You’re a journalist who decided to code— do you think that all journalists should code?
No. Journalism is a broad field and journalists distinguish themselves in their very own set of skills. Not everyone needs to be able to code, just like not all need to be good at writing longread and have a great radio voice.
But coding skills will play an increasingly important part in this mix. And, at least for now, if you know how to code, you have a skill that distinguishes you from almost all other journalists. Most importantly, being able to code means you don’t have to play by existing rules, but can create your own.
How would you describe coding?
Highly rewarding, but merciless until you get there. One mistake and the whole thing fails to work. That frustrated me in the beginning. It’s like ordering a full three course menu at the restaurant and not getting anything just because you pronounced the name of the wine slightly wrong.
Just one month after you started Code Year you gave up, and didn’t touch programming for six months. What finally brought you back?
I don’t remember exactly what it was. It always nettled me that I had given up, and since I had publicly announced my plans to learn to code, people kept asking me how I was doing. I think I eventually gave it a second try when I had a few days off and no daily business to worry about. What really pulled me back in was the fact that everything suddenly felt so easy and clear when I continued. That’s when I realized that this could really lead somewhere and from there, I never looked back.
And in the process you launched a web app called Instacurate. Tell us about it.
Instacurate helps you get the best out of Twitter, fast. It’s a nice way to discover interesting stuff on the web, as it displays links posted on Twitter in a visual, discovery-friendly way. You can search for specific users, hashtags, or browse your timeline, turning Instacurate into a personalised news site.
Instacurate was sort of my graduation project. I tested how far I could go with all that I’ve learnt during my CodeYear. Pretty far, I realised, also because I could make use of a lot of open source code and, thanks to Github, got support from experienced programmers with the tricky parts.
Now that you’re a coding pro, what do your friends think?
Some think I’m a complete nerd, some are pretty impressed, most of them probably a bit of both. I’m happy to see that quite a number of journalists who started Code Year with me in 2012 who gave up along the way are now giving it another try! But let me be clear, I’m a coding pro on the journalist’s scale. Compared to real programmers, I’m still a n00b, but that’s fine.
What advice do you have for aspiring coders?
I wrote a book on my whole programming quest, you’ll find a lot of advice in there. I strongly recommend having an experienced programmer who you can talk to in person, who can help you with tricky problems or with basic stuff such as setting up a local server on your laptop. That really proved priceless for me.
So… what’s next?
I’ll definitely keep working on courses on Codecademy, I actually just started the one on APIs which I consider especially valuable for journalistic work. My main goal, however, will be to make programming a more integral part of my daily work, working on story-related code-projects. And, of course, I’ve got a ton of ideas for the next steps with Instacurate.