CommunityArt, Life, & Beauty Through Code: An Interview with a Treehouse Student

Faye Bridge
writes on May 1, 2017

As a child with a visual disability, Ellis discovered a love for the arts and a passion for problem-solving and understanding how things work, but it wasn’t until college that his passions introduced him to computer programming and the beauty of code.

As a college student, Ellis was running a creative firm when he began learning to code in his free time. He was already a graphic designer and technologist, which created the ideal environment to start learning to code and use technology to solve problems. Ellis dedicated hard work and long hours to learning, and as a result, both Ellis’s perspective and career have grown significantly thanks to code.

Today, all of Ellis’s dedication has paid off. He doesn’t just have a career in coding, he’s now a Computer Scientist, a Designer, and an Engineer. Ellis and his wife Gloria – who has also learned to code – are also launching a technology company.

It’s been 6 years since Ellis started learning with Treehouse, during which he’s built a valuable relationship with the Treehouse community and has committed to being a lifelong learner with Treehouse as his guide and learning companion.

We asked Ellis to share his inspiring story and career evolution with the community.

What first encouraged you to learn to code?

I was born during the birth of the HTTP Protocol (the World Wide Web). I used to take things around my home apart and put them back together. But because of my visual disability, I couldn’t enjoy the activities most normal kids could. I liked and was good at sports but I could only play in certain environments, which prevented me from participating in team sports.

Even back then, I always wanted to solve problems and I knew that technology would give me the ability to solve many of them. But I hadn’t yet come to the realization that I wanted to learn to program web-based and native software applications and sites. I would not reach that realization until my mid-twenties.

My love for the traditional arts – music, dance, art, literature, design – is actually what paved the way for me to fall in love with programming and later begin my journey learning to code. So in essence, it was my disability that opened the door for me to begin learning about technology, the arts and ultimately, learning to code.

My love for the arts is what paved the way for me to fall in love with programming and later begin my journey learning to code.

What work were you doing when you first joined Treehouse and how did you integrate learning into your everyday life?

At the time, I was a college student running my own creative firm and I was so dedicated to learning to code, I had already begun to learn on my own through books and tutorials that I found online. I was a skilled graphics designer and technologist, but I was beginning to take steps towards learning to code. And since I was in college and running my creative firm, I had unwittingly created the perfect environment to learn to code and solve problems using technology.

I found Treehouse at the end of 2011 after I had closed my creative firm and was attending a prestigious media arts school. However, I’d previously had a bad experience with Codeacademy so my involvement with Treehouse was hesitant and limited at the start. Then one day everything just clicked and Treehouse has been my faithful learning companion ever since.

I’ve learned that you are never finished learning how to code. You travel in and out of seasons of learning to reach new peaks and valleys in your coding journey.

You’ve been learning with Treehouse for a long time. How has your career evolved since learning to code?

Since I began learning to code, my career and my perspective have really grown and matured. I’ve learned that coding is an art form and you have to develop a relationship with every language you learn. I’ve also learned that you are never finished learning to code. You travel in and out of seasons of learning to reach new peaks and valleys in your coding journey.

As a result, My wife and I are now launching a technology company where we are beginning to develop new technologies that will solve critical problems for businesses and consumers. The future is bright and the opportunities are even brighter. As my experience with coding has grown, so have my relationships with the different languages and tools that I use, which also makes me a better leader within my company. As an added bonus, I am now able to learn more advanced programming languages so I can make my visions a reality. Because of Treehouse I no longer have JUST a career in coding, I am becoming a Computer Scientist, a Designer, and an Engineer.

Because of Treehouse I no longer have JUST a career in coding, I am becoming a Computer Scientist, a Designer, and an Engineer.

What have you found the greatest challenge while learning to code?

There have been several challenges on this journey and not all of them have been bad. My greatest challenge has been to not remain within a box or the confines of a specific programming language or paradigm. The greatest technologies of our time were born because of their parents – the inventors, engineers, and programmers that created them – who refused to remain confined to one paradigm, programming style, or programming language.

The additional challenge I’ve faced is how to choose what problem I want to solve first, which is very empowering. I really have not found a downside in my learning journey, but that is also because I have come to enjoy and appreciate beginning small. When you appreciate small and humble beginnings and learn to thrive in them, many challenges become enjoyable and present new opportunities. The key to overcoming challenges is maintaining the proper perspective. With every challenge, I have become a better person and learned more about myself. I never knew that learning to code could have therapeutic and holistic benefits until I began learning to code with Treehouse.

Which do you think is the most valuable programming language to learn right now and why?

In my opinion, there really isn’t just one language that is perfect to learn right now. To be honest, I believe that HTML, CSS, Sass, Ruby, Rails, MongoDB, SQL, and Swift are some of the languages taught by Treehouse that I think are valuable to learn. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. That being said, a large governing factor behind learning how to code is figuring out what interests you the most and where you want to end up.

I do feel that starting with the foundations of the web – HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and SQL – give you a strong enough foundation to make understanding other programming languages easier. Finally, learning design principles is also important during the beginning stages of learning to code. Learning core design principles makes you a better programmer better as you understand the entire picture and can write cleaner, more concise code.

What has the value of a Treehouse education meant to you?

Treehouse has been a source of hope, inspiration, and encouragement for me to pursue my dreams. It has also been a continuous compass and a platform where I can stay up-to-date on what technology is doing and where it is going. The level of consistency, innovation, simplicity, and just pure fun that I have experienced at Treehouse is why I will continue to get my technology education through them and recommend them to others around the world. Treehouse will also be the training platform at my company. We are planning to integrate Treehouse has the official learning tool for our teams, within the next year.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with students who are just starting out?

Enjoy every moment of your journey and don’t place so many limits on yourself that you cannot see when new opportunities come your way. Appreciate the small beginnings and celebrate the small successes and accomplishments that you achieve while on your journey learning to code. Don’t think that you can’t learn to code. Anyone can learn, regardless of your age, race, intellect level, or background. If you are starting over in life and decided to take a chance with coding, I applaud you and welcome you to the beginning of an amazing journey that will be very rewarding to you in more ways than you know. You are on your way to doing great things.

What’s up next on your learning path?

Currently, I am still – and will continue to remain – a student at Treehouse. I am thinking about upgrading to a Techdegree. Simultaneously, I have begun learning some of the more powerful languages on my own, such as C, (Yes that’s right… C!!) It’s a beautiful and insanely powerful language! I am also learning Erlang, IO, Prolog, and Haskell.

My goal is to begin writing my own general purpose programming language as well as a supporting suite of domain-specific languages(DSLs). It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m finally at a point where I can begin taking the next steps to make that happen. Throughout the journey to get to this point, Treehouse has been my traveling companion and my guide. Thank you Treehouse for helping me accomplish my dreams. I look forward to the next chapter in our journey together and seeing what amazing things you come up with next!

Start learning to code today with your free trial on Treehouse.

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