/ Developing Stories_

From Zero Code to Co-Founding a Web Design Agency

“Code is one hell of a buzzword right now. There is no rising above, at least not in such terms. All you really have to do is push through the ether until something makes enough sense that it can all start clicking.

-Jackson Hardy

Twelve months ago, Jackson Hardy signed up for a free HTML and CSS course. He wanted to get better at manipulating Squarespace templates for his job, and the class seemed like a good first step.

A few months later, "in the wee hours of the night," Jackson got a bit more serious about learning to code. He signed up for a more structured course, and before he finished that course, he signed up for another.

Today, Jackson's preparing to launch a web design agency that he co-founded. His story is a testament to how far a determination to keep learning—and a tireless, entrepreneurial spirit—can take someone in just one year.

Read on to learn about Jackson's decision to get serious about coding, why he started his own agency, and his frank advice for anyone who's just getting started.

  1. Tell us about yourself.
  2. Which free courses did you try out?
  3. What was the most challenging part of learning to code?
  4. Tell us about your new business.
  5. What do you want to learn next?
  6. What advice would you give to people just starting out with coding?

What's your story? Tell us about yourself and your learning journey.

I started trying to learn code about a year ago. I never was really able to commit my time or energy to it—it's a whole other world, and it's quite daunting.

Honestly, my intentions were pretty limited. I wanted to learn enough HTML and CSS to make custom edits on Squarespace sites for work, and enough JavaScript to make my own analytics tags with Google Tag Manager.

A few months ago, on a whim in the wee hours of the night, I signed up for the "Build Websites from Scratch" course. Long story short, the way that the Intensive sort of “forced” me to stay engaged was just the push I needed. I fell in love and haven't gone a day without coding since.

I have a certain tendency to try and do far more than I'm able to do; but with code, that has proven a useful trait. When I was about halfway done with the "Build Front-End Web Apps" course, I was already applying for jobs as a developer.

Projects Jackson built in "Build Websites From Scratch" and "Build Front-End Web Apps," respectively.

What was your experience with free courses like before you signed up for the Intensives?

Yeah, I tried a bunch. I tried JavaScript. I tried HTML and CSS. I tried Python. I think I tried Ruby for a minute. And then I also did the Git and command-line courses. I think the command-line was definitely the one that started to get me the most. That was the easiest way in, to start to understand that you're manipulating your computer with words, basically. And starting to kinda see that just giving it a couple of commands and watching it do something was definitely a nice little, "Oh, that's how that works" moment.

What was the most challenging part of learning to code, and how did you rise above that challenge?

The world surrounding it, if that makes sense. “Code” is one hell of a buzzword right now. There is no rising above, at least not in such terms. All you really have to do is push through the ether until something makes enough sense that it can all start clicking. Coding will probably never stop feeling like an untamable beast, but it's a pretty unreal set of emotions when you first have the feeling of “I've harnessed the power of the monster”—it's kind of like having a magic wand (that you really aren't good at using yet, but magic nonetheless).

More concretely, the most challenging part of learning was something I was even aware was a problem that I was having: I didn't know how to learn it. I didn't realize that, like anything else, you have to take notes; you have to make outlines before a project; you have to study the same things over and over; not everything makes sense at first; etc. Realizing that outlining a project made that project easier was one of the biggest turning points for me.

An early redline document of the Webside.io homepage, and the final product.

Tell us about your new business.

A friend and I have started Webside.io. That friend is currently in the "Build Website UIs" course. Together, we've put together most of what (I think) is a beautiful website. Some pages are still being built, but it's really coming along.

We're going to be offering fully customized web design/development, for prices that can actually compete with trying to build a site yourself. We're doing this out of a love for web design, and experience working for small businesses that simply can't afford quality development. You're either stuck with hoping your site looks good when you design it yourself, or coughing up half your bank account to use a marketing, web design, or advertising company.

We're trying to be there for the little-guy. $2000 isn't chump change by any means, but it's not going to get you far with an agency. We're willing and able to do anything from a simple portfolio, all the way to a monster-sized e-commerce site; all completely designed with the company, and with their brand at the center.

Webside.io's "About" page

Obviously building this business has taken up a lot of your time, but I'm wondering if you have plans for continuing to learn, or if you already know what you want to learn next?

Yeah, definitely. React is the focus of the front-end course. Despite having finished the course, I'm not there yet with it. There's just a lot more that you can do with React, but I definitely need to spend some more time really digging into that, but I've started playing around with Angular just to get a feel for some of the other frameworks that are out there.

I have definitely found that a lot of the adjacent pieces to HTML and CSS have been super interesting to me. So the actual hosting, setting up servers, setting up databases and things like that. Trying to figure out how to manipulate information coming in from forms. Also I've been really interested in site speed, and just plain optimization in general. So yeah, just a lot of the pieces that are kind of sitting around the sides of HTML.

What advice would you give to folks just starting out or thinking about getting started with coding?

If I had to give any direct pointers to someone starting out today, I'd say the following:

  • You suck. But you're supposed to right now. If you started learning French yesterday, and you couldn't hold a conversation yet, no one would blame you. Coding is a language (really, many languages); treat it like one. It's okay to take time to learn it right.
  • It's daunting, it's overwhelming; it's worth it. It's not that bad once you dive in. If it's difficult, that means you're probably doing the right thing.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. Every coder started from 0. It's that simple. No one will be mean to you if you need help - no one will mock you. Coding is hard—getting good took hard work—and needing help is one of the best ways of reminding other coders how much they have accomplished. It's more of a compliment to ask for help than you might think.
  • It never stops being frustrating; you just start to find that part fun. Seriously. You just have to take my word on that.
  • Finally, READ. Every day. Read about computers, read about code, read about tech—honestly, read about anything; it helps. The more you read, the more your brain is used to taking in information. Read about how to make leather for all I care - but read every day.

This article is a compilation of a live interview transcript and Jackson's written responses to a survey.

Get more practice, more projects, and more guidance.