How I started a code club and became a better developer

Here’s the story of how I and a group of motivated friends started a code club.

Our story begins in the summer of 2013. I had the opportunity to meet and mentor many of the first cohort students at Bitmaker Labs. At the start of the program, I saw first-hand the motivation and energy that every single one of them had. Their willingness to learn was inspirational.

About half way through the program, I was noticing students were struggling. Bitmaker Labs is not an easy program. It’s an intensive bootcamp, and at times, not all that fun. To keep the momentum, students started to create groups, and utilized each other as much as they could to move forward.

Although every person fit somewhere on the spectrum, one thing that I noticed was that when the students were working in the same room together, day in and day out, they stopped being students and began actively being part of a team. Groups huddled together to tackle more complex problems and closer to the end of the program it felt like an incubator for critical thinking, experimentation and learning! Each student came really far during the 12 weeks they spent at Bitmaker Labs, and their hunger for knowledge and world wide domination didn’t stop after it was all over.

After the program had finished, I kept in touch with a fair number of the students. I loved that they were all so committed to learning, even after their exhausting experience at Bitmaker Labs. Most of the alumni landed junior positions in tech companies, and were taking glorious strides into their new career paths. Something that came up frequently from the group was that learning is an integral part of our industry, and they all wanted to to keep the momentum of learning aflame.

One pain point for many of these new developers was a lack of experience with plain Javascript, and that there is such a high demand for Javascript. I’m not surprised seeing as Javascript is the most used language on GitHub and is still rapidly growing in popularity.

Another pain is that learning is hard. Especially programming. Even worse is when you are trying to debug a new language alone. What we wanted was to create a similar learning environment to what the alumni experienced at Bitmaker Labs where we could learn together.

Enter Code Club

For us, Javascript would be our main focus, and so I invited 10 people (plus occasional friends) who expressed serious interest in learning Javascript from the ground up. We would meet twice a month, and work on Javascript concepts, and solve problems as a group. This carried on for 6 months, and it was a total blast.

After spending some time exploring different Javascript frameworks, the group evolved. The evolution of our private gathering was to open it up to the public and focus on our favourite framework, Meteor. If you’re interested, come join us at Meteor Code Club!

Start a Code Club

If you’ve ever struggled like I have to learn something new, I’d recommend you to find a group that’s motivated to learn with you!

The benefits of starting a code club:

  • Become a confident leader. I spent lots of time pair programming with members, and I felt that the best way to really learn something is to help teach it to others.
  • Communication is key. Learning to ask the right questions, and receiving the right answers is hard. It comes with practice.
  • Less walls. Personally, I get super frustrated when I hit a wall that I bash my head against for hours. That’s never fun. Working in small groups or pairing reduces the amount of walls when learning.

Learning on my own is something I struggle with frequently, especially in a field where learning is an integral part of staying up to date, and staying relavent to employers. Having a reinforced group, and setting up a framework for those people to learn together helps keep that momentum going. Some people are good at independent learning, others need a study group.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to always learn new things, and and hone your craft. I just find it easier and less intimidating when I do it in a group.

I like the meeting of like-minded minds best. You can’t make soup with just one ingredient, or without some way of stirring the pot. So much good comes from co-mingling of ideas and passions and energy.

- Shane, Founding Code Club Member

To cook your own code club:

  • Save the date! Make sure that everyone in your group can save a time to commit to the group. It’s crucial to make sure that most (if not all) can make it to every meetup.
  • Create a forum. During the times outside of the club, create a place for members to put down their ideas, and share things that they find. This is a great way to keep the conversations going outside of code club. We use a Google+ community page for this.
  • Start a club chat. Something like Slack, or Google Hangouts. This would give your members a real-time way to share things with each other.
  • Come prepared. Set a goal before and after every session. We worked through chapters of Eloquent Javascript and loosely followed this.
  • Hack often. Have hack nights often. For example, one of our hack nights involved tackling the Discover Meteor book over the course of a full day.

If huddling around a projector with heaps of popcorn, and watching Douglas Crockford talk about Javascript sounds like a good time, then get your favourite people together and start your own code club!

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