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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Computers are continuing to shape our society
With the exponential advancement in computer technologies revolutionising our community, more and more people are taking up programming, whether for a professional career or just an enjoyable hobby. You might want to do the same, but where to start?
If you’re looking to get into programming, this blog lists some of the most common and user friendly programming languages in their respective fields out there, giving you the flexibility and ease of access needed to pick up programming skills quickly and apply them to your end goal.
Python is one of the most well known platforms for writing coding paradigms, supporting programs ranging from basic addition to fully fledged applications.
Some renowned apps like Dropbox and BitTorrent are made with Python, as well as notorious computer games like Doki Doki Literature Club! and The Sims 4.
Python is a great coding platform because:
- It has a simple, concise library of keywords that all perform a single instruction.
- It has an advanced IDE that allows for ease of access for newer programmers.
- For more advanced programs, imports can be used to expand Python’s capabilities.
Since the start of lockdown, there has been a surge in online shopping, with over a quarter of the global population shopping online. This means that it is becoming paramount for businesses to have their own website.
Like how Python is the face of coding, HTML is the face of web design, and many famous businesses use it to structure their websites. Even Google and Facebook are built using HTML.
HTML is so popular because:
- The tags used to operate HTML are self explanatory and shape the program, making it easier to traverse.
- The file is compiled – any errors in the program are immediately flagged.
So you have a website – good! But where do you store information about your products, prices and customers? You need a database to hold these details, and this is where SQL comes in.
SQL is used to make databases, and is well suited to the task.
Some of the reasons why are:
- SQL automatically checks its databases to see if they are still valid, and resolve the issue if they aren’t.
- Different permissions can be granted to users, improving security.
- SQL can be integrated with many different programming languages, including HTML and Python.
If you’re looking towards making an application, like a game or media app, particularly one that can run on multiple devices, I’d strongly recommend Java.
Java is one of the most popular platforms for writing both web and mobile apps. A well known example is Minecraft. Interestingly, space technologies like the Maestro Mars Rover were programmed in Java.
Java is such a common choice because:
- Java is much more simplistic than other application generation platforms.
- Java automatically optimises code to run as efficiently as possible and to take up a minimal amount of memory.
- Java uses a virtual machine to run code in. This means that malicious code cannot affect the main computer.
PHP is a programming language commonly used with HTML to develop more advanced websites. If you’re looking to create a professional website, I’d recommend you use PHP.
PHP is such an integral part of web development because:
- PHP loads much more quickly than other programming languages.
- PHP allows data to be sent between webpages, which is a fundamental requirement for all professional websites.
- PHP has built in database protection, which makes databases more secure.
C is one of the oldest programming languages in existence, created in 1972. It has been the base for more recent programming languages like Python and Java.
C is unique in that it is a middle level language, unlike the aforementioned high level languages we have talked about. A middle level language has aspects of both high level language and machine code.
Some of the benefits of this are:
- It can utilise machine code paradigms like kernels and drivers.
- It can run on more devices.
- It is easy to understand as it links to other programming languages.
C# is a more recent programming language built as an advanced version of C. As such it shares many similarities with C, as well as Java.
It is a popular choice for making software, especially computer games. The Unity game engine was built using C#, which is used in many well known games like Pokémon Go and Cuphead.
C# is so suited for the gaming industry because:
- It is easy enough to learn and become attuned to.
- C# is more efficient than other game oriented programming languages.
- C# is object oriented, which gives structure to the program and allows game entities to be created more easily.
The dawn of the digital world
As our world becomes more and more computerised, IT and computer science skills will become more and more sought after. This is a great time to take up these skills and embrace a world of opportunity!
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