This article was published on November 28, 2015

The ultimate guide to leveling up your coding skills

The ultimate guide to leveling up your coding skills
Lauren Hockenson
Story by

Lauren Hockenson


Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. Lauren is a reporter for The Next Web, based in San Francisco. She covers the key players that make the tech ecosystem what it is right now. She also has a folder full of dog GIFs and uses them liberally on Twitter at @lhockenson.

No matter what your job is these days, it’s always helpful to have coding knowledge in your toolbox. But if you’re not interested in going back to school and you have very little time to dedicate towards picking up a new skill, choosing what, when and how to develop your programming chops is a task in itself.

With so many classes, workshops, videos, programs and books to choose from — not to mention narrowing down exactly which language will get you to your goals fastest — the process of learning is a bit disorienting. This is a short guide to help you focus in on what works best for you right now, so you can spend more time coding and less time deciding where to go.

We’ve narrowed down three common archetypes who are looking to either get into code, switch jobs, or just refine their skills. So no matter how experienced you are or how far in your career you’ve gone, there should be something in this guide to help steer you in the right direction.

The Entrepreneur

So you’ve got what you think is the next great mobile idea — but you’re not exactly sure how to turn that idea into an actual project. If you’re an aspiring developer and entrepreneur — with little practical experience in Computer Science — trying to learn code yourself can be exceptionally difficult.

If you’re unsure where to start, then DIY might not be the best option for you. Rather, it’s important to consider the idea of attending a coding bootcamp.

“I think coding bootcamps are great. You’ll have resources and mentors, it provides a lot of stuff you need,” Mattan Griffel, CEO of educational coding startup One Month, told TNW. “The downside is that they’re expensive, and you have to do it full-time for one to three months. If you have the money available, it’s one of the better places to go.”

General Assembly 01

One of the most well-known coding bootcamps is the General Assembly, which has locations across the US and around the world. But there are many bootcamps, both in person and online, that can get you where you need to go: HackReactor, Coding Dojo, Bloc and many others. You can take a day-long seminar through a company or a non-profit, or sign up for months-long curriculum.

The important thing — especially when developing an app for iOS, a common route — is to learn to code specifically for mobile. Swift is a great place to start, but many mobile programs will also dip into developing for Objective C and other languages. But Griffel advises to enter into any program with a clear-cut, practical purpose, and start small.

“Usually what I recommend for beginners is mobile app development with a layer on top,” Griffel explains. “Develop a mobile-responsive application and then build a native app.”

The Veteran

The funny thing about coding is that you’re never really done learning. Over time, businesses prioritize certain languages and tend to favor programmers with particular strengths. If you already have a background in CS but would like to specialize or add a new skill to make you more competitive in the job market, there are a few ways you can go.

If you’re willing to teach yourself to code through books, MOOCs, or other resources, Griffel advises to scan job listings in aggregate for both positions and languages. One Month has its own project, JobSignal, designed to aggregate and analyze the thousands of job postings on AngelList to help isolate skills relevant to certain job positions.

But aside from that, Griffel says that there are a few hot areas to consider.


“I could tell you right now that people are looking for people who have experience in AWS or working with APIs, and a lot of people are looking for Ruby on Rails full-stack developers,” he said. “Data science is hot right now, whether that’s learning about large calculations like Hadoop, which allows you to run data calculations across thousands of computers.”

Once you’ve identified your next language — whether it’s Ruby on Rails, Python (which Griffel adds is a big plus for people looking to get hired at big corporations like Google) or Django — there are also important non-coding skills that can make you more attractive to working at a great company. Griffel notes, in particular, that mastery of Git and Github is essential to becoming a better programmer over time.

Of course, all of it should be in service to developing a great portfolio.

“Having a computer science degree is not all that important anymore,” he said. “I think especially in startups. If you have a great portfolio to show for yourself, it’s way more important than if they have a computer science degree.”

The Executive

The last group of folks who may be interested in coding are the old dogs interested in new tricks. And by “old dogs,” we mean high-level executives in companies who may work with programmers from time to time and are interested in getting to know more about the development process to help better inform management about time, expectations and budget.

This group is special, particularly because it doesn’t necessarily need to know how to code from a practical standpoint — they’ve already experienced success. But in order to create a company that has valuable interactions between technical and non-technical people, having at least a baseline understanding of the fundamentals of code is a great way to help make entire teams more efficient.

Griffel spoke of a mentor, high up in the C-suite of a big company, who learned to code in order to better connect with her technical staff.

“Now, she can identify and remove features that aren’t unnecessary but provide complexity,” he said. “Having that knowledge allows her to make better decisions about allocating resources, talking to developers and having meaningful conversations.”


The great thing about learning code from a managerial standpoint is that practically any introduction course will give you the basics. General Assembly offers a one-day bootcamp for non-programmers to help them grasp the basics. Online resources include Lynda’s Programming Foundations course, Udemy’s Fundamentals course, and One Month’s Programming for Non-Programmers. But it’s user’s choice — most any basics course will do.

Griffel says that some courses will have a lot of mundane details, but it’s easy to trim the fat.

“If you’re going through just to get an understanding, you can power through it faster.”

So go forth and level up! Turn the project you really want to start into a reality. Get that promotion you want. Make your team better. You really can do it yourself.

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.

Back to top