From humble hermit to coding ninja

Apps for Good Fellow, Ben Roberts from Altrincham Grammar School for Boys, talks about learning to code.  

I was enthralled by coding. I loved being able to tell a computer exactly what I wanted it to do, and know exactly why it was doing it and how
‘I was enthralled by coding. I loved being able to tell a computer exactly what I wanted it to do, and know exactly why it was doing it and how.’

As a child I loved finding out how things work, often taking apart household appliances to see what they did. Unfortunately I was often unable to put them back together again – one incident left us toast-free for some time.

At first I was frustrated

I started coding in my first year of secondary school at a lunchtime club. We used Blitz Plus (a dialect of the programming language BASIC).

At first I was frustrated, I’d never really used a computer and the other students powered ahead. So over the next week I spent all my spare time on the Internet learning more. By the next session I still couldn’t program anything that worked, but I knew what each command did and how it could potentially be manipulated.

I was enthralled by coding. I loved being able to tell a computer exactly what I wanted it to do, and know exactly why it was doing it and how. So I decided to buy a second-hand laptop and convinced my parents to get an Internet contract. Taking it slowly I learned several languages at the same time and at the same rate to make it easier to track of my progress.

My teacher told me about Apps for Good

My teacher, Ms Lawrey approached me at the end of a lesson and told me about the Apps for Good after school club. Our team quickly decided to make a revision app. We knew exactly how we wanted it to work, and designed wireframes (basic designs showing what elements would appear on each screen of the app).

I struggled with the teamwork aspect of Apps for Good. There was another, more skilled, coder in the team called Alex and we debated about what language to build the app in. We ended up using Java programming language on the Eclipse development environment, both were new to me so there was now a new language I needed to learn. But once I began getting to grips with it I found that I could sometimes help Alex when he hit a wall, and also discovered that I was really good at bug-testing.

When we found out that we’d won the Apps for Good Coding Ninja prize, a special award for good programming, I was just pleased that other people appreciated the time and effort we put into our app.

Coding’s no longer just a hobby

The Apps for Good experience has given me a new outlook on technology.  Instead of thinking of computing as a hobby I realise I could put it to practical use. It excites me to see what it can do and how technologies can work together to get spectacular results.

Through the course Ms Lawrey inspired me to be more creative and vocal with my ideas. I’m an introvert (a bit of a hermit really), and she encouraged me to try different methods, look at more alternatives, as at the time, and still now, I tend to have a hard time thinking outside of the box. She made it more enjoyable to code

Apps for Good has opened my eyes to a wide spectrum of jobs that I could do. I have my eyes set on being a software engineer, but maybe I will finish my attempt at an OS and computer and become the next Bill Gates or Steve Wosniak. Computing is full of possibilities!

Ps. My advice to other Apps for Good coders:

Work step-by-step make sure all contingencies are covered before moving onto the next step, this makes sure you never miss anything out.

Brace yourself for failure – Most of the time, a set of code that you are writing won’t be viable and you will have to start again, and you will always find syntax errors which will make you blood boil. And yet it’s all worth it when you finally get the program working!

What do you think? Did you have a similar feelings about the course or was your Apps for Good completely different? We’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got a story to tell email us at fellows@appsforgood.org and we can give you a helping hand starting your blog post.