As the new year kicks in, it’s normal for people to spend some time auditing the previous year. Each year end acts as a natural break and point for introspection, and the following question often arises:

How has my life changed from January 1st, 2016 to January 1st, 2017?

More importantly, asking yourself this question can lead you to consider:

When I’m auditing myself in 2018, how will my life be different than it is today? How can I make sure I’m moving in the right direction?

Enter: New Year’s resolutions. Self-improvement is a good thing. It’s the opposite of complaining. Anyone can complain that they wish things were different than they are, but only through self-improvement can you take 100% ownership over the process and make things happen through determination, initiative, motivation, and drive. All meaningful change takes work.

The opportunity at hand is exciting, though. If you want to transition into a rewarding, well-paying, fulfilling career, and you genuinely enjoy writing software, your audit in 2018 could be spent reflecting on the payoff of perseverance, hard work, and discipline. Or, you could take the easy route and stick to the path you’re currently on and complain about it.

It’s important to appreciate that meaningful change requires a substantial amount of work. Several years ago, I, too, decided that I was going to make a change in my life. I decided I was going to get into better shape – a pretty typical goal. Since that point in time, January 1st has come and gone a number of times, and as a fairly regular gym-goer, the phenomenon is still remarkable.

Each year in early January, the gym transforms from a place regularly occupied by a consistent set of people to a place temporarily crowded by many newcomers, most of whom won’t continue to show up in February. It’s easy to say that you want a six-pack. It’s not easy to appreciate the pain, hunger, and willpower that it takes to get there.

Becoming a software developer is no different. You have an opportunity at hand to get the skills you need to make your startup idea a reality. Or obtain the skills you need to transition to a career that involves creating with code. But it’s important not to make a few particular mistakes that are likely to doom you to failure.

There are a couple common paths to self-sabotage on the road to learning to code.

There are a number of ways you might be keeping yourself from achieving your goals. It can be easy to set yourself up to fail at learning to code, much like the time I set myself up to fail when learning how to play the guitar.

Thinking you need a powerful new computer to learn to code. Spending time researching different computers you could potentially buy and educating yourself on the various specs, performances, and trade-offs of different computers isn’t necessarily a waste of time. However, it’s a task that’s completely independent of actually learning to code. Thinking this is a prerequisite to learning and choosing to spend time on it before writing a single line of code will hold you back from making any progress towards achieving your goal.

Going down the rabbit hole of researching various programming languages, web frameworks, or coding bootcamps. Many people set the goal of learning to code, then proceed to spend an exorbitant amount of time doing research, and no time to actually writing code.

Returning to the gym analogy, this is the same as endlessly researching Yelp reviews for gyms to ensure your gym is the best one possible instead of putting your running shoes on and actually working out. Actually going to the gym, running on the treadmill or lifting weights, and putting in the work will help you achieve your goal. Researching gyms will only help you so much…

Expecting it to be easy. Part of the reason programming is such a rewarding experience is that it isn’t easy to do. Becoming a self-sufficient developer who is capable of building any feature or solving any problem with code takes time.

With some coding bootcamps claiming you’ll be able to “become a developer in 8 weeks,” it’s no wonder people might think it’s a skill you can acquire in no time. Short courses with claims like this generally either have very restrictive admissions policies that require you to have an existing coding background, or they simply won’t live up to their claims.

It doesn’t take 10,000 hours of work to transition careers, but if you think you can do it overnight, you’re mistaken.

But, there are some surefire ways to ensure 2017 is the year of code for you.

Set yourself up with social connections and a community. This African proverb is true in coding as well as many other aspects:

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Setting yourself up with a community of like-minded individuals will help ensure you’re making progress. It’s said that you’re the average of the five individuals you spend the most time with, so spending your time around others who are working to achieve the same goal as you will help you prioritize the work you have to do to get there.

Focus on building habits – don’t worry about the outcomes. The outcomes of your coding sessions are less important than the process you took to simply get there. Prioritizing coding, taking the time to actually do it, and making an effort to get to the next step are what really count towards your goals at the end of the day.

Try to make progress every single day. Or at least aim not to go in the opposite direction. Taking a short break from coding doesn’t automatically mean you’ve failed; it’s not the end of the world. If you stop coding for a month or two, though, you’ll begin to lose the skills you fought so hard to develop.

A key element of continuing to make progress is keeping track of your progress so you can say with confidence that you’ve never been closer to achieving your goal than you are today. Don’t underestimate the importance of knowing you’re going in the right direction and being able to point to the evidence.

If you get incrementally closer to your goal every day, you’ll eventually reach it.

Block it into your schedule. Doing something sporadically is much less effective than doing it consistently. Whether you need to schedule it into your calendar or develop a pattern of putting in the work at the same time and place, consistency is key.

Finally, if you hate coding, DON’T CODE. Many people love coding. The magic of creating something with nothing but a text editor and a computer is enough to motivate some people to keep working even through the most difficult challenges of learning to code. Before you throw yourself into the thick of it, you should make sure you genuinely enjoy writing code before you decide with 100% certainty that this is the path you want to take.

Not sure if you will love coding or hate it? Sign up for our free Prep Course, start writing code, build out a portfolio, and find out for yourself how you actually feel about writing code.

Keep in mind, the first step of your journey doesn’t need to happen on January 1st. There’s no requirement that says you have to take the first step on January 1st. Or during the first week of the new year. Or even during January at all. There’s no time like the present to put in the work that will pay off in the long-haul.

AuthorKen Mazaika

Ken Mazaika is the CTO and co-founder at Firehose. Previously, he was a tech lead at (acquired by PayPal) and a member of the PayPal/eBay development team in Boston.

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