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Hello World, how did I learn to code?

Hello World, how did I learn to code?

The first time I used a computer was when I was 9 years old, in the computer room of the school where I studied. The teachers were teaching us how to operate the Logo Writer turtle using simple commands, in MS-DOS. We made the turtle paint hexagons, octagons and even trapped it in an infinite loop.

I didn’t have a computer at home, so my interaction with computers was limited to those two hours a week at school.

When I was 12 years old my dad brought a computer home, an IBM that he got to facilitate his work as a teacher. That little thing with 256 MB of RAM and 10 GB of hard drive was my test subject. I installed small programs on it, clicked on everything I could, downloaded the openings and endings of Neon Genesis Evangelion in midi (mp3 was not popular back then) and used it to play lots and lots of video games on the emulators that were available on the net.

One fine day, while surfing the internet, I discovered the personal blogs on blogspot, I became a fan of the blogger atmosphere, I visited one blog after another, they all had such interesting things to tell. Some were bright, colorful and full of details, others were minimalist and elegant, others quite dark and gloomy; each blog was a reflection of its author’s personality. Back then I had no idea how to have my own.

Internet and blogs

After reading a couple of tutorials and learning how easy it was to create a blog, I decided to create my own, I named it “manzana amarga” (bitter apple), after a song from an anime called Shaman King. I used to fill it with my thoughts and the occasional pictures of my daily life. Eventually I wanted to customize it and found that I had to modify the HTML and CSS code. In order to modify my tiny little corner on the internet the way I wanted, I learned the basics of HTML and CSS; change the colors of the letters, the background, modify the arrangement of the elements to have more columns, insert background images, add small scripts and chatboxes, etc.

Registration of my blog, the layout was ruined because Photobucket changed its urls scheme.
Registration of my blog, the layout was ruined because Photobucket changed its urls scheme.

A few years later, thanks to the recommendation of one of my best friends, I got a job in a cyber café. I learned how to fix the most common bugs, connect printers to a server, pass files between networked computers, modify the windows registry, download torrent files, manage Office packages, Photoshop, Keyloggers, network computers, etc. However, during all that time, I did not write any programs myself.

While working at the cyber café, I decided to study chemistry because I was good at mathematics and exact sciences. Along the way I created another blog called “Lluvia de fotones” (Rain of Photons) that I ran while I was taking my classes.

I didn’t like university (in general, not only my career of choice), I found it slow-going, boring, protocolary and full of nonsense. Throughout my time at the university, knowing how to use a computer to search for information gave me many advantages over my less skilled classmates.

I finished my degree and graduated in the top three GPAs of my class. However, after a cursory glance at the available workplaces in my hometown, I decided never to practice.

Supercell and Miku Hatsune

One afternoon I was researching about a Japanese band called Supercell on the internet. Supercell was a rather peculiar band, their vocalist was a computer program called Vocaloid, a software that borrowed the voice of Saki Fujita to create a virtual singer, named Miku Hatsune. Vocaloid allowed its users to use Miku Hatsune as their personal vocalist, modulating tones, beats and syllables.

The more I read about Miku Hatsune the more I wanted to know, I was stunned; the company that had programmed Vocaloid was literally giving a voice to all those artists who, for one reason or another, did not have a voice to bring their lyrics to life. At that moment I understood the true potential that the code had and I said to myself: “I also want to use computers and code to create”.

Miku Hatsune plastic figure
Miku Hatsune plastic figure. Image credits to 南menghua

At that time, it crossed my mind to go back to college, but I dismissed the idea immediately. I had already been there, the university was inefficient, the level of most of the professors was mediocre at best, their academic plans were completely outdated and the face-to-face classes were slow and inefficient. I decided that I would not make the same mistake twice, this time I would try to learn on my own.

Moving from Windows to GNU/Linux

At some point right after leaving college I switched my personal operating system to GNU/Linux, at first I had a hard time adapting, I missed Photoshop and other Microsoft exclusive programs, but as I learned how it worked I started to enjoy it even more than Windows. I started with Linux Mint (I never liked Ubuntu), then I tried Kali for a year and ended up with Debian, which I still use as my main operating system.

In Linux I learned how to install programs and the basic commands. Later I learned how to set up a LAMP server and made my first “hello world” in PHP.

My experience with PHP

PHP was my first experience with a programming language, and also the shortest. After reading a thick book called Beginning PHP and MySQL, written by W. Jason Gilmore at the municipal library, and learning quite a few basic concepts I was quite overwhelmed with the large amount of unnecessary functions, its syntax seemed chimerical and whimsical, and I was quite disappointed when I learned that the language was incapable of producing desktop applications in a simple way.

PHP had introduced me to the world of programming relatively easily, but I still felt that the language was not for me… but then came Python.

Language with the name of a group of humorists

After months of avoiding all information related to Python for the silly reason that it owes its name to ‘Monty Python’, a group of British comedians with whom I was not familiar, I decided to leave my prejudices behind and give it a try. I signed up for the online Python course and fell in love with the language.

Python fascinated me with its simple syntax, the simplicity of the functions and the elegance of its design.

The comedy group known as Monty Python
Photograph of the comedy group known as Monthy Python, after which the programming language is named.

A month later I read the book Beginning Python from novice to Professional and experienced the beauty of Python’s simplicity and versatility.

With Python I could do everything: create desktop applications, web pages, simple scripts to automate tasks, all with a syntax simple and predictable enough for a programming layman like me. A few weeks were enough for Python to become my favorite programming language (it still is today), and I went from my first “Hello World” to more complicated things.

Using Python to make my life easier

A year later I would use Python to automate my day-to-day digital tasks.

I completely automated the creation of images with prices for my online store using imagemagick. I programmed the periodic publication of products in facebook groups, using selenium, and without using the official facebook API (because they had disabled the option to publish in groups).

Later I used Django to create and customize an online store for the photo products fanpage I managed. By then I had already read quite a few books about Python, Django and web development, as well as watched and practiced a lot of video tutorials on the same subject.

Python was wonderful, I could schedule all the tasks for the day and leave them running while I went off to do other things. The system worked perfectly, made me money and required almost no time investment on my part. I dedicated the free time I had to train myself in more topics related to the programming world: C, C++, algorithms, discrete mathematics, cryptography, best practices, computer security, free software, GNU/Linux, differential equations and other topics that I considered relevant.

This is, in a fairly short way, the story of how I started programming. Always self-taught, reading books and blogs, watching tutorials and practicing a lot.

Bootcamp in Bedu

Finally, since many companies love to have a piece of paper to back up what you already know, and I was a bit unsure if everything I had read applied to today’s development world (the famous imposter syndrome), I decided to sign up for a 6-month Bootcamp at Bedu.

At the risk of being a bit arrogant, I will say that the bootcamp was a piece of cake thanks to everything I had practiced and read before, I did not really learn many new things. However, it was thanks to Bedu that I met some fascinating and talented people among my classmates and teachers. Also thanks to Bedu I tried Platzi, the online learning platform that they use as a prework for their face-to-face classes. The community alone made it worth every penny I paid.

Colobora Coworking in Chapultepec, Guadalajara
Image taken from Colabora's website

I went through the Bedu bootcamp at Colabora Coworking.

Maybe in a future post I will talk about my experience in Bedu and Platzi, since this post is already getting quite long. If you want to ask me more about my experience, leave me a comment or send me a DM to twitter and I will tell you more about my experience.

Eduardo Zepeda
Web developer and GNU/Linux enthusiast always learning something new. I believe in choosing the right tool for the job and that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. I'm under the impression that being perfect is the enemy of getting things done. I also believe in the goodnesses of cryptocurrencies outside of monetary speculation.
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