*Unscientifically, by a person from the internet.
If you’re a LITA member, then you’re probably very skilled in a few technical areas, and know just enough to be dangerous in several other areas. The later can be a liability if you’ve just been volunteered to implement the Great New Tech Thing at your library. Do it right, and you just might be recognized for your ingenuity and hard work (finally!). Do it wrong, and you’ll end up in the pillory (again!).
Maybe the Great New Tech Thing requires you to learn a new programming or markup language. Perhaps you’re looking to expand on your skills–and resume–by adding a language. For many years, the library associations and schools have emphasized tech skills as an essential component of librarianship. The reasons are plentiful, and the means are easier that you might think. With a library card, a few free, open source software tools, and some time, you can level up your tech skills by learning a new language.
I humbly suggest the following approach to leveling up, which has worked for me.
What you’ll need
A computer. A Windows, OS X, or Linux laptop or desktop computer will suffice.
Resources. Online programming “schools”, such as Codeacademy and Code School are a great concept and work for some people, but I’ve personally found them to provide an incomplete education. The UI demands brevity, and therefore many of the explanations and instructions require a certain level of knowledge about coding in general that most beginners lack. I have found good ol’ fashioned books to be a better resource. Find titles that have exercises, and you’ll learn by doing. Actually building something practical makes the process enjoyable. The Visual Quickstart Guide series by Peachpit Press and the Head First series by O’Reilly usually teach through practical examples.
Books are a great source of knowledge, but so are your fellow coders. Most languages have a community with an online presence, and it would be a good idea to find those forums and bookmark them. But if you were to bookmark only one forum, it should be the Stack Overflow forum for the language you’re learning.
Time. Carve out time wherever you can. If you take public transportation to work, use that time (if you can find a seat). Learn during your lunch break. Give up a season of your favorite TV show (you can always catch up later in a weekend binge-watch when the DVDs hit your library shelves).
Where to start
Here and now. Maybe you’re reading this because you’ve just been tapped to implement the Great New Tech Thing at your library. Or maybe you’re considering adding a skill to your resume. Whatever the reason, there’s no time like the present.
If you’re new to programming languages, I hope this approach helps. If you’re a veteran coder, please share your learning approach in the comments.