5 Top Tips for Learning to Code

Computer Science Education Week

It’s Computer Science Education week!

Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) has come a long way since it first appeared on cinema screens, almost 40 years ago.

It was sci-fi films like Looker (1981), the original Tron (1982) and Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1984) that first demonstrated the capabilities and potential for GCI to transform filmmaking and on-screen storytelling.

Fast forward to 2018 and computing is now the backbone of Hollywood. Everything from simple CG smoke effects through to catastrophic explosions and black holes all rely on computers – and lines of code.

Alex Gouvatsos is part of DNEG’s research and development team. Through his experience and work at DNEG, he appreciates just how important computer science and coding are to the future of the movie industry.

His interest in coding grew out of a passion for video games and experiments with the code used in the early Windows chat tool mIRC. This app gave anyone the ability to see and modify the code to alter how the app behaved. From this modest start, Alex went on to complete a degree in Artificial Intelligence and then a doctorate in 3D storyboarding, which today is more commonly known as virtual production.

Most recently, however, Alex has used his expertise to inspire more women to learn coding, through voluntary work with the social enterprise group Code First: Girls. This multi-award winning initiative is designed to support women to develop technical IT skills, create a community of like-minded women and work with businesses to find roles where they can apply their new skills.

DNEG’s Alex Gouvatsos’ Top 5 Tips For learning code

As part of Computer Science Education week, we asked Alex (pictured right) to share his top five tips for anyone wanting to learn how to code. Here’s his advice:

 1. Decide which language you want to learn

If you’re completely new to coding you may want to start with HMTL, CSS, JavaScript or Python languages. These are all versatile coding languages and provide a bridge to learn other computing languages. Python, in particular, is used across a range of disciplines, from business analytics through to VFX. It’s also a more interactive and visual way of learning because you can immediately run the code to see the outcome.

2. Identify your learning preference

Decide how you want to learn: do you need a teacher, structured lessons or can you self-learn from videos? Fortunately there are lots of free online resources for anyone wanting to learn a code. See the links below to get you started.

3. Work on a project that you find interesting

Working on a project gives you a chance to apply what you’ve learnt and the motivation to keep learning.  It was Alex’s desire to improve the functions of the mIRC app, something he used everyday, that led him to learn scripting. For anyone wanting to learn HMTL or CSS, Alex suggests creating and developing a personal website as a great way to start.

4. Don’t be shy about your work – Practice, practice, practice

Just like any new language, you need to practice and keep ‘speaking’ it. If you’re shy and don’t use your new skills you’re just not going to improve. This is where working on projects can really help.

5. Contribute to Open Source projects

Once you’re feeling confident about your coding, you may want to contribute to an Open Source project, or find an Open Source project that interests you and learn by reading and debugging other’s code. Alex published a lot of his own code as Open Source, but advises that this may not be right for everyone.

Links to help get your learning:

Computer Science Education Week – Discover more about this global initiative and see events where you are.

 Code Academy  – Free online coding lessons covering a range of programming languages.  Available anytime. Free registration required

Coursera  – Structured and more formal online lectures covering a wide range of computer science topics. Enrolment required.

GitHub Social Coding  – When you’re feeling confident, join the OpenSource software community and contribute to a a project of interest.

 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Software Foundation – Read this article to learn more about the recent initiative from the Academy to shape use of OpenSource software in the movie industry.

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