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Five Ways To Teach Yourself How To Code

2nd May 2019

When today’s school students begin their careers, 1 in 3 will do jobs that don’t currently exist.

What does this mean for students and parents thinking about education and skills development? How do you choose the right options when you don’t know what careers are going to be open to you?

Technology underpins and disrupts the work of many industries nowadays, and is an ingrained part every day life too. To understand our computers and mobile devices, coding is essential. 

Our Oxford summer school advisers suggest developing some skills in coding is a good place to start. 

Computer code on a screen


Recruitment specialists Monster suggest some of the new jobs of tomorrow: perhaps they will become Human-Technology integration specialists – teaching other people how to select and interact with the right technologies to make their lives easier. Or perhaps, given that genetic information and analysis will become increasingly specialised to individuals, people will have jobs as Personal Medical Interpreters – looking at patients’ individual genetic make up and tailoring care to them.

Drone flying in a field near Oxford

Learning to code could help you work in the emerging drone market

Or perhaps they’ll work in Drone Management – planning and protecting airspace given the enormous rise in public and private drone activity. These jobs might seem miles and miles into the future, but ask anyone who was an adult in 1999 at the turn of the millennium – how easy was it then to imagine working as a social media manager, military drone operator or artificial intelligence ethicist, back when we were using dial-up modems, desktop computers, Nokia phones and worrying about the millennium bug.


So, if you are a teenager today in 2018 thinking about what to study and what career to follow, a big issue is to think about coding skills. So many of the jobs open to you (those that exist already and those that don’t) will rely on a knowledge of coding and computer science. Most schools don’t teach coding within the curriculum, leaving students to find their own routes into this field.

Here our advisers suggest 5 things students can do now to start learning coding and decide whether this is the course for you:


Our Coding tutor Dan Timms graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Maths before going on to work as a software engineer at HP. We asked him what he’d recommend students read if they’re interested in learning more. He says:

But How Do It Know by J Clark Scott: “It’s starting point is that computers are actually not very clever: they can do a few very basic things (such as adding, and subtracting, moving and remembering data) extremely quickly. It doesn’t assume the reader has any prior knowledge, and explains everything as it goes, giving you lots of analogies so that you can visualise concepts.’’

Code by Charles Penfold: “This book gives you a history of computer science and the development of machines from the binary signalling system.”

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths: “This is a good starting point for students who want to explore coding further. By applying the concept of algorithms to our every day lives, the book helps students to understand some of the fundamentals of how computer science works.”

Tutor teaching coding student at our Oxford summer school

Oxbridge International Summer School tutor Dan Timms teaching a student how to code


Students exploring coding and computer science might decide that computer programming isn’t the career for them – after all, it does require a mathematical brain, and many people find this difficult. However, there are a huge number of jobs in and around tech that students might like to explore.

A great way to keep in touch with trends, changes, technologies and companies is to subscribe to tech podcasts – for example, Exponent (on how tech is affecting society) or Reply All: weekly 20-minute episodes about all areas of the internet. You can see a full list of recommended podcasts here.


There is a huge number of free online courses supporting you with early coding skills on the internet. Check out CodeAcademy, Coursera or FutureLearn for some of the best.

Dan Timms, our summer school coding tutor, advises us that whilst the quality of these free resources is incredibly high, students often find it hard to stick to these courses when approaching these alone. See if you have any friends who might like to do this with you, or whether your school can help you set up a coding club (Code Club is a great UK programme for this.)


If you’re finding it hard to stick at individual study of coding, you might like to consider a summer school or other residential programme. Oxbridge International offers 2-week coding courses held in Oxford, UK every summer. These are aimed at 14-18-year olds and require no previous knowledge of coding. Students study a broad range of topics in coding and computer science, including looking at the ‘Python’ coding language, learning how to use it to develop their own software. 

As well as this, students will study regular expressions and how to maximise their utility when programming with text.  

In addition, students study ‘Multivariate Linear Regression’ and the problems associated with attempting to predict multiple variables. They will look at the statistics behind algorithms used to solve these problems and attempt to find practice methods for solving the problem. 

Summer school students touring an Oxford university college

Students at the Oxbridge International Summer School

As well as these practical coding skills, students will look at current developments in the software industry, such as artificial intelligence and web development, with a focus on how an agile framework and testing can be structured to maximise quality of development. 

98% of former students agreed that their tutor explained things clearly and 100% would recommend the course to a friend. James, an American student who studied coding at Oxbridge International Summer School in 2018 said “This was a great two weeks. There were just two of us in the class which meant the tutor could pay us a lot of attention and I learnt a lot.”

Read more about the coding course at Oxbridge International Summer School here.   


Sure you want to study coding at a higher level? Check out university courses on offer in the UK here and make an application via UCAS. You can still make applications for most UK universities to start in 2019. In the UK, the Times Education Supplement recommends Oxford and Cambridge as in the top 5 in the world for studying computer science (after MIT and Stanford in the USA). However, Oxford and Cambridge Universities’ deadline for 2019 has passed (15th October 2018). If you’re thinking about applying to Oxford or Cambridge for 2020 entry, have a look at their Computer Science degrees (Oxford and Cambridge). You can also study these as joint honours – with Maths or Philosophy.

Get in touch with our sister organisation, Oxbridge Interviews, for advice on these applications.