Teach Yourself Programming Or Not?

Teach Yourself Programming Or Not?


Probably one of the most commonly asked questions amongst newbie programmers is “Am I better off teaching myself programming, or should I get professional instruction (or something in between?)”

And we must admit, this is probably the most crucial question anyone considering a career in programming will face, for upon the correct answer rests the actual probability of success for each individual.

Think about it: we’re all built differently, we all see things differently, and we certainly all learn differently. To correctly answer the above question, you’re actually going to have to self-reflect: take a good, hard look in the mirror and consider the following question:


Have you ever tried to go it alone on a big project before?



I can tell you from personal experience that when I tried to tackle a big project by myself without any oversight or management, I found myself easily distracted and pretty unmotivated at times. This just led to time wasting. Case in point: instead of hiring a tutor to teach me the fundamentals of playing piano, I tried using YouTube and any free online resource out there. What I found was astounding: literally millions of hours of instruction for free – and it was all quality. Videos, written walk-throughs, sheet music – it was all there. For anyone so inclined and motivated, all that needed to be taught and practiced to become a proficient piano player was at the fingertips of the online library of the web, for free.

Yet, months after buying a Yamaha electric keyboard, a thick layer of dust had collected and the only song I knew how to play was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (don’t be impressed – it’s a fairly easy song to play). I knew what it took to become proficient – I had seen the music theory lessons – but the jargon and unfamiliarity turned me off. I’d scan the sheets and tell myself I’d come back to it. Never did. I knew that I needed to practice about an hour or two a day to become as good as I wanted to be in six months. Yet, three months later, I’d probably practiced 20 hours total.


What went wrong?


Nothing, really. Some people are naturally go-getters.  Some are procrastinators. At that time in my life, I was a bit of a procrastinator. So you have to consider that when you’re deciding whether or not to self-teach. Yes, millions of self-teaching tutorials on all the different coding languages are out there – but they’re not in any particular order. It’s going to take a bit of grit to self-manage yourself. You’re going to have to stick to keeping yourself accountable, learning for hours on end, without being discouraged or overwhelmed. Or just being distracted or procrastinating. Some people are capable of this, but many are not.

Let me give you some advice: you don’t want to waste any time making progress. What I mean is that you don’t want to blow three or four months of your life trying to learn something just to give up or to revert to the safe, proven alternative: professional instruction.

I ended up getting an amazing piano teacher, and now I can easily play most intermediate classical and romantic period pieces, along with many contemporary pop songs. After spending eight months with my teacher, playing for two hours twice a week, and practicing on my own an average of six hours per week, I felt I had reached my goal. I finally felt proficient. I could listen to a simple song on the radio and play the counterpoint and harmonize the melody. I could play about two dozen classical and romantic period piano pieces, and I had even written my own piano pieces. I was happy and felt accomplished.


Was it worth it?


It took over 300 hours of practice in eight months’ time. It cost me over five thousand dollars. Was it worth the time? You bet. The frustrations? Absolutely. The money? Please. Here’s the point: I could have never done it without an organized, knowledgeable, friendly, motivating, and disciplining piano instructor like the one I had. For me personally, I could have never done it on my own. Most people admit this the minute they’re asked how it feels to accomplish an admirable feat: “Well, I never could have done it without __________.”

Think about that long and hard. Coding is one of the most rewarding but challenging endeavors man has ever known. It’s birthed the personal computer, the World Wide Web, Facebook and Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Google and infinitely more. But it took lifetimes of resolve, patience, motivation, discipline, and inspiration. These are virtues that very few of us are innately born with. If you are one of the lucky few, or are the type who is capable of wanting to do something and then stops at nothing to accomplish it, then by all means check out the innumerable free resources online that will get you going in the right direction.


But are you really a self-starter?


You won’t get that invaluable direction, motivation, or discipline without a good mentor. That’s what you risk when you attempt to self-teach: not knowing what you should tackle first, then second, then third and so on. Or how to tackle it. Hacks to get around being stuck. Help when you need it. Validation and encouragement when you deserve it. And a sense of accomplishment when you’re ready to stand on your own two feet and flap your wings.

The vast majority of people that decide to tackle coding by themselves end up attending full-immersion bootcamps after just a few months. Don’t waste your time. Plug in, master the fundamentals, and you’ll be set with the know-how to tackle future coding problems for life.


Take the plunge!



Not that kind of plunge!
Not that kind of plunge!


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