One of the questions I mostly get asked is “How do you build apps and what do I need to know before I can build one too?” or “I would like to get into programming, where do I start?”. I’d like to address these questions from my perspective and experience.
First of all, I am not a writer, and this is relatively new to me, so instead of overthinking, I decided to sit down and write this article in one go.
1. Early days 👶🏾
I was born in Paris, from Cameroonian parents and I grew up in a handful of different countries and cities. I wasn’t born a computer geek or math prodigy and barely remembered seeing a computer until I was about ten years old. I wanted to clear this out because there is a common misconception that you need to be a geeky computer math nerd genius to become a Software Engineer. Keep in mind, however, that a good understanding of math is essential for some areas of computer science like Artificial intelligence.
Although I wrote my first line of code at 11 years old, I did not understand what I was doing. I was blindly following this tutorial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mu4S2p81eTo) on how to edit pokemon scripts (I was a big fan of Pokemon)
2. Landing in the UK 🛬
I landed in the UK on the 12th of September 2015, and I was very excited and grateful to be on a land full of opportunities. As a 17-year-old who barely knew anyone, I was very unsure of what to do.
I decided to study Computer Science because I have always been fascinated by technology and video games. The primary reason was that I thought it could be cool to understand how these things work. I had no idea I was setting my foot into one of the most lucrative industries.
3. University 📚
Although I had excellent grades during my first year, I didn’t feel fulfilled. All we did was build very generic projects. It did help me grasp core programming concepts, but I did not feel very excited when working on these sort of projects. During the summer break, I went back to Canada and spent the summer with my friends. I took the time to think about what I wanted in life and how I would achieve that. Watched a lot of motivational videos and read a lot of audiobooks. When coming back to the UK, I had one thing in mind; Network and Build things.
4. Learn by building 🔨
Now let’s get to the heart of this article. The first thing I am glad I realised is that you will never know everything and that is fine. Most software engineers spend the majority of their time on Stackoverflow trying to fix a bug or implement a feature. To put some perspective, If Stack Overflow went down, the productivity of most software engineers will reach an all-time low. The point I am trying to make is that I understood and accepted that I will constantly get stuck during my journey. I decided to just embrace being stuck and master the art of figuring it out.
It is no secret, a lot of practical work is required when learning how to code. However, many people still get trapped in what is called the “Tutorial hell” and end up watching countless tutorials and learning passively.
With that in mind, I would start by watching ONE tutorial/course and start building straight afterwards. I started building many apps, websites and games. I frequently got stuck but always googled my way out.
Staying consistent is probably the best advice I can give to anyone getting into tech. It is better to code for 1h every day than to inconsistently code for 10h+. You need to train your muscle memory.
Here are sites I’d recommend to get started:
5. Connect 🌐
It’s great to build things but if there is nobody to see or experience it, you aren’t very far from where you started. The next advice would be to connect with as many people as possible. Humans are a lot nicer and willing to help as you might think. Don’t be scared!
I did so by going to countless meetups in London, participating in countless hackathons and reaching out to people on LinkedIn.
6. Start-ups 🚀
So here I am, midway through my second year of university building things and connecting with people. Now what?
I was trying to decide between getting an internship or building a commercial product. The choice became clear when I stumbled across a video on LinkedIn about some app called XPO. One thing leading to another, I joined the XPO team and started working with Lotanna, the CEO of XPO. He has a crazy work ethic and just like myself, he likes to get things done. Lotanna played a massive role in my journey of working with start-ups and small businesses by introducing me to his connections.
7. Semicolomn 💡
Back when I was in my second year of university, I participated in the Google BGN Hackathon where my team and I built an app that uses Natural Language Processing to translate from English to African languages such as Yoruba and Swahili.
We ended up winning the hackathon and that sky-rocketed my journey into the freelance world. I was able to get a handful of clients and work on many interesting projects as well as drastically improve my skills.
The winning team 🏆, BrainPie, built an app that allows people to learn African languages like Yoruba (spoken by almost 42 million people) via real life scenarios with a chat bot. They had a working UI within 3 hours! #BHM #BGNHack pic.twitter.com/zhOjyV3bo2
— Google Students (@googlestudents) February 1, 2019
A couple of weeks ago. I was overwhelmed by the number of clients that reached out to me for projects so I decided to officially register a consultancy company (www.semicolomn.io) whose main goal is to build software for small businesses.
Identify the skill you want to learn or improve, try to get a basic understanding through tutorials or courses and start building. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Message people who followed or are following a similar path to yours. You’d be amazed at how many people are willing to help.
If you were to take two things from this post it would be to Build things and Network, the rest will follow. These ideas do not only apply to beginners, it is an effective way of thriving in the tech scene.