Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

A Coding Hand for Designing Eyes


Greetings All, and welcome to what I hope is the first of many contributory installments for Classroom-Aid. I am typically an animator and visual designer type person, but today I’m going to add yet another chapeau to my already tipping stack of hats and expound on an emerging area of endeavor for me. So journey with me if you will, into the heart of adventure as we explore: “Front-End Coding Resources for a Designer’s Perspective”

It may be just a cultural thing where I live, but the technical hub that is Austin is very centered around Application Development. To be sure, we have a generous helping of hardware and support mavens among us, as well as a robust creative culture. But in Austin – coders rule. Between the software, web, and video game development communities, the percentage of people that are code literate on one level or another far exceed what one would likely find in most municipalities of similar scale. And for those skilled in this area of cryptic prose, employment opportunities abound – often without regard to the state of our sometimes fragile economy.

As a designer, I’m often asked if I code. Truly, it seems to happen more times than not if I am in a technical setting. With a near mechanical precision – as if mandated by some obscure book of regulations occupying a dusty shelf in Dick Cheney’s secret bunker, the coding inquiry becomes a requisite component of the opening dialog. The issue may arise in a variety of ways, but it seldom lacks that focal bit of inquisitive content. At first it caught me off-guard, and my negative or evasive response typically spelled the death-knell of our once-budding conversation. As time progressed – it tended to put me off as I felt I was being outed as a less-than-qualified professional. It took a while for me to assess that the real core of the inquiry was based on need.

The need driving their inquiry stems from an ever-broadening scope of ongoing and pending projects, and simply not enough skilled bodies to apply to the tasks-at-hand. Those that predominately code see the effects of this situation every day. They become conditioned to draft as many skilled hands as they can from whatever direction they become available in order to feed their industry with the human fuel necessary to propel it. In return, what they have to offer are positions with generally better-than-average pay, benefits, and working conditions. Keep in mind that I said the scope of this need is ever-broadening. By the time your kids reach adulthood, a substantial portion of available positions will require a modicum of tech-savvy and yes – code literacy. And for those that become truly proficient, more desirable offerings will abound.

Okay – so now I’ve put my Crystal Ball away. Back to the present. With needs as they are in the current job market, even being able to sling a bit of code has its merits. This is especially true if you already have some graphic design experience under your belt. No one is asking you to become a super-coder-guru. But a “working knowledge” of a few of the standard web-oriented stalwart syntaxes such as HTML, CSS and Java Script will at least get you to the point of being able to composite your creative mechanicals into a working prototype, if not a marketable asset. Having an understanding of these technologies will also familiarize you with the limitations as well as the possibilities of what you can do with your visual skills.

For many designers, coming to grips with a coding mindset has posed challenges, as the two disciplines require a bit of left brain vs. right brain dexterity. Often designers felt they couldn’t learn to code because of this grey-matter diversity. A lot of this mindset is currently being dismantled, thanks to a number of online resources available that present coding concepts in formats that adapt well to creatively centered learners. Many of which are free. I’ll be discussing a number of these in upcoming installments. Today, we’re going to focus on one of the better ones I have had some recent experience with. Welcome friends and fans – to the advent of Codecademy.com

I was first exposed to Codecademy (pronounced Code-cademy) when I attended a seminar offered during the South-By-Southwest Interactive event earlier this year. The topic at hand was a discussion on the “Learn To Code Movement”. Sasha Laundy is an Education Strategist for Codecademy. She presented the online resource’s beginner-friendly features as an option for those that wish to explore or expand their existing skill set.

An initial perusal of the site revealed that it had an accessible layout in tandem with a progressive curriculum structure. The learning environment functioned in a comfortable, self-paced manner (ie: “baby steps”) with concise step-by-step explanations and frequent learner feedback and support.

That support comes in several forms. From the on-screen tool tips, to the “streaks” of consecutive daily activity you build via “unit completion badges” that can be pushed thru your social media to brag up your progress. You also become part of an encouraging email follow-up courtesy of one Zach Sims who delivers supportive “high-fives” as well as related resources such as article links and ancillary info related to your efforts.

The whole package works together to allow you to move at your own pace without making you feel overloaded. You also get plenty of support and encouragement to keep you focused toward achieving your goals. And all at a price that is truly – priceless. On the value scale – it’s really hard these days to find a better deal than free, and a darned rare one at that. Codecademy gets some ace kudos from my corner. They are providing an impressive resource. If you have been in search of a quality, affordable user-friendly learning option that even lends itself well to the creative mindset, I would encourage you to visit their site,

I mentioned “baby steps” earlier in the article. Try not to be overwhelmed by images of “all that code” that can bounce around in a visually-oriented mind when pondering such undertakings as learning a coding language. Keep in mind that even proficient coders build everything – in baby steps. They all learned it that way, too. The key is persistence. Equate it to learning a musical instrument. It takes a small bit of consistent, daily – practice. Codecademy is structured to create a regimen that guides you toward success. Give it a try – knock out a few lines of code, and see if you don’t feel a tiny fire begin to burn inside you that says – I want more

*****

Author Bio

Dave Nash is a freelance graphics specialist based in Austin, Texas. His focus is on creating animations for instructional media, WordPress sites and various graphics and vector illustrations for anybody with money. He lives with his wife and two children amidst a quiet slice of middle-suburbia in the shadow of Lake Travis. He enjoys biking, making a bit of music, avoiding burning dinner, and generally spreading goodwill at every opportunity. You can see samples of his visual work on his website at www.nashionalgraphics.com.

 

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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