How To Get Into Programming – A Beginners Guide
The Mind of the Machine
Since the start of the modern era, more and more of our daily lives are intertwined with technology. Technology and the devices derived from it are wondrous – labour machinery can display feats of incredible strength, dexterity and stamina that would require an immense amount of manpower to match. Computers can generate images in a fraction of a second, so finely detailed that would take months to recreate by hand. Calculators can perform a mathematic operation so quickly that not even the most mentally swift mathematician could hope to match its speed. But this is the ‘muscle’ of the system, and muscle needs a mind to direct it. All the aforementioned devices require programming to perform. So, as someone who is looking to get into programming, someone who wants to create the ‘mind’ of a machine, where do you start?
A Preferable Platform
Like how there are many different languages that we can speak, there are many different programming languages that we can code in. Some programming languages are old, some new, some tricky and some more simplistic. Now, if you’re a beginner programmer, it is best to start with a simple programming language, learn to type it fluently, and then move onto something more difficult once you’ve got to grips with it. An ideal programming language for a newcomer would:
- Have a small, straightforward library of keywords.
- Read like a book.
- Contain a plethora of tools to make the programmer’s job easier.
Many beginner programmes start with Python. Python is a text based programming language that contains all of the preceding features – it has a handful of centralised keywords that are all self explanatory, and it has a sequential format, meaning that the code is executed in an orderly fashion. It also has an expansive IDE (Integrated Development Environment) which includes utilities like colour coding different keywords and highlighting errors in the code. All of this makes Python very easy to use and become accustomed to. You can download Python by going to https://www.python.org/downloads
The Law of the Language
So you’ve got your programming platform up and running, Python or otherwise. Similarly to how spoken languages have grammatical rules surrounding them, programming languages have their own structure that needs to be followed for your code to work. Here’s an outline of some of the fundamental principles that you need to adhere to in order to create a program:
Keywords must be case sensitive.
Keywords are the command words that the programming language operates with. Because of how computers process upper and lower case letters, your keywords need to be case sensitive for the computer to recognise them as keywords.
The syntax of each keyword must be followed.
What this means is, that each keyword has its own parameters for how it operates, and needs these parameters to be met to function. For example, the PRINT keyword must come before what it is printing, not after it.
It’s not linked only to Maths. When performing calculations, the computer considers BIDMAS. Remember to use parenthesis when necessary.
When branching commands are used, such as the IF and WHILE keywords, the code to run while these conditions are met must be spaced correctly. For example:
IF Animal == “Cat” :
See how the PRINT is spaced from the IF statement, the program now knows to print “Meow” only if the animal is a cat.
There will undoubtedly be other syntax rules that you will have to follow, and most will be specific to the programming language that you are using, such as how most grammatical rules of a language are specific to that language. The ones outlined are the most universal rules, and will likely be the only ones you will need to follow to make your first program.
Put Programming into Practice
So now you have a platform to program on, and the basic rules you need to follow to make a working program. Now it’s time to try and make such a program! Remember to start small, before leaping into things you’re unfamiliar with, you need to firmly grasp the fundamentals before you start making webpages and computer games. Here are a few programs that you can start with:
A program that prints “Hello World”.
This is widely regarded as the ‘staple first program’ of a programmer. It requires you to implement a single print command that outputs the message.
A program that takes two numbers and outputs the sum of them.
This will require two inputs, and then an output that is equal to the sum of the inputs. Remember that print commands can output the result of a calculation!
A program with a loop that increments by one for each cycle.
This will require a looping command of some sort. You could set a variable equal to 0 at the start of the program and have it increase by one for each loop.
The Prospects of Programming
Hopefully you’ve managed to get those three examples working – good work! But you may be wondering “Why bother with this? What good will it do me, it’s a far cry from making my dream computer game or programming my own android.” And you’re right, it is. And it’ll be a long haul to build up your proficiency with programming to do those kinds of things, but it will certainly be worth it. We are in the midst of a digital age, and digital products are, and will stay, in high demand. In a nutshell, the programming industry is an extremely bountiful one.
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