Learning to Make Things

I was going to entitle this post “Learning to Code”, but then I read Jake Levine’s blog post, Don’t Learn How to Code, Learn How to Make Things. So, despite the fact that I fit the stereotypical “[JD] interested in technology”, I am going to try to remember that “[p]rogramming is a means to an end, not an end in itself.” So, instead of learning to code, I am learning to make things.

A recent article, Programming Bootcamp Turns Lawyer Into Hacker, describes one M&A lawyer’s transformation from attorney to programmer: Felix Tsai was as far from a hacker as you could get. He was a lawyer. It then goes on to detail Mr. Tsai’s dissatisfaction with the lawyer life and the joys of being a computer programmer:

I didn’t mind being a lawyer, but I don’t think I could say I woke up every day saying that I was happy doing the work,” Felix Tsai says. “Every day when I wake up I’m really happy coding.

I am neither a lawyer nor a programmer, so I am not in any position to criticize Mr. Tsai’s career change (here comes the but), but why not do both? In the words of Marc Andreessen, “[s]oftware is eating the world.” The world includes law. Whether we are talking about data-driven contracts, “mapping the legal genome,” or providing greater consumer access to legal services through technology, the landscape of law is changing, and so are clients’ needs. I think Margaret Hagan’s drawing, “What a Lawyer Should Know” sums up this changing landscape quite nicely.

But simply reading and writing about these things (as I have been) is not enough, in my opinion, to truly understand them. Therefore, I am attempting (in my free time, which law school offers very little of) to learn how to “make things” (and yes, I am using, in part, Codeacademy). I have three goals for this endeavor:

  • Internalize the creation and development of websites and applications;
  • Further my understanding of how existing and emerging information technologies work to improve legal practice; and
  • Better understand the needs of potential clients working within this space.

These aspirations are, of course, long term. However, I think learning little by little, trying to “make things” along the way, and sticking to a plan will make this learning process both effective and enjoyable. So far, I have covered the absolute basics of HTML and CSS, but I look forward to learning more.

If anyone has any tips or good sites to learn, please let me know!


One thought on “Learning to Make Things

  1. Alison Monahan (@GirlsGuidetoLS)

    Learning even the most basic stuff about HTML and how to use tools like WordPress can pay off massively, but I’m not sure you actually need to move all that far beyond that. I spent several years working as a programmer before law school (self-taught, mostly PHP) and I almost never do any real coding now. (Very rarely I have to edit a line of code in a plugin to do something nit-picky, but in most cases I could live without doing it.)

    But just understanding how WordPress works, and that there are plugins to do almost anything you’d ever want to do, and understanding the basics of FTP and file structures, etc. helps in several ways. One, you’ll understand what’s easily possible, and you’ll know when you need to hire someone. Two, you’ll be able to talk to that person, so they can’t rip you off nearly as badly. And, three, you’ll have some familiarity with the language of technology, which lets you communicate with clients who happen to be engineers, or work with them. Even more than “reading code” the “talking to coders” skill set is valuable, and rare among lawyers.


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