May 21, 2021

Learning Two Languages at Once: English & JavaScript

Ilias Haddad freelance Developer in Kenitra, Morocco, discusses the role English plays in computer programming. Built In Africa. Tech in Africa.

Three decades later, and "access," the great promise of the World Wide Web is still a long way from reality. 

Although access has increased globally since the turn of the century, language still remains a significant barrier to entry. Today, ten languages make up 75% of the content online, none of which are native African dialects.  

Language doesn't only impact who can use the internet; it greatly impacts who can build on its infrastructure. As a result, many software developers must learn English to begin their programming journey. 

One-third of programming languages were developed in English speaking countries, and all of the top 10 most popular programming languages are written in English. Even the ones developed in non-English speaking countries like PHP (Denmark), Ruby (Japan), and Python (The Netherlands).

Moreover, English is already the world's global trading language, but more recently, it has also slowly become the language for global computing. It's the unspoken requirement to become internationally competitive and gain access to high-paying software development jobs. 

As a result, African techies who don't speak English but wish to contribute to the global marketplace and one day affirm themselves as a "world-class developer" must undergo the process of learning two languages at once, English & whatever programming language they choose.

I spoke with Ilias Haddad, a Freelance Developer based in Kenitra, Morocco, about his journey to software development, the role English plays in computer programming, working as a Shopify developer, and his tips for staying informed/up to date on the industry. 

How did your journey lead you to software development? 

As a child, I was very interested in anything related to technology or electronics. When I was 17 years old, I started a tech blog. I wanted to customize the website, and that’s where my programming journey began.

I still remember opening up the editor to the code for the first time. I didn’t know what was on the screen. I started copying and pasting from Google. That didn’t work most of the time, so I began to learn the basics of HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

I found that I can learn programming on my own from a tech Moroccan Youtuber (Amin Raghib)

After high school, I went to university. Unfortunately, with my high school degree, I didn’t have a choice to study computer science, so I’m currently studying at university for a bachelor’s degree in economics and learned programming on my own. 

I found a French Udemy programming course to learn the basics. In the process of learning programming, I realized that if I wanted to have access to better resources, I would have to learn English.

So my first obstacle to teaching myself how to code was learning English. The Udemy course gave me the basics, so I knew what to search for. After that, I learned some basic English phrases and vocabulary to understand what the instructor was saying. 

The first day was difficult; I didn’t understand much. I could only comprehend some of the technical words, but over time my vocabulary improved.

How do you translate your client’s requirements into code?

When I receive the project details, which is usually a short description of the project, I connect with the client to discuss and ask questions to get more details. 

Then, I do some brainstorming. For example, if the project is an integration of a new feature or some custom development, I would brainstorm possible solutions that would solve the client’s problem.

After that, I set up another call with the client and give a live demo to show my potential solutions. Whatever solution they decide Is what I’ll implement. The final step is a closing discussion to ensure the solution meets the requirements and solve their problem.

What led you to the Shopify developer space? 

I used Shopify as a business owner first before I started working as a Shopify developer. I built and eventually sold a print on demand clothing brand called CodeParel, where I sold t-shirts with programming related designs.

I loved the experience of managing an online store using Shopify. It was the best experience I had with an e-commerce platform. While running my store, I wanted to customize some components, so I had to learn Shopify. 

Moreover, I developed my skills building my own store, and since then, I’ve worked on custom web applications, static websites, custom Shopify applications, and Shopify integrations to add new features.

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What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced?   

The first year of my freelance journey was really hard. Getting clients was not easy. Unfortunately, I had to work at very low rates to gain some experience. But once you get some, you will be able to negotiate and get the high paid projects. 

What are some of the keys to being a successful Shopify developer? 

I still consider myself a junior Shopify developer, but I think the advice I have is not specific to Shopify; instead applies to all developers.

You need to have a personal brand. This means creating and maintaining an online presence is essential. Clients will google your name, so having things like a Medium profile where you’ve written some technical articles, articles related to Shopify, or why you’re passionate about software development will attract clients. Also, have a LinkedIn profile that showcases your work. 

Most of the clients I work with come from an article I wrote on Medium. If you write a technical article on how you can solve a potential client’s problems and showcase your experience and your skills, it’s usually enough for the client to consider hiring you. 

Also, invest in yourself. In this field, if you don’t invest in yourself, you will be outdated. You have to keep updating your knowledge with the new technology, or you will be jobless.

How do you stay up to date with the tech industry?

To stay up to date as a software developer, you have to read technical articles. Personally, I read articles every week from different medium blogs and developer blogs like Joining a local developer community is another way to stay informed. In Morocco, we have Facebook Developer Circle.

Also, build personal projects. Let’s say you want to learn react js. You can start learning the basics of react js from a course, but once you understand, build a personal project using react js. And I don’t mean just following a tutorial. 

A tutorial can help you with parts of the project, but it should be a project where you will need to find how to make the other parts yourself. This will improve your Googling skills, problem-solving skills and ultimately help you be a better developer.

Thoughts on tech in Morocco?

I think we have a lot of great tech talent in Morocco, and remote opportunities have allowed people to work from here for multinational companies, so we’re no longer limited to opportunities just in Morocco. 

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