can be your best friend. It assists not just in providing solutions but also in guiding you to understand the problem better.

So, remember, strategy number three is all about leveraging AI to navigate through those inevitable coding challenges more smoothly.

Strategy 4: Fast-Tracking Your Experience with a Coach

Bridging the Gap

Strategy number four is about bridging the gap between mastering the basics and acquiring the experience of a seasoned engineer.

Even after you've grasped the fundamental concepts and can build a basic app, there's still a vast difference in understanding when compared to an experienced developer.

It's not just about knowing how to build something, but understanding the optimal ways to do it.

The Value of Recognizing Design Patterns

Let's say you're creating an app that allows users to invite team members, with users being part of multiple teams across various accounts.

You might figure out how to assemble the system, but a seasoned engineer immediately recognizes this as a case of multi-tenancy.

They would know the battle-tested design patterns that are most effective for such an architecture. As you delve deeper into development, you'll encounter many such scenarios.

The Role of an Experienced Coach

This is where an experienced coach becomes invaluable.

While courses and YouTube videos provide the building blocks and AI tools can help you get unstuck, a coach can fast-track your journey to gaining real-world experience.

A coach can guide you not just in building but in shipping better products, ensuring that you're not just coding, but coding smartly and efficiently.

Strategy 5: Dive into DIY Projects

Moving Beyond Tutorials

The fifth and final strategy focuses on the importance of DIY projects.

In the beginning, your learning will primarily involve lessons and tutorials, which is like going through the motions. However, the real game-changer is when you start building your own practice projects.

I'm not referring to the projects outlined in tutorials, but those that originate from your own ideas, built entirely on your own based on what you've learned so far.

The Power of Hands-On Experience

You should start these personal projects even before you feel entirely ready.

Here's what typically happens: Let’s say you decide to create a simple to-do list app. Inevitably, you'll encounter challenges and get stuck.

This is where the learning accelerates – you'll search for solutions, consult AI, experiment, and research how others have tackled similar issues.

The Challenge: Build a Real Product

Engaging in these practice projects repeatedly is what will truly boost your coding and product development skills.

So, my challenge to you is this: within a year, transform your next practice project from just another practice run into a real product that you intend to build and ship to actual customers.

This shift from practice to production is not just about honing your technical skills but also about embracing the mindset of a product developer.

Was It Worth It?

These strategies are designed to accelerate your coding journey, aiming to make you proficient within just one year.

But you might wonder, is all this time and effort really worth it?

To shed more light on this, I invite you to watch this video (or read it!) where I share my personal story – how the year I learned to code fundamentally changed everything for me.

It’s a journey that might inspire you as you embark on your own. I'll see you there!

Brian Casel

Brian Casel

I'm a full stack founder who has been bootstrapping and building products and services businesses on the internet for over 15 years.

How I can help

I currently offer product strategy consulting and coaching for fellow software product founders. To learn more and check availability, click here.

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