(Photo by Tony Abraham)
Tariq Hook has worked with every programming language under the sun. But nearly 15 years ago, he was spending his work days crawling through ceilings.
In 2001, Hook had just graduated with a degree in information sciences from the University of Pittsburgh and was working as a network engineer. But he wanted something more. What Hook really wanted to do was write code. He quit his job and took on an unpaid three-month internship working with Java.
There, he fell in love — not just with Java and not just with coding, but with the philosophy of programming. Now, as Director of Java Education at Zip Code Wilmington, Hook has an opportunity to pass that passion for programming down to eager students.
The perception that coding is hard often deters people who fear the unknown.
“It’s 100 hours a week,” Hook said. “That’s two full-time jobs and a part-time job.”
What students will get out of the Java course is not only the ability to comprehend and write software, but a deep understanding of the philosophy behind programming. Books can teach you syntax, he said, but won’t help you understand the design practices and algorithms needed to solve an abstract problem.
That, he said, is how you build something scalable, sustainable and robust. But it takes practice.
“The first time you code something out, it shouldn’t work,” Hook said. “Any time I’ve compiled something and it ran the first time or didn’t have a ton of errors, I think something catastrophic is wrong.”
That fear of failing may be what keeps potential coders from learning the trade. Really, Hook said, the only prerequisite skills for picking up coding are critical thinking and problem solving. Yet, the perception that coding is hard often deters people who fear the unknown. Hook likened this hesitation to a skydiving experience he had on his 30th birthday.
"Computer science is not really about computers. It's the science of problem solving."
“My friends were trying to get me to go,” he said. “I said, ‘No, that’s crazy.’ My perception of it was ‘I’m going to fall.'”
To his surprise, Hook found it to be somewhat pleasant. It didn’t feel like falling, he said. His perception was just off. Coding is just like that.
“Writing software is hard, but it’s not insurmountable,” he said. “Computer science is not really about computers. It’s the science of problem solving. It just so happens you’re using a computer to solve that problem.”
Hook’s ideal student is a natural problem solver with the drive and passion for learning. He said companies are interested in people who are good critical thinkers and problem solvers, but they need the skillset. That’s where Zip Code Wilmington comes in.
“If you already are that type of person naturally, this is a supplement,” he said. And while prior knowledge and a full portfolio are definitely favorable, that’s not all Hook is looking for in his students. “I would prefer somebody who’s eager and passionate about this who may not have the same pedigree as [other applicants].”
Maybe even someone who wants to quit building out networks in ceilings and pick up writing software.
Zip Code Wilmington has received 58 applicants in the past three weeks. Hook said he will “happily” be taking applications up until July 31.