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How to Become a Programmer

Tech Talker explains the basics of how to get started coding. (Hint: It’s not that hard!)

By
Eric Escobar,
May 31, 2012
Episode #031

How to Become a Programmer

When I say “programming,” many people probably imagine that famous scene from The Matrix where  lines of code with indiscernible symbols seem to just appear and disappear out of nowhere. Let’s face it, what high tech movie doesn’t have a scruffy 20-something typing in lines of code to hack into a main frame or disable the power grid in seconds? Let me be the first to tell you programming is not magic and it’s not some innate super power. It’s a skill like any other, one that takes time and practice to master. What’s more, it’s also really fun and requires a lot of imagination.

You’re probably thinking “Fun? Imagination? Those are the last things I would think of when it comes to programming!”

Well, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Personally, programming to me is like a puzzle. Except that unlike most puzzles, when you finish this one, you get a product that can make your life easier, a product you can share with others, a product you can even make money from! Just ask that young, little-known programmer named Mark Zuckerberg.

That’s why today, I’m going to introduce you to the world of coding and give you a few resources that will get you started.

Programming Myths

But first, let’s dispel some misconceptions about programming.

Myth #1 - You have to be a computer expert to write code. This is a huge roadblock for many people. They think that just because they aren’t computer experts, they don’t have the skills necessary to start and couldn’t possibly learn to code anything on their own. Not true!

Myth #2 – You need an expensive computer or expensive software to write code. Again, absolutely false!

Anyone can program with a little effort!

Programming Basics

So where do we begin? I recommend starting off with web programming languages such as HTML and Javascript. The reason I recommend these is because everything can be done with a simple text file and an internet browser. There is no software needed (except for your web browser) and it’s very easy to start.

So your next question is where can you start learning? Well the internet is full of resources but the best option that I’ve found is Code Academy. Check out their website for tons of free (yes, FREE!) lessons. It’s a great place to start as it will build your confidence and show you how powerful your newfound programming skills can be!

Once you learn one language of programming, it becomes much easier to learn the different variations and types of languages. These languages can be used to create computer applications, apps, and even robotics.

When you’re starting out, it’s really important to tackle small projects and not bite off more than you can chew. I did this many times when I started programming and just got overwhelmed. When you start out saying “I’m going to create the next Angry Birds,” it is much more likely that you’ll get overwhelmed and give up, than that you’ll succeed and make billions. So instead of trying to make the next great app, start small and create your own email newsletter. Then once you’ve got that down, gradually scale up.

It’s also important to put in a little bit of work every day if possible. When I work on a project, I’ll generally devote at least 10-15 minutes a day on it just to stay current and not get rusty. This helps to keep your skills sharp and your mind on the process. Check out Get-It-Done Guy’s podcast for more tips on getting organized.

Want to Build Your Own Robot?

Using Code Academy will get you started with the basics of web programming, but what if you want to build a robot that can interact in the real world? That’s not science fiction, or a pipe dream. It can be done right now! Arduino is as open source robotics platform that is fairly cheap (around $50 to start). It’s also easy to use and has limitless possibilities. Just check out their website and some of the projects that people have done.

Even better, Arduino has a huge community of users that range from programming experts to novice hobbyists who just love to tinker. They are an amazing resource for people just getting their feet wet in robotics.

The easiest way to learn programming is to have a program or problem that you would like to solve. This makes learning and working towards that goal much more interesting and applicable. And who knows, if you write a program that is useful for you, maybe other people would be willing to buy it for the same reason you designed it. And then, you never know…

Here are 3 Quick and Dirty Tips to get you started on your path to being an expert programmer:

  1. Start with the basics and build up at your own pace.

  2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

  3. Work on it a little every day to keep your skills sharp.

I’ve just barely scratched the surface of programming in this episode, so if you want to know more about this subject, feel free to send me an email at techtalker@quickanddirtytips.com. Or head on over to the Tech Talker Facebook page and post your questions there.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Girl with Computer image courtesy of Shutterstock

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