I generally consider myself to have started coding at 38 when I started university as a mature student, but I first wrote code at high school back in the 1980s. Whilst I was in third year (the term people my age use for Year 9) our class did some basic programming on our school’s new BBC computers. We used a programme called logo which involved moving a yellow triangle around the screen and making it draw shapes. I decided to take GCSE Computer Science as one of my options, driven mainly by the novelty of using the school’s new computer suite. After our brief stint with Logo we moved onto BBC Basic. My high school programming experience is best summed up in these two lines of code:
10 PRINT Claire is cool
20 GOTO 10
I vaguely remember programming it to display these lines in different colours and writing a music quiz, but I wasn’t particularly good at writing code and wasn’t especially interested in any of it. I scraped a very low level of GCSE and frankly forgot about programming for the next 23 years. I left school and started a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) apprenticeship as a vehicle mechanic and six months later joined Royal Mail in the hope that I’d get a free bike and an early finish (I didn’t get either)!
I spent 19 years at Royal Mail doing various jobs in different departments and eventually took early voluntary redundancy and opened a small shop. When the shop lease came up for renewal in 2009 I decided to move my business online and that’s when I realised that my website wasn’t really doing it’s job. It didn’t look great, the header was taking up a third of the screen on a laptop, it was difficult to navigate and most importantly nobody ever bought anything from it.
By this time my bag of redundancy money was long gone and I didn’t have any savings, which meant that I couldn’t afford to have the website rebuilt, so I enrolled at university to learn how to rebuild it myself. I signed up for the Combined Honours programme, which allowed me to study both ‘Information & Communications’ and Marketing. I had to do a foundation year, as I didn’t have any relevant experience in either disciple, but I left four years later with a BSc.
The first time I right clicked View Source and understood what I was seeing, I felt like a genius
I started writing HTML and CSS in the first year of my degree and knew straightaway that I would rather be writing code than selling children’s clothes, so I started building websites for small businesses instead. The first time I right clicked View Source and understood what I was seeing, I felt like a genius and knew that I was definitely more suited to this than being stood behind a till. In my business I’ve been able to use my personal experiences as a small business owner to help my clients and because I haven’t always been a ‘techie’ I’m quite good at translating things into plain English for them when it’s needed.
After graduation I was self employed and spent a couple of years running Code Clubs teaching programming in a couple of local primary schools. I really enjoyed teaching the children and also learnt quite a bit. When I started my first club I was literally only one or two Scratch projects ahead of the children. I’ve come quite a long way since then.
You’re never too old to get started
I went back to MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University) in 2016 as a post grad student to study Digital Marketing Communications. The majority of my websites are for businesses so this felt like a natural progression. It’s not enough to build a website and put it on the internet, launching your site is just the beginning. Understanding how websites are built definitely helped me with a lot of the post grad material, especially the stuff on SEO.
Whilst I was studying, I met DigitalLabs@MMU and have been working for them since January. I built the DigitalLabs website and I’m responsible for it’s maintenance and keeping the content up to date. I also look after the DigitalLabsMMU Twitter account.
If you want to get better at building websites then build as many as you can
1. Find a meet up. There are lots of free meet ups about, especially in and around Greater Manchester where you can find other people who are learning too. Groups like CodeUp and Freecode Camp are brilliant and free of charge. Learning to code online is great and I highly recommend it, but sometimes there is just no substitute for standing in front of somebody with your laptop and having them explain where you’ve gone wrong.
2. Code as much as you can. Learning to write code takes time and you need to put the hours in, no matter which language you’re learning. If you want to get better at building websites then build as many as you can. One of my biggest mistakes is that I spent too much time reading about
building websites and not enough time actually building websites! Build as many ugly websites as you need to in order to learn your craft. No amount of reading will make up for putting the hours in and physically writing code.
3.Think about what sort of coding you want to do. I only learnt to code because I wanted to build websites so that made it fairly straightforward to figure out what languages I needed to learn.
4.Give it a try!. If you have any interest whatsoever, just give it a try and don’t worry about trying something new. Everybody was new to writing code at some point. You’re never too old to get started and don’t be put off by the fact that there are people out there who know more than you do, that’s the same for everybody and even seasoned developers have days where their code doesn’t behave. Just give it a try.
Blog by Claire Worthington for National Coding Week