Learning to Code – You Really Want to be a Programmer?

There is a lot that you can do wrong. A lot that I did wrong and that took its time. But after all I think I made it. So here are some simple rules that you should follow if you’re trying to become someone who touches keyboards a lot:

Have a goal. If you just want to be a programmer but don’t know anything that you’d like to program, you’ll have problems keeping yourself motivated. Going into a certain direction of technology is a good idea too, so you know what you can concentrate on.

Just do it. (In fact, this statement is the best you can do in any situation of life.) Every time that you’ll write code, you’ll learn something new that will get you closer to your target.

Never miss an opportunity to code. If you have a project where you’re working / studying, try to take responsibility for some functional piece of software. Documentation or user-testing won’t get you further.

Use an IDE. I began with writing java code in a text editor, compiled it by hand and did so for some time, because I thought “Eclipse looks … complex”. It was an error that cost me soo much time. Embrace all help that you can get, if its an IDE, a build tool or whatever tools you’re friends and colleagues use. They all save time, and thats the stuff life is made of.

Don’t forget to use a console too. There are a lot of graphical things out there that want to make you move the mouse more and the keyboard, but often there are no better solutions than just using the command line. Don’t be afraid of it, you’ll have to learn all the commands sooner or later anyways.

Make a list of skills & experiences that you’d like to have. Making your first objects, Unit-testing, working with threads, building a gui, parsing some HTML or XML, getting data into a database or out of it, using the twitter API, building a website, writing a firefox-plugin; HTTP, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Flash, (a lot more Web-Technologies), Frameworks of all kinds … write down what you think would be useful whenever you meet something new you want to learn … and then make it some kind of long-term-To-Do-List.

Don’t think too much about inheritance, interfaces, reflection, … you can first live without that or just use it by-the-book and will understand what they do soon.

There’s no magic involved. Just code. Like in JUnit, I somehow thought it would verify that my code has no errors if I just configure it correctly – plain wrong, no magic inside! You have to write code that checks everything in your other code. I also thought Struts2 would make websites by magic – again, just code. There’s nothing visible that you don’t code, its just makes just need very few code to get those websites running.

Framework is a signal word. Its means “Software that makes something easier for you”, but you should be aware that you’ll need to invest some time to learn how to use it. Framework should give you a positive feeling, when you hear it, like “I’m here to help you!”. Again, no magic involved. Usually ;-)

Ask. Use online forums, ask friends or people you work with. Google can’t always help (but don’t ask question that Google can answer easily). There is so much that could be known about technology, that noone knows everything (especially when you don’t have your master in computer sciences and 10 years of field-experience). Just accept that and also accept if others don’t have all your knowledge.

Teach. If someone asks you and you know a solution, then help him. Assume he didn’t understand something basic that you know and be sure that you teach it so he can solve the same task again later on. Never just give someone the code, they won’t gain anything from that.

Find someone to learn with. Someone who is the same stupid guy like you and also doesn’t know how to do that complicated stuff. Where one brain gets stuck, two often find a solution and both learn. Working together on a project is a great way to learn. Just make sure the other person keeps up with you, or vice versa.

Never stop learning. Technology evolves with lightspeed, new languages appear, new technology is invented. If you’re involved with computers, you’ll probably be one of the most-learning-and-training persons of the world. Never assume you’re ready to “just do work”. Where would be the fun then?

Get tech feeds. Or follow twitter-users who have the smae interests that you have. From time to time, there will be interesting articles that will teach you good new stuff.

Don’t be afraid to buy books or magazines. Its not always cheap , but if it saves you time learning you should just spend that little money. You’ll get that money back with your skills later.

Get your head around this object-orientation-thingy. Don’t use GOTO. Don’t put the whole code in the main-method. Classes are just there to produce objects and objects are nothing more than some fields and methods in one instance. If you write a main-method, produce an object that does that work from there. Objects can be tested nicely and are more useful.

Its not just coding. Software design, team management, data structures, design patterns, team-collaboration, algorithms, time management are all with you at that party. And much more. And don’t you ever forget your social skills. They might be the most important after all. Even programmers need friends ;-)

Be careful with your coffeine comsumption. A programmer is a person who converts coffee to code, after all. If you still want to code, connect with me on Twitter. What do you think I missed? Do you have more hints for the newbies? What was not ever told YOU, that you should have known from the start? Just add a comment …

, Posted Thursday, June 4th, 2009 under Philosophisches.


  1. I pretty much agree with most points, however I’d like to comment on using IDEs: I think when you start coding with Java, it’s actually better to use a texteditor and compile by yourself than using an IDE. Because IDE take so much tedious work, you won’t know what’s actually happening, if you’ve never compiled or started e.g. a jar file by yourself. I think it’s always better to know what’s happening in the background, so when a problem in the IDE occurs, you’re not totally screwed.

    Anyway, once you’re used to the process, I totally agree. IDEs are waaay better than plain text editors and will reduce time and effort by a league, once you understood how to work with them.

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