Last week I had my first foray back into education as I started my MSc at Sussex. Studying part-time, I’ll be working on 2 modules between now and January; I’ll be learning to program in Java and I’ll be learning to create 3D models in 3DS Max.

These are two areas of digital media that I’ve wanted to dip into for a long time, but knowing where to start can be challenging, and maintaining progress without some sort of deadline or mentorship almost impossible. I’ve checked out many an online tutorial, and felt uninspired and totally lacking direction.

So how do you learn to code?

I believe there are two main elements to learning something like coding or 3D design. The first is to have a clear aim for what you want to achieve, and the second is to be able to break it down into manageable steps.

The problem with learning to code, for example, is that many people have a very vague idea of what they want to achieve; I want to be able to code. This is a meaningless aim, it’s intangible and cannot be measured. Which language do you want to learn? What do you want to make? How will you know when you know how to code? Anyone who has any experience of learning something like a language or some other skill will know that there’s never a point where you’re done learning it. But you will find you reach points where you can complete certain tasks.

Instead, have something you want to make. Set a project. The advantage of learning through a course like this is that I have a goal set for me. I’ll be able to measure how close I am to completing the task and creating whatever it is I have to make. Same goes for the 3D design; I know what I have to achieve in the coming months.

But once you have that, how do you achieve it? You break it down into steps. Fortunately I’m in a place where that’s done for me. I’ve got lectures and labs booked every week for the next 3 months, with someone there to tell me what I should be focusing on. Sure, I’ll have to carry on working outside of those hours, but the route is mapped out for me for the most part.

If you don’t have this route laid out in front of you, then it’s up to you to break down your goal. First into sections, then into things you can achieve in a week, a day, an hour. You want to build an app? Start by literally breaking down the parts of it; the pages, the database, the functions and elements that piece it together. Break it down to the smallest version of itself that it could possibly be. Then break down the task of creating that simple version. What language can do that? What environment do you write that code in?

The other most important part of this journey is to recognise how long it is. You won’t learn to program in 24 hours. You won’t learn it in a month, or even a year. You’ll get the basics, but it’s a long road. You have to stop looking at the destination, because you’re a long way off and it will keep getting further away every time you get closer. Instead, think about where the next stop is, and work out the route from here to there.

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