Toolbox: Learning To Code In Dublin

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Coding Dublin DublinGlobe.com

Classes, courses, and casual drinks (programming n00bs welcome)

Are you one of those people who work in tech but are utterly clueless about coding? The good news is that it’s never too late to learn to code. Aside from traditional routes like part time third-level education, there’s a DIY grassroots side to coding where you learn by yourself or via an online course, supplemented with casual meetups.

If you’re in Dublin, then you have a vast range of options. Here are but a few*:

Coding Grace:
Coding Grace offer language-agnostic coding workshops, aimed at encouraging diversity in tech. They provide a friendly environment where questions are welcome, professional mentors are on hand to give tips, and workshops are interactive and short.

I spoke to Vicky Lee, who runs Coding Grace, along with PyLadies Dublin and GameCraft It (she’s also involved with Python Ireland, WITS Ireland, and weAREhere): “In the last few years there has been an increase in women coming to the tech events and workshops I organise. Although it’s true that there are more men in the industry, it shouldn’t scare them away from the industry”. A key part to running her events is establishing that coders are normal people, not intimidating uber-geniuses with no time for the questions from beginners.

This approach has won Coding Grace an instant fan base – Lee mentioned difficulty finding suitable venues for the growing group: “Dublin, in particular, has had a mini-explosion of tech meetup groups, and it’s hard enough not to clash with anyone as well as vying for venues to host their events.” Workshops include JavaScript, HTML5/CSS3, data manipulation, game art, Unity3 and Raspberry Pi among other skills. Lee, however, suggests Python as the best language for starting out: “Python was created to teach people programming, and it has a low barrier to entry. The best place to start is head over to python.org and start typing some Python code right on their front page.”

Ruby Ireland:
If you’d like to stand out from those who learn Python you could always try Ruby instead, represented in Dublin by the Ruby Ireland meetup group – their catchphrase is a geeky riff on a traditional Irish blessing: “May the code rise to meet you…”.

I asked Declan McGrath of Ruby Ireland whether the code was gaining in popularity. “Yes… though that’s mostly based on our gut feeling from those we meet at the meetups. From what we’re told by startups and other companies looking to hire, as well as the job postings on RubyJobs.ie, there is demand for Rubyists.” The group currently has over 750 members, and each event attracts a mix of veteran coders and newbies. “Ruby Ireland meetups are open to everyone,” says McGrath. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Ruby pro or are just interested to find out what the hell Ruby’s all about.” That said, it’s advisable to have at least a basic understanding of Object Oriented Programming: McGrath recommends online courses and tutorials, listed at Hackr.io, as a great way to learn, along with getting stuck into your own projects: “I think that the best way to learn is to pick a topic you’re interested in and try to build a pet project in Ruby. Then just refer to books on Ruby and blog posts as you work through the problem. It’s also good to learn about Test Driven Development – try to apply it as you code.”

Python Ireland:
Was it the influence of Learn Python the Hard Way, or is it just an unexpectedly versatile, learnable programming language? Python has grown in popularity of late, giving rise to its own community in Dublin.

I spoke to Brian McDonnell of Python Ireland, who regularly host meetups and targeted workshops. They also run an annual convention, PyCon, which will take place in October. “Python Ireland is not-for-profit and is run entirely by unpaid volunteers,” he says. “It’s always been a grassroots community. The Python language has been around since the early 1990s, but it’s only in the last 5-10 years that it has become really popular. The early members of Python Ireland were mainly enthusiasts who liked to learn niche languages in their free time.” Python continues to find new adopters in Ireland, so many that they struggle to find venues big enough for meetups. Nonetheless, they still welcome newbies: “Python Ireland members have a wide range of experience, from complete beginner to seasoned pro, but all are equally welcome,” says McConnell. “Beginners are likely to learn the most at the meetups, but everyone gains equally from being part of a community.”

Code Institute:
Code Institute offers a range of training courses launching this September (classes are filling up, but there are some places still available), with the option to learn online and in the classroom, solely online or just ‘IRL’ through part time or full time learning.

I spoke to Anthony Quigley, CEO of Code Institute and founder of the Digital Marketing Institute. “The trend now is to build stuff fast with agile programming,” he says. “Employers don’t care where you went to college, they just want to see a link. So we teach people full-stack coding, starting from scratch. We put people in pairs, or in small teams, because that’s how it usually is in business, and they go through this twelve-week zero to hero course. And they come out a junior coder, with a portfolio and a GitHub account they can link to.

They’re currently working with academics and startups, as well as tech recruiters, to tailor the course to industry needs. “We’re very much focused on employability,” he says. “There are two million unfilled programming jobs in the US alone. We need to find a way to fill that gap, and the way I see it the only way we can do that is through non-traditional learning, not the usual third level courses.” Quigley mentions the need for one standard certification for coders (“The truth is, there is none – FETAC is useless outside Ireland…”) and the emphasis Code Institute will place on contextualising coding skills in everyday life. “We want to challenge people to build a Spotify, or a Hailo app – something we all use every day.”

CoderDojo:
A global community founded in Ireland, CoderDojo gives young people aged 7 to 17 the opportunity to learn to develop code and build websites, programmes, games and digital media in an environment that’s immersive, creative, collaborative and fun. CoderDojo relies on volunteers and open source technology, and classes are free. There are currently over 700 Dojos across 57 countries, with a staggering 174 located in Ireland.

Mary Maloney, Global CEO of the CoderDojo Foundation, says: “It’s our vision that every child in the world should have the opportunity to learn how to code and discover the magic behind the technology, which they interact with in their everyday lives… I see kids as young as seven become innovators, creators & developers, taking on big social subjects. They build the websites, games, apps and new technology products that they want to have; they are only limited by their imaginations.”

The MeetUp Groups:
-Coding Newbies: A casual meet up for (as the name would indicate) absolute newbies. A friendly and approachable place to start.
Functional Kats: Functional programming – described by Smashing Magazine as ‘the moustachioed hipster of programming paradigms’ – is a type of declarative programming, primarily useful to front-end developers working with data. If you’re currently valiantly getting to grips with it, then this meetup is for you.
Nodeschool: A group formed this year with the aim of teaching how to programme in JavaScript without resorting to boot camp levels of pressure on participants. Tip: browse their tutorials first.

Or, if you’d rather go it alone… Code Academy:
If meetups and courses aren’t your thing, or maybe you don’t have the time to attend one, then it’s worth trying out some of the numerous online courses and tutorial collections you can find (often for free) online. Code Academy stands out as an especially popular and proven method for interactive learning, featuring helpful tutorials on topics like Rails, AngularJS and building an interactive website.

*This is by no means a definitive list. If you’ve been to a meetup, workshop or course you’d like to see featured, tweet your recommendations to @DublinGlobe!

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