There are so many obvious reasons to learn to code: freelancing opportunities, career advancement, salary increase, and personal satisfaction among others. The advantages are so many that it’s worth the investment, no matter how many obstacles you might encounter.
One such obstacle is the common misunderstanding about how long it takes to learn to code. When I first started thinking about learning to code, my main concern was that I wouldn’t have time, or that it would take several years just to learn the coding language I’d chosen, R. I had vivid recollections of trying to learn to code by reading a textbook in college, and the thought of spending long evenings curled up by a dense and dry textbook really put me off.
Rather than asking yourself how long it would take to become a programmer or learn a coding language, it’s better to ask yourself what your plan is. Consider the following factors:
- What is your goal in learning to program?
- How much time do you have at your disposal?
- What is your preferred learning style?
- Do you know any other languages or basic building blocks?
While it’s tempting to look for a solid answer in terms of months or years, the time it takes to learn a coding language depends almost entirely on you.
For example, when I began learning R, I just wanted to measure trends in the weather and my mile run time. I had some very basic knowledge of R left over from a college course. My goal was just to create a visualization. It took me about 2 months, spending about 30 minutes per week to put that together. I didn’t use any resources other than StackOverflow to answer questions as I went.
Your situation will probably be quite different from mine, and so the answer to how long it will take you to learn to code will be different, too. You can begin to get an idea of how long it will take you by answering these questions.
Why Do You Want to Learn a Coding Language?
There are plenty of great reasons to learn a coding language:
- There’s money to be made on coding bounties
- The career options are huge and only growing
- There are more chances to work from home
- There are some questions in your life that you might want to solve with coding, like if the weather affects your running.
The time it’ll take you to learn to program depends on how you’ll measure your desired outcome.
How Much Time Can You Allot per Week to Learn to Code?
If you’ve got a fulltime job, 4 kids, and a baking hobby, it will take you longer to learn to code than if you don’t — that’s fine. But it’s important to set up expectations early on. If you think you can commit 30 minutes per week, don’t commit yourself to an hour a day, because you’ll get discouraged when life inevitably happens. Be honest about your time management.
It’s better to take 2 years to learn your first programming language than trying and failing to learn it all in 2 months.
What Language Do You Want to Learn?
Some coding languages are more complex than others. For example, Python has an extremely straightforward syntax, which means it’s commonly the first language students are taught. Meanwhile, the time it takes to learn PHP is heavily dependent on whether you already know some HTML basics or not. If you don’t, it’s tricky to pick up.
Depending on your goal, it’s worth researching which language is easiest and has the best resources for you to learn.
What Method Are You Using to Learn?
While there probably are textbooks out there for any coding language you like, it’s best to spend some time experimenting with different methods to see what works best for you. A recent study from 2020 shows that gamification, a newer strategy for learning skills, can help drive motivation and engagement. For example, Qvault’s gamified computer science learning platform uses achievements and gems to motivate students to not just start, but to achieve goals and complete courses.
Coding is popular enough that free and paid resources exist for just about any language you may want to learn, no matter whether YouTube videos, courses, or textbooks are right for you.
What Are Your Expectations about Learning to Code?
If you believe it takes real programmers just three to six months to learn a programming language, and it’s already taken you more than seven months, that can be hugely demoralizing.
Equally, if you think that you’ll be ready to change careers after reading one textbook, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.
That’s why it’s critical, when thinking about how long it will take to learn a coding language, to have discrete goals and milestones. How long do you think it will take? How will you feel when you inevitably struggle? How will you measure and reward your progress? How will you continue investing time and energy into your goal?
Your expectations will play a big role in how long it takes you to learn to code.
What Does Success Look like for You?
There’s no real end to learning to code – you can always refine, tweak, and improve. Ask an experienced programmer how long it took her to learn her programming language and she might tell you she’s still not done, 20 years after she started. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be ready for an entry-level job within your first year of learning!
Not only that, but programming languages themselves change, evolve, and improve over time. Python and R, for example, constantly have new packages available that can make it easier to understand or complete a task. As the number of programmers grows, new solutions, packages, and updates are released and the coding ecosystem that revolves around that language changes over time.
By understanding what a successful ending looks like for you, you’ll be able to stay motivated to reach those goals.
Asking How Long It Takes to Learn to Code Is the Wrong Question
The most important question shouldn’t be how long it takes to become a programmer, but how long does it take to get started, and how can you personally stay motivated enough to reach your personal milestones. How can you make it easy, fun, and rewarding to learn the programming language of your choice?
Ultimately, the most important thing to keep in mind when you’re thinking about how long it’ll take to learn a coding language is that it depends on you. There’s no right or wrong answer – if it takes you a year, that’s just as valid as if it takes you a month to learn to program. If for you, learning to code means getting a job as a programmer, that’ll be different from understanding the basics of SQL.
Rather than wondering how long it takes to learn to program, you should create a plan that will help you answer that question specifically for you. Remember your reasons for starting to learn a programming language, and make sure you’re honest with yourself about what you hope to achieve. The benefits of learning a coding language are worth it.