Signing up for something like DigitalCraft‘s coding bootcamp can be intimidating for someone in his 40’s, but I knew I already had the right experience: Learning Chinese in my 30’s. If I could hack that, I could hack anything.

Once I was confirmed into the program, I received a long list of “pre-work” assignments: Tutorials to do, accounts to set up, voluminous web pages to read… “Learn way more than humanly possible, right NOW!” This has been the story of my life for over a decade, so I know what to do; I’ve found my way to Mordor before.

The stuff I’m supposed to know for full-stack development includes: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, GitHub, Python, Terminal, React, Node.js, and on and on and on. It’s not unlike opening a dictionary with 60,000 Chinese characters. The key is figuring out how to make it manageable.

The Past: Language School Strategy

In language school, I made an early decision to master three, and only three things: for speaking and listening, I’d initially only give effort to Pimsleur’s Mandarin audio CDs to get me started, followed by ChinesePod lessons; for reading and writing, I’d use Pleco to learn the words and characters listed in our primary textbook. I deliberately chose to put no outside-of-class effort into anything else.

It worked. Instead of throwing my hands up in despair from being pulled dozens of different directions, I established a simple daily routine, including some pretty rigorous self-scheduled graduated interval recall.

The Present: Coding Bootcamp Strategy

In coding bootcamp, I’m looking for the same thing, and I think I found it. Several resources impressed me, with Codecademy initially topping my list. But then I cracked open the A Smarter Way to Learn JavaScript book by Mark Myers.

Upon reading the introduction on how to use the book, déjà vu struck: This is exactly the kind of thinking I came to adopt while learning Chinese. The author even mentioned spaced repetition! He clearly understands that learning coding is less about geeky tech instruction than it is about language acquisition.

The further I read, the more I felt like I was reading the instructions to the Pimsleur audio CD program: Focus on a few minutes of instruction when your mind is sharp, then actively make snippets of language that gradually get longer, then walk away from it. Your 30 minutes is over. Go do something else. And only do a lesson or two (maybe 3) a day.

Bingo. I know what I’m doing.

My daily non-negotiable is to master the material in the A Smarter Way to Learn books (JavaScript, HTML/CSS, and jQuery), while viewing my class time as, more than anything else, a kick in the pants to keep my own study schedule on track. Of course, it would have been better to finish those books before bootcamp started, but I didn’t have that direction back then. I am where I am.

The Future: Study Calendar

Below I’ve included a video, explaining my study calendar. This is exactly how I scheduled out my ChinesePod lessons for years.

In the same way I cast Pimsleur aside for ChinesePod, once I’ve made good progress with the Myers books, I’ll turn more of my attention to Codecademy.