I coded for a year. Here are ten lessons

Streaks are good, especially if you love it.

One year of coding

I coded daily for a year. I skipped when we went on holidays and Sundays. Even when I skipped, I got back to the streak as quickly as possible.

Here are ten lessons I learned in this year of coding.

1. I am privileged

As I sat down to code day after day, I realized how lucky I’m to do what I love daily.

I work only three days a week; I reach office in about 20 minutes; I live in a city where there are no traffic jams; I’m healthy enough through the year to focus on coding; I have a supportive family that lets me do this. I can go on, but each one of these blew my mind off. I shouldn’t whine at all.

It is not that I don’t have unpleasant days or I don’t have any struggles. But they are minuscule compared to the privileges I have.

2. Make it a morning routine

If you want to do something daily, do it as soon as you get up.

Initially, I tried to find some free time in the day to code. Most days, I failed, and I coded a line or two before I went to bed.

Once I made it into a morning routine, my questions and philosophy changed. It was no more, should I code today. It was what should I code today.

Because it was part of the morning routine, I had plenty of energy to complete whatever I planned. This, in turn, created a positive cycle. More I finished, more I wanted to return to coding the next day.

3. Build something you need

I started my coding streak with learning Vue.js and Golang. I subscribed to the popular tutorials and followed their roadmap. That kept me going for about a month. Then I got bored.

I could’ve kept learning one thing or the other. There are plenty of tools and technologies to learn. I realized that without an underlying thread connecting everything I learn, I would keep getting bored.

So I started developing digital products I wanted.

I was using Buffer to post to Twitter. I created a Google sheet interface to Buffer, called Sheet2Buffer so I could play around with the familiar Google sheet interface.

I also created a blog engine, called Olai, that powers this site.

In the course of developing these products, I learned CSS design with Tachyons, front-end development with Mithril, hosting with Heroku, monitoring with Rollbar, sending emails with Mailgun, and serving with Caddy Server. All because I needed to do so.

4. Default choices make you productive

I didn’t want to fight with options daily. So I created as many default choices as possible. Here are some ways I chose to be productive:

  • I sat in the same place
  • I sat almost at the same time
  • I sat for nearly the same duration
  • I used the same IDE — Visual Studio Code, and tool-chains — Golang, Mithriljs, Gitlab, and custom coded deployment script.
  • I left my Mac laptop on so I can start without waiting for booting time
  • I listened to the same playlists

In short, except for what I was developing in that one hour, everything else remained the same.

5. Keep a swipe file (backlog)

I use todoist for tracking tasks. Todoist has a “project” feature. I used it to note down every feature I wanted to create. Todoist has a comments section for every to-do item. I used this comments section to note down any reference or how to implement that item.

I also used a paper-book. I drew architecture diagrams or data flow diagrams, or sometimes scribbled any insights that came along while I was coding.

With these two, I avoided context switching to a large extent. It helped.

6. Separate thinking and doing

Sometime when you are coding, you may have to search for an answer. If you are not careful, you will get into a rabbit chase. If it takes longer than 15 min, get up and walk. I have had answers while outside of the working seat.

7. Dope vs. Discipline

When I started, I was full of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm. That dope went away in a few days. When dope faded, discipline kept me going.

I was able to create a positive feedback loop because of everything I mentioned in the above points.

Discipline got me to the seat, rhythm got me to start coding quickly, finishing a feature became a dope to raise expectation about the next day, and the cycle went like a well-oiled machine.

8. Everything takes more time than planned

I would start coding a feature thinking it will take an hour or two max. Most often I will take double of that time. Even when I took this into account while planning, it still took more time.

Since I was working in pieces, it took me more time to fit everything as a whole unit.

9. Can’t do without the internet

I tried disconnecting from the internet to focus on work. It didn’t work.

I needed help in getting the syntax correct, figuring out a logic, or implementing that logic.

Almost every time I was stuck, I got the answer from the net — either in some support group or in Stack Overflow. Special thanks to folks hanging out in the Mithril support group. They are always helpful in answering questions. Never once I got RTFM as an answer.

10. Obsess over fundamentals; not techniques and tools

I have coded in C++, Visual Basic, and Node.js. Now I code in Golang. Tools change, fundamentals don’t.

If I understand how token-based login work, then it is only a matter of finding out how to do that in the selected language or framework. Same goes for everything in software design.

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Under: #produce , #sdl , #insights