Book Review of “Little Bets” By Peter Sims

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Hello People!

I have a question: what does edgy comedian Chris Rock, animated movie powerhouse Pixar and Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon.com have in common? (I know that this sounds like the setup to a bad joke but just roll with me here!)

They all take “Little Bets”.

So what are they? “Little bets” are small, concrete low risk actions that are made to discover, develop and test ideas. Peter Sims believes that the most innovative, creative and successful artists, individuals and companies consistently use “little bets” to stay ahead of their fields and Sims provides the step-by-step playbook in which they make this happen.

Betting The Farm

When it comes to creativity and innovation, there are generally 2 assumptions:

1)    The people who come up with the most creative and innovative ideas are just geniuses i.e Walt Disney, Prince or Steve Jobs

2)    The great world changing ideas come to these people in a flash: fully formed, perfect and the superstar creative puts all his time, resources and energy (bets the farm) on this idea and becomes a gazillionaire.

Sims through extensive research and by doing in-depth interviews with 4-star generals, superstar entertainers and Silicon Valley pioneers disagrees. What Sims noticed is that although they operated in different fields, these pioneers used surprisingly similar approaches to coming up with great ideas and solutions using experimentation, being playful, looking at the project/problem from every angle and if something is not working, changing direction quickly or ‘pivoting’. Many chapters of the book cover one of these aspects in detail and at the end of each chapter, Sims provides concrete action steps that you can implement into your own projects.

How This Book Can Help You

For me this has been a great book. The number 1 take-away of this book has been what Sims calls “small wins”.

Sims explains that when most people want to start a new project or goal, they look at it from the wrong way around: they start off with this grand vision of what the end should look like i.e landing their first coding job or building a successful business and they plan all the steps that will get them there. But Sims believes that is a bad idea as with any detailed plan, things are likely to go wrong and there will be many external factors that will throw the plan off course. Most people at this point get frustrated and give up.

Sims argues that innovators instead of focusing on the ‘grand plan’ focus instead on “small wins” which are small , positive actionable steps that show them that they are going in the right direction. Sims used comedian Chris Rock as an example of this trait. Before Chris Rock embarks on a worldwide stadium tour or major hosting gig, Rock will many months before go to tiny, more intimate venues locally to test his material. Rock comes unannounced with has a rough outline of the subjects he wants to discuss on a legal pad: many of the jokes are half-baked and many “bomb” but when he does get a laugh, Rock watches intently, logging it down. After doing this dozens of times, Rock slowly builds and refines his act to the award-winning, box-office smashes that he’s known for.

The “small wins” concept has a lot in common with “The Slight Edge” where it focuses on small consistent actions rather than massive ones. At first when I signed up to the Teamtreehouse Tech Degree, I honestly believed that I would be able to become a proficient coder in 6 months – but things didn’t go to plan. I started to get frustrated and wondered whether coding was for me. But remembering this lesson, I started to focus on the “small wins” like understanding loops or functions rather than landing that coveted job. The “small wins” focus made my learning less frustrating and increased my confidence that I was improving and nearing my goal.

Verdict

I loved this book but the only downside was that it could be a little wordy in places and towards the end it got a little repetitive – but don’t let that stop you! This is a must-buy!

Final score is 7.5 out of 10

Thank you for reading! As always let me know what you think by leaving your comments below or tweeting at me via @karlwebdev.

See you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev

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Book Review of “HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites” by Jon Duckett

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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I hope that you are all well! Since I stared to learn how to code, in many blogs, community boards and interviews with coders, this week’s book has been mentioned as one of the best books to learn HTML and CSS for newbies and seasoned professionals alike. In this week’s review, I decided to dive in and see for myself what all the fuss was about…

The Review

First things first, when you get a hold of the book, it’s absolutely beautiful – the cover has a smooth vinyl sheen to it and although the book is not cheap, the book’s actual build is solid and makes you feel that it’s worth every penny.

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If you open the book just to flick through, one thing that will strike you is the layout and the presentation of the content in the book – it looks more like a magazine and wouldn’t be out place on your coffee table! With a combination of snazzy graphics, colourful diagrams and great typography, Duckett manages to bring HTML and CSS to life. Visually this is one of the best educational books that I have ever read, hands down and is a joy to read.

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A Tale of Two Languages

Content wise, Duckett has split the book into 2 sections: The first section covers Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) and Duckett skillfully and confidently explains how HTML forms the structure or ‘skeleton’ of our websites.

In the second section of the book, Duckeyy then explains about Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and how it forms the presentation layer of our websites. What I love about Duckett’s book is that the sections are colour coded (HTML = blue, CSS = pink) and this is incredibly helpful especially as the examples and they contain both markup languages, which makes it dead easy to see how both languages interact with each other.

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Also another neat feature is that Duckett supplies readers with a website that acts as a companion to the book which has expanded examples and more detailed explanations.

But despite all the good stuff that the book does, I feel that this book acts more like a reference book rather than book that I can pick up and learn to code from. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, practice and repetition are vital to learning to program and although it explains all the terms and concepts beautifully, I feel that the book could have done more to provide exercises that help you put your new knowledge into practice.

The Verdict

The book (at the time of writing) retails at roughly £25 – which can seem like a lot for a book but it’s worth every penny. The build quality, design and layout are worth the price of the book alone but were the book really shines is at breaking down complex ideas in a way that newbies like myself would understand easily.

I feel that where the book can really help you is as a reference book that you can look to in times where you may feel stuck or where you can quickly find additional info about a new concept that you are learning. I wouldn’t personally use it as my only source to learn programing – there’s loads of great online courses that can help with that.

Overall, this is an absolute must have in your coding library and a beautiful reference to help fill gaps in your knowledge. Go buy it!

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Score – 9 out of 10

Thank you for reading guys! As always feel free to comment and tweet me @karlwebdev. See you next Thursday!

 

 

Book Review of “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr Spencer Johnson

Reading time: 3 minutes

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Hello People!

Today I will be reviewing “Who Moved My Cheese?” By Dr Spencer Johnson. This book regularly appears on lists as one of the best Personal Development books of all time – so as an ever eager student, I had to grab it to steal it secrets! Let’s dive in shall we?

Of Mice and Men

The book is only 95 pages long – so this can be read literally over a long train ride (which is fine by me). The book is really two stories in one: the book opens with a group of middle aged friends who after their high school reunion, get together to catch up with each other and see how they are coping with the everyday struggles of modern life. The friends talk about everything from shaky marriages, job layoffs and raising children and agree that they are all finding it hard to cope.

In the midst of the doom and gloom, one friend starts to tell a fairytale about four characters that lived in a tiny maze: two mice called Scurry and Sniff and two ‘little people’ called Hem and Haw. These little critter’s main job, was to run around the maze, eating cheese to stay alive. All four characters live at a place called Cheese Station C, where there’s a large stockpile of cheese. Now the mice, not having advanced brains and living off their instincts, started to notice that that she supplies of cheese was falling and leave to the station to find a new supply. The little people however have grown quite comfortable at Cheese Station C and built houses next to the cheese pile and thought that the cheese will last forever. When the cheese inevitably run out, the little people panic and lament over their lost cheese. Hem and Haw argue over what to do: stay and wait for more cheese to come or venture out into the dark cold maze, on the hope that they will find new cheese. But as they start to starve, they realise they haven’t got much time left and one of them makes a bold decision…

Review

The main theme of the book is how, we as humans, deal with inevitable, unavoidable life changes and the cheese is a metaphor for what ever is important to us: whether it’s health, money, career or relationships. The four characters represent different responses to external change: people like Sniff sense changes way before they happen and people like Scurry represents the people who act proactively with the information and make changes happen. People like Haw represent those who are resistant to change and need to be persuaded to take action and Hems will not only resist but refuse to change at all. The fairytale aspect makes the lessons easy to understand & digest.

What I thought was a nice touch from the author was that when the characters made major decisions, they would sum it up in easy to remember quotes, that were placed in large pictures (yay!) that would be placed throughout the book.

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Also, what’s interesting is how each of the high school reunion friends discuss the main ideas so that we, the readers, can see how we would apply them to our lives.

How This Can Help You

If you are going through a challenging time in your life which you have no control over, you will find the overall message really valuable and positive. Unfortunately bad things do happen which we don’t see coming and which we just have to deal. This book will give you the philosophies of how to handle these changes and will show you how to respond to them. In this troubled economy, where layoffs, downsizing and increased stress are more common than ever, I welcome any books that help us handle that better. 

Also for coders, I thought the main message is really important as the industry is changing so quickly that we, like Sniff and Scurry, must daily monitor the changes & be ready to adapt with the marketplace or be left behind.

Verdict

Guys to be honest, I’m really torn: don’t get me wrong I did like the book, but there were a couple things that did irritate me a little bit…

1) I found the books parable a little too childish for me… Humans are complex and will not only motivated by external things (money, status and power) but have internal motivations (purpose, joy, self-actualisation). Also it came across as too ‘American’ for me (sorry guys – I love you lot). It was at times too positive & motivational & it come across sometimes as a little patronising. (By the way, I’m a Brit & we can be miserable gits – blame the weather).

2) I didn’t like the analogy of mice and ‘little people’ in a maze. This sounded too close to the idea of the ‘rat race’ and in my humble personal opinion, feel that we have a lot more choices about what we do & when we do it. Besides I’ve had mice before & they are not friendly, lovely little creatures! You really don’t want mice in your home…

Score: 5.5 out of 10

If my mate had a copy to borrow, then I would take it but I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy it.

Thank you for reading. Are there are any books that you guys want me to review? As always dear people, please leave a comment below and follow me on Twitter @karlwebdev.

See you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev

Book Review of “A Mind For Numbers: How To Excel At Maths And Science” by Dr Barbara Oakley

Reading time: 5 minutes

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Introduction

Hola buenas personas!* Thank you for joining me for the last blog of September 2016! This week I will be reviewing the excellent “A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Maths and Science” by Dr Barbara Oakley! But in my humble wisdom, I’ve decided to do things slightly differently… In last week’s post “The One Hour Method That Drastically Improved My Coding”, I extensively covered the background of this book as it was such an important part of creating my winning strategy!

Last week I covered just two of the key points in the book – but the book is so damn good, I just wanted to unpack another couple of gems for you! I’m going to jump straight in so please, stop for now, read last week’s post and I’ll meet you back here – pinky swear!

The book weighs in at 307 pages but don’t worry – many of these pages are taken up by really helpful pictures & diagrams and Dr Oakley’s breezy, relaxed conversational style keeps you engaged throughout. There are so many ideas within this book that I could literally do you five blog posts on each of them, but here is a quick medley of some of the absolute diamonds on offer.

Become a Zombie

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If I saw this in real life, I would run…

Zombie? Does that mean you should join the cost of the “Walking Dead?” Nope. Dr Oakley talks about how the power of habit is critical in real learning. A ‘habit’ is a learned behaviour, where when triggered, we carry out a particular action without even thinking about it. For example, when your alarm clock triggers in the morning, you wonder to the bathroom and automatically start to brush your teeth (I certainly hope so!)

Dr Oakley describes this as “zombie mode”. Habits are energy savers or ‘hacks’ for us. If we consciously had to deliberately think of every action that we did in the day, we would be overwhelmed before we even got to go to work! Studying well requires us to develop good habits and the book describes in detail how to create these routines. This helps us beat procrastination and helps us make learning become second nature.

Big Up Your Test!

When I was in school and I heard the word ‘test’ – it was almost as if I had been told a massive asteroid was heading to earth and neither Ben Affleck, Bruce Willis nor Morgan Freeman could save the day. My palms would become sweaty, my heart would start beating and when I sat down at the exam desk, all the knowledge that I had crammed into my brain had jumped out of my head, ninja style. But Dr Oakley believes that we should love tests – tests help our recall remember? But interestingly enough, Dr Oakley believes that the way that we approach tests are totally wrong and this often makes us drop grades.

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To do well in any test, not only must you ‘chunk’ the information (the what of learning) but understand the ‘bigger picture’ (the why of learning)…

We are often taught, that when taking written exams, we should try the easy questions first and once we have done those, go for the hard ones. But what research has shown is that this approach can increase anxiety & reduce performance as you have to solve the harder questions with added time pressure.

One suggestion that the book makes, is that we do the ‘hard-start-jump-to-easy’ technique. What this means is in the test, we try the hard question first and if it becomes too difficult, we switch to an easier problem. What this does is frontloads the problem in our mind (focused mode) and if the problem becomes too difficult or frustrating to solve, then when we quickly switch to an easier question. This helps us enter ‘diffuse mode’ and this gives the subconscious mind, the opportunity to work in the background on the more difficult problem. There’s a lot more to it than that, but you would just have to read the book to find out the rest!

How This Book Can Help You

The problem that I have had with some Personal Development books is that many will paint grand fantasies of “How To Learn Any Language In 10 Minutes” or “How to Become An Internet Millionaire In 7 Days” but they don’t give you any practical advice on how to apply those principles.

This is not such a book. Rarely have I read a book that gives you an absolute feast of ideas that can change your learning in such an amazing way. I took it, put a plan together and it worked absolute wonders for me! As I learn more about the nitty-gritty of computer science, Dr Oakley’s book has become a faithful friend. Not only is it thoroughly researched but it is truly inspirational, as she openly explains her own journey, starting from a complete beginner in Maths to a respected scholar. Don’t let the title of the book fool you. This book will not teach you quadratic equations or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity What it will teach you is how to learn and do it well.

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Small wins eventually lead to bigger ones…

If you are truly serious about learning any new skill, especially in programming of any kind, this book will become a great friend and supporter in your journey. I cannot recommend it enough!

Thank you for reading my weekly blog. Remember to comment below & follow me on Twitter @karlwedev for all the latest developments & updates!

See You Next Thursday!

*’Hello Good People’ in Spanish – each week I will try to greet you in a different language!

Book review of “The Dip” by Seth Godin

Reading time: 5 minutes

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Introduction

When it comes to spreading game changing ideas in marketing, business and life, there is no one quite like Seth Godin. Godin is an American entrepreneur, blogger, lecturer and best selling author has had his books translated into 33 different languages.

As an avid reader of books, what I have come to learn is that big books (more pages) doesn’t mean they have a greater impact.

In fact, although this book is little more than 80 pages long, I can honestly say that this book has changed my world view about my career and my life. The witty hand drawings by Hugh McLeod (I’m a sucker for hand drawing) are funny & match Godin’s breezy but straightforward style.

So as I sip my green tea, let me talk you through why you need this book in your life…

Review

From the time that we were little ‘uns, we were taught to “never give up on what you believe in”. NFL coach Vince Lombardi said: “quitters never win and winners never quit”

Seth Godin believes that’s poor advice. Godin says that:

winners quit all the time – but they quit the right stuff at the right time.

There are two central themes that run through the book.

Being the best in the world

Godin argues that schools teach us that being well rounded and average in most subjects in life is better than being really good at one thing and failing the rest.

When I was taking my GCSEs way back when, the kid that got 5 B’s and 4 C’s would have been seen to be better than the kid who got one A* and 8 F’s.

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But Godin feels that in the real world, the marketplace rewards the exceptional. Godin argues whether it’s brands or athletes, The benefits of being number #1 always several times more than their nearest competitor. This is called Zipf’s Law.

For example, if we look at the highest paid football players in 2016, Lionel Messi tops the list earning a crazy £59 million in salary pay & sponsorship deals. Meanwhile his tenth ranked teammate Andreas Iniesta made just under £18 million – 3 times less than Messi.

Being the best in the world doesn’t necessarily mean being the best in the actual globe. Being the best could mean being the best in your town, in your workplace team or your online community. Godin argues that people look for number one because it saves time and effort on their part and they will get the result they need. Not everyone can be Number #1 so that creates scarcity. And…

Scarcity creates value.

The Dip

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So what is ‘The Dip?’ Godin describes ‘The Dip’ as “The long slog between starting and mastery” The Dip describes the journey where you learn a new skill/start a business/make a major life change. This is where your naivety outweighs your skill.

You start programming because you are inspired by motivational video and you go to Code Academy start hacking out some code. You write your first “hello world” in HTML and you feel… Sweeeet!

But after a while, despite passing the code challenges ,things start to get really hard and you feel like you’re going nowhere: when you try to create your first website by yourself you become completely unstuck or you read a professional’s code & you feel like you’re reading an email to ET. At this point, most people give up.

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But Godin believes ‘The Dip’ is not your enemy but your friend – The Dip is designed to keep the slackers and amateurs out, ‘The Dip’ is where real learning and understanding take place. That experience is scarce and valuable.

But wait: isn’t that the same as “never give up on your dreams?” Not at all. Godin believes that are things called ‘Cul-De-Sacs’ or Dead Ends. There are some things that you shouldn’t even start because they lead nowhere. Taking a hardcore illegal drugs is a great example: overtime, you will either end up 1) dead or 2) in prison. Literally a dead-end.

Successful people quit things that don’t help career/life and focus on what will give them the greatest benefit.

Godin’s book is a roadmap to what types of things that you see in the dip, and how you can overcome them.

How this can help you

This book has been a real game changer for the helped we had to leave my personal dips through my career change.

I am currently riding ‘The Dip’ right now in regards to coding. When I first started coding, I thought that within six months I have created the next Instagram. But as I started to create my own websites and programs, I realised coding is hard and I had to completely change the way that I learned and practised. But as time has gone on, my experience & confidence are starting to soar.

‘The Dip’ in coding is steep but the book will make ask yourself 2 questions:

1. What things do I need to quit to get better at coding? For me, I had to postpone studying for a higher teaching qualification so I could focus solely on Front End Development.

2. What do I need to do get unstuck or go faster through my dip? Godin lists many different types of ‘dips’ and what you will have to do to go to get to the next level. I have read this book several times & has been a great motivator & guide in getting better at coding and life.

Thank you for your time. What do you think? Leave some comments below or hit me up @karlwebdev

See you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev

Book Review “Show Your Work”  by Austin Kleon

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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Introduction

Hi guys! Here’s another quick book review and today I’ll be reviewing “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon. I read his first book “Steal Like An Artist” and loved it and over a smoothie decided to share my thoughts on his follow up…

Review

The book does exactly as it says on the tin: Kleon’s book is all about creatives sharing their work and making an impact on the world: whether it’s growing their business, sharing their applications/programs or serving their community. In a way I feel that it’s a sequel to his first book “Steal Like An Artist” which is all about how an individual could to grow in their craft by emulating the work of those who have come before and I would recommend buying/borrowing or (stealing) that as a companion to this book.

First of all you will be struck at how beautiful Kleon’s book is. “Show Your Work” displays Kleon’s distinct freehand style that has many simple yet profound drawings scattered throughout the book, adds a visual element that keeps you engaged in the content.

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Two ideas that I felt were the main themes of the book were:

  1. You don’t have to be a genius – Join a group of talented and creative individuals and learn to contribute.
  2. Think Process not Product – creatives need to stop obsessing about the finished product and learn to take your audience with you, behind the curtain, & let them know what makes you tick.

Kleon’s style is very personal and friendly and it shows many of his own personal processes, struggles and breakthroughs.

How this can help you

At 215 pages long (And with lots of pictures) it’s not a mammoth read and I read most of it in over an hour on the train. But I found myself referring to at least every other day since I got it.

Those of you who (like me) are learning to code find this an inspiring and motivating read, that will courage you to seek out and connect in the coding community and encourage you to expose your projects to the wider world so that you can get the much needed feedback, critique & support to help you on your journey.

One key idea that stood out is to have amateur mindset. Kleon argues that the world is changing at such a fast rate that we are all becoming amateurs, and to stay ahead we need to commit to lifelong learning. This is even faster in the world of tech with so many languages & frameworks becoming absolete at record pace, coders need to stay humble & open to learning.

As a coder who is at the beginning of their journey, it’s incredibly intimidating to talk about, research, and contribute your ideas to the world of code. But the ideas in this book have taught me that the only way that you can truly learn is to “show your work”, collaborate and open yourself up to new experiences that one enhances yourself and others around you. This book is part of the reason why I started this blog.

Also those who are interested in building up this social media presence, Kleon shares many gold nuggets of advice on the structure, selection & curation on what content you should share. But you need to read the book to find out more!

It’s not a strict ‘how-to’ Book but Kleon’s book contains many ideas are you be continually refer to again and again.

I fully recommend this to any beginner coders as this will serve as helpful guide throughout your journey.

Karlwebdev

BOOK REVIEW of “The Slight Edge”

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THE REVIEW

I have been a student of Personal Development for a while and I have read many books that talk about how ‘this ancient secret will transform your life in an instant’ or ‘meditate on the things you want and supernaturally they appear’. These books do not give practical, tangible solutions and leave many readers frustrated with only the author ‘growing rich and happy’ at the readers literal expense.

This book however is a rarity and potentially one of the best books I have ever read.

Jeff Olson writes this book in a succinct, clear and down to Earth way. He’s obviously a millionaire but what I particular like about this book is that he does not shove it down your throat ever 2 lines.

So what is The Slight Edge? The premise of the book is simple: There is an invisible force that is evoked with every single decision and action that we take, good or bad, big or small. This force is never in neutral so if we constantly make loads of good decisions daily, this will lead us to wealth, happiness and success in our lives or if we make loads of minor errors in our daily routines, given enough time, this will compound into financial meltdown, potentially poor health and general misery.

Common sense so far right? But not common practice! What Jeff Olson argues is that societies around the world have been bamboozled into thinking that success is this instantaneous, miraculous, mystical event that only happens to a select few lucky people but when you really take a closer a look at people whom are successful and stay successful, it’s the many, many tiny disciplines that they have fostered in their daily routine that have compounded over time to get them to top and vice-versa for tragic failures.

Olson believes that the reason why many diets are abandoned, businesses fail, relationships gradually erode is that it’s not that the actions are wrong i.e exercise and eat more vegetables but it’s this insidious ‘hollywood’ belief of instant results/massive action that stops ‘The Slight Edge’ from kicking in. Olson believes in a more measured, manageable approach by developing the right belief systems and disciplines will over time get you the life you want.

This book is as much about giving you that philosophy as it is about giving you the action steps. What makes this book so great is it’s simplicity – there are several ‘aha’ moments in the book and I found that it really challenged my belief system to why certain results keep appearing in my life. There are not many books I will read more than twice but this book, is definitely in my ‘keep referring to’ list. I have already seen some changes in my life following these deceivingly simple principles.

HOW CAN THIS HELP YOU

To be honest, I have adopted this book as my core philospohy since I have been learning to code. What used to frustrate me was I tried to put in mammoth 2 hour coding sessions over a weekend but do no work during the week and still feel that I was right at square one. Doing 30 minutes a day 5 days a week was a far better plan that made me feel less stressed and less guilty. It taught me that staying consistent was the key.

Admittedly after a long hard day of work, I still find it incredibly difficult to sit down and code but I know that small, consistent actions can make all the difference and it can help me retain a lot more information in the long term. Although there are many sites that promise to help you master ‘Javascript in 1 hour’, I realise that learning to code is a marathon rather than a sprint. This book is like that ice cold bottle of water that helps you continue the race.  I would highly recommend it to all coding beginners like me!