Learn to code requires focus, not an encyclopedic knowledge of functions

learn to code

Joe started Ubiqum’s Data Analytics and Machine Learning program in Barcelona last September. He writes about European technology and business for a range of UK media. He is usually based in London but loves all that Barcelona has to offer! In this article, he’s going to share the challenges he’s faced so far learn to code.

So let’s take a look!

I wrote that in my notebook a few weeks ago. At the time it felt like an epiphany. Now, it feels like stating the obvious.

If learn to code was the difficult thing about becoming a software developer or data scientist, then it would be possible for more of us to study from online resources alone and set sail in the industry.

Like many, I have tried that path and it’s not gone so well.

Much more important than learning libraries or nifty functions, for me at least, has been working on the core underlying skills needed to build projects:

  • Problem solving
  • Research
  • Testing hypotheses

It has been about habits, not hackathons.

For my particular journey, there has been one skill that has seen my output increase dramatically: focus.


As the tasks we complete get more complicated and detailed (and enjoyable), I have come to realise that one of the biggest differences between my cohort friends and myself was how much longer they could focus on their work before needing a break.

I could barely go 20 minutes without gasping for a quick inbox check or a social media pit stop.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that I am also the youngest in my particular cohort.

After various false starts, bouts of willpower, and a lot of installed Chrome extensions, I can easily do an hour or more without too much trouble.

“The path to learning to code and building better projects hasn’t been about learning anything specific. It has instead been about reassessing my relationship with my mobile phone, with my email inbox, and with my social media accounts.

In many ways, it has been about unlearning how to be a digital journalist and a millennial.

It has been about understanding my behaviour and bad habits which tend to cluster into four key habits.

  • The share habit: I see a nice view, read a good article, or make a breakthrough with my code and I want to share it with someone.
  • The search habit: A stray question or thought pops into my mind. Before I can even think, I’m on Google and I’m finding the answer. Then I’m on Wikipedia or IMDB, then I’m lost on the internet bouncing from fact to fact.
  • The social habit: The need for social validation here has me scanning social media feeds, or checking apps for red notifications.
  • The news habit: Something curious, something bright or shiny is the need here. It’s my curiosity here that keeps me returning us to my inbox, social media feeds and to news websites.

learn to code

Breaking bad habits

Breaking the above habits is a personal challenge for many. For me, the answer has greatly come from the most old fashioned of tools: Pen and paper.

Every time I feel myself getting curious or wanting to search, share or socialise, I make a note on paper.

The act of noting each instance down helps me return to the task at hand.

It has been, at times, tough.

But, crucially, it has been extremely rewarding and once I started to see results, whether they be models that work or novel insights in the datasets I’m working with, it has become easier and easier.

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