Considering picking up some programming skills? Great idea!
Programming is a popular and rewarding career path, especially when you get the fundamentals right. Whether you’re considering picking it up as a hobby, or you’re eyeing up a potential job, it pays to understand the basics. Find out a bit more about what programming involves, and whether it might be for you.
Programming Fundamentals for Beginners
Your computer’s operating system, your phone, this website: they have one thing in common. They all run on a set of instructions to perform their complex tasks.
Those instructions are computer code and, when put together, they become a computer program. There isn’t really a difference between the terms “programming” and “coding”; they both refer to the creation of computer programs.
The Basics of Coding: What Types Are There?
All programmers do the same basic thing. They write programs that carry out some kind of desired behavior. You can write code in different programming languages, which are often used for completely different things.
This means there are different ways to use your programming skills. Here are the most common programming career paths to consider:
Software developers—sometimes software engineers—create computer programs to solve problems. Such problems might range from how to collect simple data to how to manage the programs that the computer itself runs.
Software developers also create really useful programs to enable things like machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and so on.
A software developer role is possibly the most general in programming. Most programmers could fit the role of software developer, although many roles are more specialized.
Web development is a field within programming where you develop programs that users access online. Basically, this means you’ll be making websites or web applications.
Within web development, there are two broad subdivisions: frontend and backend development.
Data scientists use programming languages and tools to collect, store, and interpret vast amounts of data.
Some people don’t consider data science to fall within the field of programming. But data science is essential for programming fields like machine learning.
If you’re looking to get into this field, Python is very commonly used in data science so that’s a good language to get started with. Some other languages also frequently used in data science include R, SQL, C, C++, Java, and so on.
A systems programmer writes programs for computers to run rather than applications for end-users. They often create scripts and utilities that may run on your computer without you even knowing about them. They can also write low-level code, that computers rely upon to run, including the operating system itself.
Systems programmers use low-level languages, optimized for performance, like C and C++. They might even write in assembly, a complex language that few programmers will ever master.
There are quite a few tools that pretty much all types of programmers use to simplify their workflow and create the best results.
Text Editors are tools that programmers use for writing code—much like writers use word documents to write articles. Source code is usually plain text, though, not words formatted in bold or italics, with margins and outlines. You can try to write your code in a word processor if you really want. But using the wrong tool for the job can be awkward and frustrating.
The most popular text editor for Windows devices is Notepad/Notepad++ but there are many modern alternatives like Visual Studio Code and Atom.
Broadly speaking, the programs you write can either be interpreted or compiled. An interpreted program needs another program to run it: an interpreter. A compiled program is self-contained and ready to run: such programs are sometimes called executables or binaries.
Compilers are programs that convert source code into a finished program, in machine-readable code. Each compiled language typically has an official compiler, but alternatives are usually available.
Validators and debuggers are programs that help to check the quality of code. They work a bit like a grammar checker that evaluates the grammatical accuracy of a piece of writing.
Programs may sometimes run into thousands of lines of code, and a few errors such as misplaced punctuation can sometimes throw the entire thing off. Validators and debuggers can catch and highlight errors, suggest fixes, and sometimes fix them automatically.
IDE is short for Integrated Development Environment. These are applications that provide a combination of programming tools, including an editor, debugger, and so on. They create a more complete environment, which many programmers prefer over separate applications.
A Few More Basic Coding Concepts to Get You Started
Functions are the heart and soul of programming. In the simplest terms, a function is a chunk of code that performs a specific task. You can use (or “call”) a function over and over. Functions are essential to modular programming, which aims to be as reusable and maintainable as possible.
Variables are an integral part of programming; you might recognize the concept from algebra. A variable is simply a way of holding a value that you can then change, as you require. If you’re writing a game, you might use a variable to store the player’s current score. Variables can have a type such as a number, a character, or true/false (boolean).
A data structure allows you to store related data that’s too complex for a simple variable. You might store somebody’s name and age in separate variables. But if you want to refer to a person as an individual entity with a name and an age, you’ll need a data structure.
A sophisticated program might have thousands of lines of code. By default, a program executes one instruction after the other, in their original order.
Sometimes, you might want the program to run one instruction or another, but not both, depending on some condition. You might also want the program to perform the same task a set number of times. Or to perform a task an unlimited number of times, until a status changes.
All these cases involve control structures, whose job is simply to dictate the flow of execution in a program.
The Basics of Coding and Programming Wrapped Up
One of the best ways to learn web development is by creating practical projects. A simple HTML website is a great place to start.