It began harmlessly enough.
Like many people, early last year I suddenly found myself stuck at home with a whole lot of free time I was not expecting to have. Now, I’m not the outdoors-type, so being trapped inside was not really a problem for me. I took advantage of this time to catch up on some of my hobbies I hadn’t had time for. I watched all the Andrei Tarkovsky films I hadn’t seen before. I learned a couple of songs on the guitar. I hunkered down and somehow made it to the end of Bloodborne on PS4 (I still can’t believe I managed that one, to be honest).
But after awhile, when the couple of weeks in lockdown turned into months, and 2021 was approaching fast with no end in sight, I decided this might be a good time to try something new. Something I had always been interested in, but never actually pursued. Just for fun, I thought I would try learning to code.
When I was young, we had Visual Basic installed on our computer at home. I never got too far with it, but I did have fun making buttons you could click, or text boxes that would appear and disappear. It had been about twenty years since then, but I thought it might be a fun little pastime to look into something similar.
After a few minutes on Google searching different combinations of “coding” and “beginner”, I found myself on freecodecamp.org, staring at a blank HTML document. I followed the instructions, typing in a simple line of code, and suddenly on that once blank page I saw:
And suddenly I was ten years old again, playing around with buttons on my family computer. There was a pure, simple joy in seeing these words appear on the screen. Before I knew it, it was two hours later, and I was learning to how to move a picture of a cat to the centre of the page and give it a blue border.
Now, is that the most impressive thing in the world? No, definitely not. But I think everyone has had this sort of experience before, when something just clicks with you. When time gets away from you, and you find yourself in an almost meditative state. I’d had this experience before with music, sitting and playing the same passage over and over, focusing on every note as it goes by. I’ve had it with photography, moving the camera, adjusting the lens and the lights, working for hours to get the shot just right.
And I was having it again with coding.
I don’t mean to say that I was a “natural”, or that it all came easily to me. Far from it. Each new concept I learned was a challenge to at least some degree. But the struggle to understand, the frustration when my code refused to render the page the way I wanted it, these were nothing compared to thrill and exhilaration when it finally worked.
Seeing my first navigation bar snap into place at the top of the web page. Watching my first CSS animation spring to life. Having all my API calls go through and receiving the data I’d requested. In and of themselves, there is nothing about any of these that merits much attention. The joy comes from the act of doing it for yourself, creating something where there was nothing.
The strum of a single chord may not mean much to most people, but to the musician who plays it, it means everything.
A loaf of bread may not inspire awe, but the one who bakes it takes pleasure in every step of the recipe.
Rendering one phrase to a web page, “Hello world”, is not exactly mind-blowing. It barely even counts as a sentence. But I can tell you from experience, there is more meaning behind those words than even I realized at the time. Only now do I understand, as I am starting a brand new career in web development, that it wasn’t just a message to the world.
It was a message to myself, from the person I might become.