There’s so much to learn!

Tony Ascroft © 2018

Learning to code is difficult, especially at the beginning, especially if you’re trying to learn on your own. Courses at colleges or universities are good for beginners because they give you a sense of direction but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it on your own.

Way back, in 1995, I purchased my first computer. A Power Mac 7200. I was a mostly self taught artist and I wanted to learn CG animation. The internet was in its infancy and few people had experience with CG programs so resources were scarce, but by trial and error I learned enough to get my first job with a game company in St. Catharines Ontario. Silicon Knights were creating top-down role playing games the old fashioned way, tiled backgrounds and frame by frame animation using a software package (I can’t remember the name) which allowed us to animate pixel based images and output sprites (drop in animated characters/cycles).

After the first game I worked on was released Silicon Knights decided to go 3D, not 3D in the sense of special glasses but 3D like Toy Story, which had just been released. They chose 3D Studio DOS R4 from Autodesk (which would become 3DS Max) as their software of choice. Once again there were no courses available or on-line tutorials so we bought books and taught ourselves. I can remember those early days as we poured over the manuals and books amazing our colleagues with the next fascinating thing we discovered we could do with the software.

I learned then that its possible to teach yourself complex programs but more importantly I learned that big programs with big (or many) manuals should not be intimidating. During my time as an electronics technician in the Canadian Army I learned the trick to complex circuits. Break them down into small manageable bites. I used that same approach to learn 3DS Max and I quickly became proficient in CG modeling. I also learned over time that most people learn just enough of a program to make it do what they need to it to do. In cases of large complex programs (like 3DS Max, Maya and Nuke) that might only be about 10% of the whole program, an expert might know 20% but no one knows even close to the whole program, its just too big and it’s really unnecessary. Most CG artists have what I call a toolbox. A set of skills that lets them do 95% of what they need to do, the remaining 5% they look up in a book, watch a tutorial or ask another artist.

Learning coding is the same. Each language, HTML, CSS, JavaScript has a multitude of built in commands, methods, variations etc. but the coder only needs to memorize a small percentage. 20% of JavaScript will probably cover 90% of the I’ll do. That’s a huge reduction in the amount of code I need to memorize. I can just look up the information I need for the remaining 10%. My approach to coding is to keep going over the fundamentals until they are second nature. I don’t worry about learning all the variations and additional frameworks, libraries etc. there are just too many. I’ve touched on Bootstrap and jQuery etc. so that I know what they do and what’s possible but for my first job I think its better to have a sound understanding of the fundamentals. Once I’m working and I know which programs the company uses then I will spend time to learn them more in-depth.

Have a good day and talk to you soon – Tony

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