Learning to Code as an Older Adult

In some circles, it is thought that in order to be a developer you need to learn to code in your teens and twenties. However, that's a theory that's been soundly debunked by adults who have undertaken the task of learning to code at 40, 50, and beyond.

They've proven that anyone willing to put in the time and effort can learn to code and even transition into a career as a developer, if so inclined. The key factor here is the willingness to put in the work. Like most things worth doing, learning to code takes a lot of time and effort.

In this article, we'll consider the reasons why you might want to learn to code as an older adult and we'll explore three learning strategies commonly used by adult coding students. While we're at it, we'll point out resources you can use to implement each of the three learning strategies.

Why Would an Older Adult Want to Learn to Code?

There are a lot of possibilities and benefits that come into play when learning to code, and older adults are generally motivated by one or more of them.

  • Learning a new, complex task like coding helps you keep mentally sharp. In addition, once you've learned to code, building digital products exercises creativity and intellect.
  • Code is the language of the information age, and learning to code helps you better understand how the modern world works.
  • With just basic-to-intermediate coding skills, you'll be able to build websites and simple web applications for yourself, friends, family, or a local budget-starved non-profit.
  • If you put in the effort, then you can even go on to transition into a career as a developer at virtually any age.

That all sounds great in theory, but in reality you can't learn to code if you don't know where to start. Let's solve that problem by looking at three learning strategies you can use to learn code: self-teaching, plugging into a code community, and code bootcamps.

Self-Teaching is the Norm

Ken Hart started teaching himself how to code at 43 because he was no longer happy with the blog he had built using a free website builder. For Hart, the process of learning to build a personal blog sparked an interest in web design and development. Hart started out self-teaching with YouTube videos and tutorials and eventually learned enough to land an entry-level web design position with a local web design and development firm.

Like Hart, the majority of coders, even professional software engineers, spend a lot of time learning on their own. Developers use a combination of books, online courses, tutorials, and personal projects to develop new competencies and keep their skill set sharp. As a matter of fact, self-teaching is so common that in 2016 close to 70% of developers surveyed by Stack Overflow acknowledged spending at least some time self-teaching, while 13% reported that they were entirely self-taught.

Self-Teaching Resources

Learning to code on your own is a perfectly valid way to learn. It's also possible to do so without spending a dollar on learning materials. Recognizing how important self-directed learning is to developers, we've put together dozens of programming resource guides you can use to track down tutorials, ebooks, and online courses — most of which are free.

If you aren't sure where to start, here are a few suggestions:

  • If you want to learn how to build websites or web-based applications, then you need to start by learning HTML followed closely by CSS, and you'll ultimately need to learn JavaScript as well.
  • If you want to build dynamic websites, then you'll also need to learn server-side programming and how to work with databases. We recommend learning the most common server-side language, PHP, and the most common database management system, MySQL.
  • PHP is far from the only server-side language, and if you aren't sold on learning PHP you may be interested in learning ASP.NET, Java, or Node.js.

Learning is Better in Community

Learning to code can be a lonely endeavor, and it's easy to get bored, stuck, or frustrated. However, this needn't be the case. Coding communities abound both online and in person. By being in a community you'll have access to experienced developers when you get stuck. And you'll enjoy camaraderie that will help you keep pushing when the subject matter gets hard.

This was certainly the case for Laurie Alaoui, who learned to code at the age of 57. For Laurie, coding meetups were the next natural step once she was ready to move beyond self-teaching.

How to Find a Coding Community

So where can you find a coding community to get plugged into? Well, you've got some options.

First, if you go through any sort of structured online course such as Free Code Camp, you'll find that the course probably already has a robust student community. Just plug into that community using whatever methods your particular course provides.

Second, if you want to find a local tribe of developers and code students to rub elbows with, look for a local meetup group. There are thousands of code-focused meetup groups spread all over the world that meet on a regular basis. Joining one will give you the chance to build in-person relationships with professional developers and other code students in your area.

Accelerate Your Learning with a Bootcamp

Many learners find that they need a structured learning environment and one-on-one mentorship to get over the hump from coding tinkerer to junior developer. That was true for Patricia, who learned to code in her 40s. In her case, the solution was to enroll at Bloc, an online code bootcamp.

If you're serious about making a career out of coding, there's a good chance that at some point you'll decide you want to accelerate your learning trajectory. When that happens, a coding bootcamp, either online or in person, can be an ideal solution.

Coding bootcamps represent a major commitment of time and money. Bootcamp students invest anywhere from 8 to 26 weeks fully immersed in the process of learning to code, and they often pay upwards of $10,000 for the opportunity. Why do they do this? Because good bootcamps have a proven track record of providing a valid path to a career in web or software development.

How to Find a Coding Bootcamp

If you're interested in finding a coding bootcamp, there are almost certainly several within a reasonable drive time from wherever you happen to be right now and a few bootcamps even operate entirely remotely. There are several bootcamp directories you can use to locate candidate bootcamps and compare them based on a wide variety of factors. Three of the best code bootcamp directories are:

Conclusion

Whether your ultimate goal is to become a professional developer or just to learn enough code to build out your own digital projects, it's never too late in life to learn to code.

Coding education is incredibly accessible. You can learn on your own, join a community of developers and programmers, or join a fast-paced code bootcamp and drastically shorten your learning curve. The key is to get started and to consistently work towards your goals. Just do that, and you can learn to code at any age.


Further Reading and Resources

We have more guides, tutorials, and infographics related to coding and website development:

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