How to stay motivated while learning to code: it’s a struggle that even the most passionate programmers have faced at some point.
If you’ve noticed a lack of motivation in your own journey, you are far from alone. Coding motivation waxes and wanes for many people, and it’s fine to take a day off now and then. But if you’re noticing you have no motivation to code for weeks or even months, that means it’s time to get intentional about figuring out why…and start fighting back.
This is such a common issue that I’m so grateful for Claudia Virlanuta coming on the podcast for a dedicated episode! Claudia is a former data scientist and the CEO of Edlitera, a platform featuring live, instructor-led courses for programming, analytics, and data science. After coaching and mentoring dozens of aspiring techies, she is well acquainted with how to handle programmer motivation and focus.
In this episode, Claudia shares how to get and stay motivated, how to stay focused while studying, and how to actively nurture your intrinsic motivation.
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.
Laurence Bradford 0:07
Hello and thank you for tuning in to the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host Laurence Bradford. Che show is going to cover how to stay motivated while learning to code. But first, a quick word from our sponsors.
Laurence Bradford 0:22
Laurence Bradford 0:41
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Laurence Bradford 0:57
In today's epsiode, talk with Claudia Virlanuta. Claudia is a former data scientist who has worked at companies like Zoominfo, Wayfair, and others. Today she is the CEO of Edlitera, an online destination for live instructor led courses on programming and data science. Claudia also has experienced teaching at Harvard University as well as general assembly, and has even educated large corporate teams in Silicon Valley. She has coached and mentored many on how to learn and leverage technical skills to grow their careers. And in this episode, we're going to cover one of the main obstacles people face when learning a new tech scale motivation. We'll talk about how to overcome motivational roadblocks as well as how to set yourself up for success. So you hopefully never come across these obstacles in the first place. Enjoy.
Laurence Bradford 1:55
Hey, Claudia, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Claudia Virlanuta 1:58
Hey Laurence, thanks for having me.
Laurence Bradford 1:59
So I'm really excited to talk to you today and just dive into this because I did a survey recently to my readers back in August 2018. And motivation was one of the things that people said they struggled with the most. And I know you have a ton of experience teaching students in the classroom and one on one, tutor sessions and corporate training, and online today. So I'm really excited to talk to you about this and I just want to dive right in. So when it comes to staying motivated, when a person is learning new technology, what are the most common obstacles that you see people face?
Claudia Virlanuta 2:34
I think that's a it's a really great question. And it's a question that comes up a lot. I get it a lot too. So some of the biggest things, they they depend a lot on what where the person is in life, but some of the most common things are things like Time, time is a big one. So not finding the time to practice to learn a new skill consistently, you know, not building a routine around it, you know, like Same time, same place where to do you know, your Practice. Another thing, especially when it comes to learning tech skills, and learning to code in particular is assuming that it's easy. So, you know, it's really not that, as I'm sure that, you know, and the folks listening here, you know, know as well. It's really not, though it does get easier with time. And I understand that it's hard not to believe the marketing and oh, it's, there's so much. There's so much stuff out there. So many companies that tell us that learning to code is easy, you know, and it should be a walk in the park. And there's a lot of hand holding. And, you know, it's true in the very beginning. When you first start learning, but it's not, it doesn't continue that way. And, you know, especially when you're already an adult and you're you're trying to learn it for the first time, you kind of go into it, assuming that it's going to be easy and quick, and you very quickly realize that it's not really that easy. So I think just kind of, you know, coming into it with a mindset that you know, it's going to be a challenge. It's going to be a struggle.
Claudia Virlanuta 4:00
We'll help a lot. The other thing too, that I think is feeding into this problem and to the assumption that it's going to be easy. And then the realization that it's not is the fact that programming is taught, you know, in schools and an online courses, it's taught in a way that really discourages people from keeping with it. So you know, you, if you pick your favorite programming course, or pick, you know, go to a local college or take a programming course. And you'll see basically, in the first lecture or two, it's going to be like nice and easy and you know, you'll be you'll have a fairly easy time keeping up with with the material. And then by lecture three or so there's going to be like a huge drop, basically, in how approachable the material is. And that's, that's really a problem. That's it's a huge issue because people don't have like, they don't have the tools to get ready for that kind of progression. Some of the other things that I've noticed, and I've hinted to earlier, a scarcity of resources, so So you get a lot of resources in the very beginning when you first start programming, you know, there's there's a lot of stuff online, you know, that's free or very low cost for learning the syntax and things like that. But then when you're moving from beginner to intermediate, then beyond the amount of resources that you find and how easy you can find them goes down significantly. Another problem would be, you know, imposter syndrome. You know, which is again tied to one of the previous points that I mentioned, when you realize that it's not something that's very easy to learn, you know, you have a tendency to assume that it's actually impossible to learn so then there are only you know, a chosen few out there who can learn programming.
Laurence Bradford 5:39
Yeah, yeah, all these are so interesting. I actually want to circle back on one of the things you mentioned a bit ago with the drop in I'm calling it approachable illness. Why do you think that is you're saying like certain courses and I've no, I felt that way before that the first few lectures are really easy, and then all of a sudden, it's like you're like diving off a cliff. What do you think the reason for that is?
Claudia Virlanuta 5:59
Honestly, I think the reason is the fact that the, the just the breadth of knowledge increases to such an extent. So you know, when you get started with programming, let's say you start you know, I'm going to say Python because this is what this is kind of what we teach and this these are the the introductory courses that we set up but it literally but you know, when you first get started, there's it's pretty easy right? An introduction to programming using Python, for instance, is one of those things where, you know, you can learn the basics of the language you can learn the basics of, of programming in general. So you can you know, you learn about real statements and your for loops and variables and all that stuff that goes into different data types.
Claudia Virlanuta 6:40
But afterwards, the problem is that the scope increases significantly. So you after you, you've learned all that stuff and you've you've become fairly proficient with it, then you have to decide, okay, what do I want to do with this? Do I want to build a web page? Do I want to build an application do I want to build you know, do I want to build a I don't know like a data science project for instance. So I want to go in that direction. So depending on what direction you go in that just the breadth of knowledge and the things that you need to cover increases dramatically. And I think it's just it's very hard for any education provider to really cover you know, that depth and in a lot of detail.
Laurence Bradford 7:23
God thank you for elaborating another thing that you mentioned, which I've talked about before on the show, definitely in this season, and I think even in previous ones is the gap of resources between beginner level and intermediate and why do you think that is?
Claudia Virlanuta 7:41
So when it comes to the gap of resources, there are a number of things I mean, the the most obvious one is the fact that you know all these people who who make you know who make courses and you know, the the the self driven video courses or the you know, the the YouTube tutorials or you know, all over sorts of materials, you know, they may or may not be, you know, very proficient in it themselves, right? So you have oftentimes it's very useful. As I'm sure some of some of our listeners might have realized by now, it's, it's great to, to start, you know, to synthesize the stuff that you're learning as well as you go along by making a quick, you know, like a YouTube video, or like a quick tutorial and posting it on your website. Here's something that I figured out recently, you know, here's why this is. And what ends up happening is that we get a lot of those things in the beginning when people are very enthusiastic, oh, my God, I'm learning this new thing, you know. And it's, it's great that I'm making a lot of progress. And then you see, like, kind of that cliff, where, you know, people lose, they lose enthusiasm, they lose motivation, and you know, just as they're transitioning from beginner to intermediate, and that's why I think we're seeing kind of these tutorials get fewer further between, you know, and the other thing that I think is happening here is the fact that people when moving from beginner stage to Immediate stage, they just don't have. They oftentimes they don't know what to search for when they're tackling a problem. You know, like if, if you know what your your Google query should be when you know, related to the problem that you're trying to solve, you should be able to find something. But if you don't know what to search for, that's a big problem.
Laurence Bradford 9:21
Super interesting that you're saying that because one of our guests earlier earlier on the season, David Clinton, he talked about the importance of just knowing the right questions to ask and how to phrase those questions. And literally, in Google, just being able to like type that question in and put your question to words like is a whole accomplishment in itself? So it's really interesting to hear like two people really early on just both talking about that thing?
Claudia Virlanuta 9:47
Yeah, no, I think it's I think is this is definitely something that that needs a lot more attention. And it's I think it's not something that it's addressed and in education currently and online classes or offline classes really.
Laurence Bradford 9:59
Yeah. So I'm going to switch the gears just a little bit here. So let's just have like a scenario. So there's a person and they're learning some programming language, and maybe they've been learning for 234 months. And for whatever reason, they're just losing motivation. And they just don't feel like you know, spending time finishing the course that they're in or they don't feel like building or working on a project that they started. What are some things that you recommend for a person like that to get over that? That motivational obstacle?
Claudia Virlanuta 10:32
Yeah, so in terms of getting over motivational obstacle, which is pretty much it's pretty much unavoidable, you know, like, like, you were saying, you know, three to four months in, you kind of move past that that initial stage and you realize that it's a lot harder than you thought it would be. So I think at that stage, what really helps us to have a clear goal. So a clear goal, but not necessarily a very long term one, you know, I don't think that a goal like you know, I'm gonna, I'm gonna learn to program and I'm gonna be great and I'm going to be a software engineer, I don't think that that's very productive. Because it's one of those things that will take probably, you know, will definitely take a lot many more months. And it will probably take years before you get to a point where you feel comfortable, you know, or where, you know, a company feels comfortable hiring you as a as a software engineer, right? So I think what matters is to set up those goals and in a very small way, you know, like a very small and attainable goals start small build constant constantly, basically. So, you know, you want to get comfortable debugging, you want to get comfortable looking for resources, while tackling these smaller projects.
Claudia Virlanuta 11:34
So, you know, maybe you maybe you start by working out word problems, you know, and on code wars calm or something or some other similar side. Or maybe you take on a new project that work. And, you know, you're thinking, Okay, can I automate this work stream or this particular task that I do all the time and basically work towards finishing that goal. So One of the first things the another thing that I strongly recommend and that I stand by, not not just in relation to learning to program but also learning anything else and building any sort of habit in your life that you want is to build a routine and to stick to it. So routines are your friends because if you if you do something at the same time and in the same place, whether it's every day or once a week or twice a week, you're a lot more likely to stick with it. Even if you don't feel like coding if you're if you're time for for coding practice and study is let's say on Wednesday at 6pm right to get home on Wednesdays at 6pm you sit at your desk or your kitchen table and and you you have like a you know a small word problem or a small exercise or a small I don't know example that you want to work on it, you're much more likely to do it because even if you don't feel like it, you just go there you know, sit down with you know, a drink or something Have tea and you get started. Even if you don't finish what you were going to do that day, the fact that you got started and they continued that habit is going to help tremendously. The other thing that I would suggest is building an accountability framework.
Claudia Virlanuta 13:15
So you know, having a buddy having a mentor, having a coach, someone, anyone that you can meet with consistently and reporting on your progress. So that's to me personally, that's helped a lot. So, when, basically when whenever I would, before starting my company, whenever I would, you know, prepare for interviews or or work on kind of a big project, whether personal or work, I would always basically keep up with someone and it was typically it was a buddy or it was a coworker or it was, I don't know, it was my manager or whatever. It's super easy because even if you don't necessarily need help, being able to text or call or ping someone and tell them hey, I did my coding practice for this week I did all of our for for today I did all of like an hour and a half and I and I solved this like, it doesn't matter. You don't even have to show them what you did. Just being able to check off that that thing it will, it will work really well for you to keep you grounded and to say, Okay, I did this. Now tomorrow, I'm going to do another hour or you know, two days from now I'm going to do another two hours.
Laurence Bradford 14:23
Awesome. I think those were all sorry, did you have anything else to add?
Claudia Virlanuta 14:26
A couple more things. Actually. One thing that one thing that works, that I think is super important when learning anything new, but especially program is to be able to look look and feel silly for a while. Because I think that that's a big problem when when learning something new. You know many people when they when they approach, you know anything, whether it's coding or learning to skate and I have a funny story about that too. But I'll tell you later, there's this there's this kind of unwillingness to look silly. You know, I feel silly because I'm not already an expert in this stuff. You know, that's a problem. And I think when starting, especially when learning something like programming, you have to be willing to look silly oftentimes, because if you don't, then you're not gonna, you're not gonna move on.
Laurence Bradford 15:11
Awesome. Anything else cuz I was taking notes and I think you gave four things. I definitely want to recap them real quick.
Claudia Virlanuta 15:16
Definitely, uh, looking through my notes here. Yeah, I think the last thing that I would, that I would point out is making sure that you maintain your focus on you know, whatever small goal you're working on currently, and avoiding distraction. Now, you know, if we're being honest with ourselves, it's really easy to get out of doing the things that are hard and uncomfortable. So, you know, like to give you an example I got out of working out last night because, you know, I had the excuse of, of having, you know, last minute prep for this interview. So, you know, that's, that's obviously not a good it's not a good scenario. Working out is something that I want to do you know, every night and preferably not get out of it, ever. But, you know, it's it's really easy to kind of give in to these things. And you know, I I think in my opinion, the best way to avoid these distractions and these kind of excuses to get out of what it is that you know you need to do is just to eliminate any opportunity for distraction from your environment as much as possible. So, you know, if you can't focus at home because you know, dog is barking or the cat is meowing or the kids or the TV or whatever it is, you know, just go someplace else. Go to a public library, go to a coffee shop or stay at the office, you know, after hours and do your do your work there. Do your coding practice there or something like that.
Laurence Bradford 16:30
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Laurence Bradford 18:42
I love all these. Thank you so much for sharing them. So I'm just gonna recap real quick. The first you talked about was having clear goals not super long term but like short, attainable ones. Then you talked about building habits and having a routine and sticking with it. Then you talked about an accountability framework and having Someone that you check in with regularly. You then mentioned looking silly and just yeah looking feeling, feeling silly for a while and being okay with that. And then you talked about making sure you just eliminate the distractions from your environment. I really, I really love that last one. And I can I feel like I can relate to these in a lot of ways. I also think, as you mentioned a bit ago that a lot of these don't even they go outside learning a new skill, like or learning a new tech skill. And I'm thinking of when you're talking about the, the, the routines specifically and actually all them I was thinking about the gym a lot, and I think I've used this analogy before but for me, I'm all about goal setting like I love goals and tracking progress and all that and I've been trying to do a lot more with the gym and like adapting what I'm doing and kind of counting the times I go each week and I love what you said even if you don't feel like doing the saying as long as you just, you just show up. You do it. And that's like sometimes at the gym, it's like, oh my god, I don't want to be here. I've all this stuff on my mind. But you know what, I'm just gonna do a quick 30 minute workout. And usually when I get going, I'll end up wanting to stay longer anyway, so I think so much of it is just like showing up. Yeah, showing up, even when you don't want to. And it's really hard, as you said, and it's also can be really easy to make these excuses and, you know, to find reasons to get out of the thing, or the routine that you're supposed to be doing.
Claudia Virlanuta 20:28
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, no, I think focus, you know, staying focused. and avoiding distractions is just really huge. Like, for instance, to give you an idea of how how strict I am about avoiding distractions in my own life. I don't have a TV at home. And honestly, as of as of recently, I don't have I don't have Wi Fi at home either. So I--
Laurence Bradford 20:51
Claudia Virlanuta 20:51
Laurence Bradford 20:52
So what you don't have Wi Fi at home, okay. It was a TV I'm like, okay, I mean, because, you know, I feel like a lot of folks nowadays. Don't have TVs or they have you know, computers that they will watch stuff on or use instead. But okay, no TV and no Wi Fi. So when you're at home, you just you that suggests like you're totally turned off then from everything else sit
Claudia Virlanuta 21:12
Yeah, yeah, I'm just I'm trying to off I'm unplugged. I know, I'll go and I'll read a book, I'll listen to some music. And I'll play with my cats or I'll talk to my husband. But it's it's one of those things where, because, you know, one thing that I noticed about myself in my work habits is that I spent so much time at the office. And I'm, it's so hard to unplug that when I come back home from the office. The last thing I want is, you know, the ability to easily grab my phone and oh, yeah, and I also don't have a browser on my phone.
Laurence Bradford 21:41
Wait, so you don't so you don't have like Google Chrome or Safari or something?
Claudia Virlanuta 21:45
No, no, I had it blocked, basically. So yeah.
Laurence Bradford 21:49
Wait, how do you have it blocked? Like how do you even do that?
Unknown Speaker 21:54
It's it's kind of silly, actually. But it's so my husband and I both decided at the same time they spent too much time reading on our phones especially like, you know, stupid stuff on the internet. And so we basically just like put parental parental controls on each of our phones. So I have the power --
Laurence Bradford 22:14
Wow that's like yeah, I mean, I love that you're sharing this though because I think like the people that learn the tech skills like the best and will transition into new roles because I've talked to people all the time who are like yeah, you know what, I buckled down. I I basically didn't have a life for you know, six 910 months and they end up getting like a junior you know, tech job after that. And these are the people who do it that quickly that are like relentless about focusing about cutting out all these distractions about literally just going you know, going to their their full time job at the time. If they have a family, you know, doing the the family chores and all of that and then learning to code, no TV, no sports, one of my favorite and I've done we'll add a link to the show notes. It was with someone His name's Brian, Jenny. He's really awesome. He, he was working full time he had two kids, he was driving like Lyft. On the weekends, he was at a coding boot camp. And he said, he completely eliminated like drinking alcohol and watching I think he still had TV. But he stopped watching TV, he stopped watching sports. He was really into sports, which was like a big thing for him. He gave up all this stuff, so that he can make this career transition and like, you know, nine months or something like really impressive.
Claudia Virlanuta 23:31
Yeah, definitely. I mean, this kind of stuff really helps keeping you you know, to keep you grounded. But you know, one thing that I want to point out here too, is that the challenge is not always, you know, not everyone wants to go and work as a software engineer, not everyone learns to code because they want to, you know, make a, you know, a 180 degree career change. So, I think that it's, I think it's really it's also useful for those people who, you know, who want to dip their toes in and who wants to, to learn this skill so that they can apply it you know, to something They're doing now to a project, you know, outside of work or to a project at work or, you know, just like some just for fun. You know, I think that that's, I think that there's a lot of that too. And I think that for those people, they feel like there's, you know, there's maybe less less of a kind of motivation, because there isn't like this big, you know, change in their lives ahead of it. But I think that it's still super important. And honestly, I think that we should encourage people like that more, because I think that, you know, not everyone needs to be a software engineer. But I think that definitely a lot more people need to need to have base at least basic coding skills.
Laurence Bradford 24:35
Yeah, yeah, for sure. And it's, I talked about this, whether it's in writing or on the podcast, just the advantages to a range of careers that having tech skills can bring in helps you stand out on your resume, like even if you want to do marketing, having you know, different kinds of day analysis skills, spreadsheet skills, like whether it's, you know, Excel or Google Sheets, SQL skills like that. Can all really help you do better at your job make you stand out as a candidate. So I totally agree that it's not the end goal doesn't have to be Oh, I'm going to become a full time software engineer and kind of circling back to goals. You spoke about this at the beginning, like the small, attainable goals, you also gave some examples. Could you give any more examples, though? I think the two that you gave was like, something with debugging, I believe. And then you also mentioned, I think that's the one I remember Are there any other like examples of like small tangible goals you could give?
Claudia Virlanuta 25:29
Yeah, so some of the examples that I that I was thinking off the top of my head, you know, if you if you pick up kind of like an online course, or you pick up a series of online courses, you know, sticking through them and working through all of the, you know, all of the course materials and all of the, all the assignments, you know, and again, this is also a matter of motivation, because especially if you go to, you know, if you take a self driven online course, you know, those are the worst I think it's something like less than 15% of people who take a self driven online course actually completed. So, you know, that's where you know talk about motivation, right? If you were to go through you know everything that that something like Coursera for example might have to offer you'd probably come out the other end and be like, this is great you know, but the problem is with you know, how do you stay motivated and also like when you get stuck because you will get stuck at some point how do you get out of it? You know, like how do you how do you get help? How do you get feedback?
Claudia Virlanuta 26:29
So finishing a course you know, working your way through a book, if you know if you get a kind of a project book, or you know any sort of computer science book that's hands on taking on a new project that work or you know, we're on kaggle or something like that or and take it to completion you know, you know, prepare a presentation or or a tech, a tech talk on your project, you know, go to a meet up and give a talk on on whatever project that is they you you choose to go with. You know, and even if you don't, even if it's not, you know, even even if your presentation is not like super in depth and super, super technical, especially in the beginning, when you're just getting started, talk about talk about your experience learning, you know, and talk about what you learned along the way, like how to keep motivated, how to keep, you know how to keep at it, because these things are super useful to other people as well. And they're going to be useful to the person learning as well.
Laurence Bradford 27:25
Yeah. And doing something like the presentation at a meetup in your in your area, also gives you the chance to meet other people in your area that have similar interests or similar goals as you or they're already working in tech. And it could possibly be like a mentor later on or something to that extent, yeah. Or give you an intro to a new opportunity. I had this question and doubt and I feel like you've already talked about it a bit but I hearing about your whole no Wi Fi Parental Control thing. I feel like you could have more examples. So I wanted to know like a story. Every time that you struggled with something like when you were learning a new tech skill, or maybe it could even be like something business related or career related in general, I don't think it has to be 100% learning a new programming language and what you did to overcome that. motivational roadblock?
Claudia Virlanuta 28:16
Yeah, definitely. So I have, I thought through a couple of examples here, one of them is tech related. And I'll get to that in a bit. But one of them actually, which was the first thing that came to mind is learning to skate. Learning to roller skate, so my husband bought me a pair of rollerskates a couple of years ago, for my birthday. And he was like, you know, you need to learn you need to get out more, to learn to do something active and get out. So, and I've had those skates kind of in my closet for a couple of years until the summer I was like, Okay, I'm gonna I'm gonna put these to good use or I'm gonna sell them or something is gonna come over though. So I started going for. And you know, the other thing too is that the other thing about me is that I'm so horrible at picking up especially, like physical skills like things that require coordination. I'm just so horrible at picking them up that it takes me forever and I getting credit incredibly frustrated, frustrated. So this summer, I basically decided, you know what, every Saturday, I'm gonna go to this park nearby my home. I'm gonna take on my skates. And I'm gonna learn this no matter what happens. And so what ended up happening is that I would show up basically, every Saturday, early afternoon to this park with my skates and with my, like, protective gear, and I looked ridiculous. And the first time I couldn't even like I couldn't even move I was holding on to this fence. And I and then we know when I when I finally started moving and I started kind of making some progress. I would just like fall all the time and like these very unflattering positions, and you'd see like these, you know, these toddlers Why can't others do their parents? And then smile at me or they're like, straight out laugh at me.
Laurence Bradford 30:05
And there's like, there's like an eight year old that goes by who's like doing tricks and things, basically.
Claudia Virlanuta 30:12
Exactly, yeah. So, you know, and this happened for and I went on for, like, I think I only went for three weekends. It wasn't really every weekend because I travel a lot, but I went for three weekends, but by the third weekend, there was a very noticeable improvement, like, I didn't fall as often, you know, I could actually get on my skates and go right away, I could go without holding on to a fan. So it was, you know, super encouraging. So, it's just like, I think that kind of showcases the the willingness, you have to have the willingness to look silly, you know, to, to make fun of yourself, right to know that. Yeah, sure. I probably look really funny and you know, people should laugh at me because I think it's really funny. But then I laughed at myself too. So and having that that kind of mentality, you know, and when learning to code think is super important as well to do this, because in the beginning, you'll suck, you'll be a lot worse than anyone who has ever picked up a programming book before.
Claudia Virlanuta 31:08
You know, and that's fine. Like, that's okay. That's how it should be. And you know, you'll, you'll get better with time, but you have to understand that you know, and another thing too, that I think is super useful is for people who are learning to code for the first time, you know, no matter where you are, try to look back, you know, try to look at your friends who never started to learn to code, you know, see where you are from, you know, compared to them. Also look forward, of course, like look at these other people who inspire you and who, you know, who are mentoring you perhaps or who you want to be, you know, just like them, but do look back because that kind of helps to show you how far you've, you've made it.
Laurence Bradford 31:46
Perfect. Thank you so much for sharing that. And then real quick because you share the tech example you mentioned as well.
Claudia Virlanuta 31:51
Yeah, definitely. So the one time when I when I really struggled, especially with motivation, because it was just like it was it was Grind for me was when I made the move from, from being a data analyst to being a data scientist. And I had to prepare for for interviews. And you know, my interviews before Dallas interviews can vary a lot depends on the company. So there were definitely not quite as intense as as data science interviews. And I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do next either I thought about data science, but I wasn't sure it wasn't really that big of a thing. All I knew that I was that I was getting bored in my in my current job, and I wanted something more challenging and preferably something involving, you know, more coding than I was doing at the time. So I applied and I interviewed for actually both data science and software engineering jobs. And I kind of went to interview for both because I just wanted the interview practice. And, you know, compared to now, tech interviews have changed quite a bit since then, like this was probably like six or seven years ago. But back then it was really all about whiteboard coding, and I hated that because I was really, really bad at it.
Claudia Virlanuta 33:05
So my, my solution and the way I kind of stuck through it was to just have same thing, like have a routine and have like, every night basically for at least an hour and a half. if not more than just sit down and come home from work, you know, make a cup of tea, sit down and basically work through some word problems, you know, even if I could just like work on a single word problem, and build build a solution from scratch to that one every day. That would that was, you know, that was phenomenal. And another thing that I did also is talking about community, that was when I kind of started teaching more and more More formally, so I started giving presentations, giving talks at various meetups around Boston. And that was good because you know that the The other benefit that that brought was that it had built in networking, right. So it opened up Essentially, in a lot of opportunities for me to meet people from from local tech companies, which, you know, I was interested in so.
Laurence Bradford 34:08
Ooh awesome, thank you for sharing both of those examples. And I guess just one final question is if there's someone totally stuck right now, or I don't even know if I should say stuck, they just totally given up hope. They have no motivation. And they're like about to throw in the towel. And they're just like, just completely with maybe learning a new programming skill or trying to get a tech career altogether. Any final, like words of wisdom or party advice? You could leave them?
Unknown Speaker 34:37
Yeah, definitely. So I think when it comes to losing interest in something that you're doing, in especially in something that is as hard as it is to learn to program, especially if you're, you know, if you're maybe in your in your 30s or in your 40s or even even older than that, you know, I think that losing interest is kind of, it's kind of unavoidable. I think The question is how do you set up your, your, your learning path, so to speak, because, you know, losing interest and deciding, realizing at some point that, you know, I don't really want to be a software engineer, because I don't see myself spending eight hours a day, you know, doing this and debugging and, you know, figuring things out and googling things, or other googling solutions for this thing that I'm trying to build. That's fine. Right? I do believe that not everyone should learn to code. Not everyone should be a software engineer. And it's okay if you tried it, and you believe that you wouldn't like to do it as a job. But there's, this is a big bug coming up here. I do think that you shouldn't give up too early that you should never and specifically to that point, you should never give up on a goal that you've set for yourself just because it's hard.
Laurence Bradford 35:48
So if you if you set up your your intermediate goals well enough such that they are attainable, and you can make progress and you can look back and say look at all the goals that I've checked off here and all the progress that I have made. I think that, you know, at that point, if you go through a number of those, and then you look back and you're like, you know what, this just isn't for me, I don't really like it, I'm not sure that I would, that I would do well or that I'm not sure that I'd be happy doing this, then that's fine. But don't give up in the middle of a goal. Just because it's too hard and you don't want to finish it. So if your goal is to, you know, to learn to code and get a new job, then see that through, even if you don't get a software engineering job, you know, learn to code complete, you know, keep practicing, prepare for interviews, go to a few interviews, even if you get an offer, and you don't take it you know, just just go through interviews, try and see if you can, if you can get you know, get an offer for a job that requires some programming you know, or some some some coding knowledge, right, it doesn't have to be you know, active coding all day every day. Right? So just check that box, see if that works for you. And if not, you know and also for long Where you just find something else that interests you more than coding, that's fine. But just be honest with yourself and and not throwing the towel for for the wrong reasons.
Laurence Bradford 37:09
Awesome. Well, thank you so much Claudia for sharing your wisdom. And thank you again for coming on the show. This was a really insightful interview, where can people find you online?
Claudia Virlanuta 37:18
In a few places, actually. So my company is at litera. That's edlitera.com. And in another month or so, we're also launching a podcast called Data Talks. And that's, you can find that one at datatalkspodcasts.com. I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on a bunch of other social networks that I don't really check often. But definitely connect with me on LinkedIn. If I can help with anything at any point, please don't hesitate to let me know. Even if it's just like, you know, talk you out of a hole. I'll happily do that so.
Laurence Bradford 37:56
Alright, perfect. Thank you so much for sharing all that and will allow definitely include links to like the websites and the podcast and all that in the show notes available back on the website with the episodes. Thank you again for coming on.
Claudia Virlanuta 38:09
Yeah, thanks for having me, Laurence.
Laurence Bradford 38:18
That's our show. Thanks for tuning in. For recap, order, browse through other episodes and show notes head on over to learntocodewith.me/podcast. If you like tech related content like this podcast, make sure to sign up for my email list. You can do so easily right on the homepage at learntocodewith.me there's a big signup form at the top. I'll send you a new blog post tell you about time limited course deals and much more. It was great to have you with me today. Join me next week for another episode.
Read more below about the common obstacles that cause a lack of motivation and the ways to stay motivated through them!
Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for some of the resources mentioned in this article. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!
5 Common Reasons to Lose Programming Motivation
Here are some of the most common obstacles Claudia sees causing a lack of motivation in your programming journey.
“Time’s a big one,” says Claudia. “Not finding the time to practice to learn a new skill consistently, not building a routine around it, you know, like, same time, same place to do your practice.”
While you can’t create more hours in a day, you can usually maximize the hours you have. For instance, hear how Michael Tombor finds time to learn to code alongside a full-time job and family.
2. Assuming learning to code will be easy
“Another thing, especially when it comes to learning tech skills and learning to code in particular, is assuming that it’s easy,” says Claudia. “Though it does get easier with time. I understand that it’s hard not to believe the marketing. There are so many companies that tell us that learning to code is easy and it should be a walk in the park, which may be true in the very beginning when you first start learning. But it doesn’t continue that way. Especially when you’re already an adult and you’re trying to learn it for the first time, you quickly realize that it’s not really that easy.”
However, if you understand and embrace the challenge, you’ll be a lot harder to discourage. “I think just coming into it with a mindset that it’s going to be a challenge and that it’s going to be a struggle will help a lot.”
3. The way it’s taught sometimes
Claudia notes that sometimes teaching materials pull a bait and switch in accessibility too. “The other thing that I think is feeding into this problem is the fact that programming is taught in schools and online courses in a way that really discourages people from keeping with it. So if you go to a local college or take a programming course, you’ll think in the first lecture or two that you’ll have a fairly easy time keeping up with the material. And then by lecture three or so there’s a huge drop in how approachable the material is. And that’s really a problem, because people don’t have the tools to get ready for that kind of progression.”
The best way to get past this is to find resources that take it gradually instead of dropping complicated concepts on you too soon. There are lots of free resources you can start with.
4. It becomes difficult to find resources after you first start
While those resources above are a great starting point, where do you look when you’re beyond a beginner level?
“You get a lot of resources in the very beginning, when you first start programming,” Claudia says. “There’s a lot of stuff online that’s free or a very low cost for learning the syntax and things like that. But then when you’re moving from beginner to intermediate then beyond, the amount of resources that you find, and how easy it is to find them goes down significantly.”
Often, it’s the case that people with more advanced knowledge are less able to dedicate the time into giving information away for free or very cheap. When you start reaching those upper levels, expect to transition to paid resources (check out these platforms).
Another factor, Claudia says, is that sometimes people simply don’t know what specific kinds of resources to look for. “When people are moving from beginner stage to intermediate stage, they just don’t know what to search for when they’re tackling a problem. If you know what your Google query should be when related to the problem that you’re trying to solve, you should be able to find something. But if you don’t know what to search for, that’s a big problem.”
David Clinton talked about the importance of just knowing the right questions to ask and how to phrase those questions. In Google, just being able to put your question into the right words is an accomplishment.
5. Imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome is a term for feeling like you don’t belong or are “faking it.”
“You assume there are only a chosen few out there who can learn programming,” says Claudia (and you don’t believe you’re one of them).
In reality, everyone is faking it to some degree, until they realize one day that they’re not. It’s normal to feel that way, but “fake it til you make it” is actually pretty good advice.
5 Ways to Stay Motivated While Learning to Code
Beyond addressing those obstacles, Claudia has plenty of advice for how to stay motivated. Developing and maintaining coding motivation takes some work at first, but these steps will save you a lot of trouble later.
1. Have a goal (but start small)
Focusing on your goals gives you the push to get through, but don’t just rely on your big, long-term goal, which is far away. “I don’t think that a goal like ‘I’m gonna learn to program and I’m going to be great and I’m going to be a software engineer’ is very productive, because it’s one of those things that can take years,” says Claudia. “I think what matters more is to set up very small and attainable goals. Start small, build constantly.”
For instance, Claudia continues, your goal could be “Finishing a course, working your way through a book, preparing a presentation or a tech tech talk on your project, going to a meetup. Or maybe you take on a new project at work and you’re thinking, ‘Okay, can I automate this work stream, or this particular task that I do all the time?’ and basically work towards finishing that goal.”
2. Have a routine
Don’t underestimate the power of habit! Sometimes it’s just about being so consistent that it becomes automatic. “Build a routine and stick to it,” Claudia says. “Routines are your friends, because if you do something at the same time, and the same place, whether it’s every day or twice a week, you’re a lot more likely to stick with it, even if you don’t feel like coding.”
Finding the motivation to study can be as simple as sitting down and letting the muscle memory take over. “If your time for coding practice and study is Wednesday at 6pm, and you sit at your desk or your kitchen table and you have a small word problem, or a small exercise to work on, you’re much more likely to do it. Because even if you don’t feel like it, you just go there, you sit down and you get started. Even if you don’t finish what you were going to do that day, the fact that you got started and continued that habit is going to help tremendously.”
3. Get accountability
While intrinsic motivation and habit-building is great, sometimes how to get and stay motivated is to bring other people into the mix to provide an outside source. “I would suggest building an accountability framework,” Claudia says. “So a mentor, a coach, or someone that you can meet with consistently to report on your progress. For me personally, that’s helped a lot.”
This can be a friend or a peer instead of an official mentor, too. “Whenever I would prepare for interviews, or work on a big project, I would always basically keep up with someone—a buddy, or a coworker, or my manager. Being able to text or call someone and tell them, Hey, I did my coding practice for this week, and I solved this, and tomorrow I’m going to do another hour…it works to keep you grounded.”
4. Eliminate opportunities for distractions
“If we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s really easy to get out of doing the things that are hard and uncomfortable,” Claudia says. “The best way to avoid these distractions and excuses is just to eliminate any opportunity for a distraction from your environment as much as possible. If you can’t focus at home because the dog is barking, or the cat’s meowing, or the kids or the TV or whatever it is, go to the public library or a coffee shop, or the office after hours and do your coding practice there.”
Brian Jenney is one great example of this. When he decided to buckle down to coding, he stopped watching sports, drinking alcohol, and indulging in other “time-wasters.” You have the power to decide that focusing on your goals is more important than TV!
5. Look both forwards and back
Remind yourself of where you’ve been and where you’re going. “For people who are learning to code for the first time, no matter where you are, try to look back and see where you are compared to where you started to show you how far you’ve come. Also look forward, at people who inspire you or who are mentoring you or who are where you want to be.”
Read more tips on how to get motivated and push through a coding rut here.
When You’re Ready to Give Up, Pause and Evaluate
With anything in life, you’ll probably have moments where you want to throw in the towel. But if you’re on the verge of quitting, Claudia cautions not to do it for the wrong reasons. “If along the way you just find something else that interests you more than coding, that’s fine. But be honest with yourself and don’t give up on a goal that you’ve set for yourself just because it’s hard.”
She illustrates with a story: “My husband bought me a pair of roller skates a couple of years ago for my birthday. And he said ‘you need to learn, you need to get out more and learn to do something active’. I’m so horrible at picking up physical skills and things that require coordination. And I had those skates in my closet for a couple of years, until the summer I decided, you know what, every Saturday, I’m going to go to this park nearby and I’m going to learn this no matter what happens.
“And so what ended up happening is that I would show up every Saturday to this park with my skates and my protective gear, and I looked ridiculous. The first time I couldn’t even move. I was holding on to this fence. I finally started moving and making some progress, and I would just fall all the time. But by the third weekend, there was a very noticeable improvement. I didn’t fall as often. I could actually get on my skates and go right away, I could go without holding on to a fence. I think that kind of showcases the willingness to look silly and to make fun of yourself. I knew I probably looked really funny, but then I laughed at myself, too.”
How you react to setbacks is ultimately a matter of mindset. “Having that kind of mentality when learning to code, I think, is super important. Because in the beginning, you’ll suck, you’ll think you’re a lot worse than anyone who has ever picked up a programming book before and that’s fine. That’s how it should be. You’ll get better with time. But you have to understand that.”
Links and mentions from the episode:
- General Assembly
- S5E3: How to Decide What Programming Languages to Learn With David Clinton
- Brian Jenney
- Data Talks Podcast
- Claudia on LinkedIn
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