How To Teach Yourself To Code and Program

So you've decided you want to be a developer. You want to understand code and be a master of computers. You want to tell them what to do instead of struggling to figure out what they may or may not be doing. But you don't know where to begin.

I'll help you out.

Pick a Language...any language

First, pick a language. Any language, ideally one that interests you. But if you don't know which language would interest you, just pick anyone.

  • Python
  • Ruby
  • Java
  • C#
  • PHP
  • C
  • C++
  • Etc. etc. etc.

PHP, Python and Ruby are languages typically used to power dynamic web sites. Java and C# are powerful languages that are used to power web sites that are heavy on traffic and are often used in game development and in many other applications. C is the mother of all languages and is the source for a lot of linux packages.

There are A LOT of languages. Pick one and learn it's syntax. A lot of what you learn in your language of choice is transferrable (you won't have to learn your second or third language "from scratch").

Learn How To Write And Execute Code In That Language

The best way to learn syntax is by writing programs yourself. This means defining a problem you want to solve and writing a program that solves it. However, everyone has to start from scratch, and if you don't know ANY syntax, you have to start somewhere. Learn the basic core concepts of the language of your choice:

  • How to write code by following syntax rules
  • How to run the written code

Different languages have different syntax rules (how to write code properly so that the computer can understand it), different data types (eg. number data, letter data and word data), and different tools to help you create or manipulate that data. There are lots of free books and resources online that will teach you. In fact, here's a whole list of them. Awesome!

There are also lots of great Youtube Channels that have full courses on how to program. I love thenewboston. This was the channel that helped me get my feet wet with mobile application development when I began learning how to program. You can also search YouTube for "[language name here] tutorial" and look for programming tutorials. Before you know it, you'll be writing all kinds of programs!

Different languages are executed differently. PHP is interpretted, while C is compiled and then the resulting binary can be executed. Java uses the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and C# uses the Common Language Runtime (CLR) to ensure compiled code can run on almost any machine. It's okay if you don't know what any of this means for now. But learn how the language you are choosing is executed- how the computer knows to run the code.

Start Writing Programs

Once you have a basic grasp of the syntax as well as how the language is executed, start writing programs. Here is a key lesson that may not be obvious.

It is okay to research when you write your programs.

It is okay to google. Developers google a LOT. Googling saves time. Googling cuts cost, effort and increases efficiency. And there are lots of things you will not know on your own without googling.

You will almost never write non-trivial programs off the top of your head without consulting external resources.

There are many situations in software development where you will not be able to derive a solution on your own. You will need to use an external resource to solve a problem. For example, you would not be able to intuitively deduce how to make an app work on Android, even if you perfectly knew the syntax of the language Android apps use (Java).

That previous link is to a page of the Android developer documentation. The documentation contains a complete listing of methods and functionality you can use when you write apps for Android. This functionality is collectively known as an Application Programming Interface (API).

There is no way you can know what the API allows, what functions or methods you can use, without doing research. This is a common theme in programming. You need to research. Get good at researching. Get good at understanding your research. And based on what you learn, you can come up with a solution for the problem you are trying to solve.

While we're at it, here is another key lesson.

Documentation is a developer's best friend.

Developers are constantly writing code and consulting external resources, especially API documentation.

If you check out the Android API, you'll see it's HUGE. How is a developer supposed to learn all of that?

Languages and APIs typically have A LOT of tools and functionality. You will not be able to learn them all without devoting a ton of time, and this will be a wasted effort. APIs frequently change. Functions and methods get deprecated, new ones get introduced, bugs are found and fixed, exploits are discovered and patched, software rots. And thus, APIs are constantly changing, evolving and even growing. This is the nature of the beast.

Here's how to make sure you don't waste your time.

The trick to efficient programming is to learn what you need when you need it.

You don't have to know every single function or method a language library offers. Just focus on learning and understanding what you need in order to solve your problem. As you write more programs and solve more problems, you'll begin to see what is commonly used, what is not, and how to learn to do what you need to do should you ever be confronted with a new problem you've never solved before.


So to conclude, a quick recap. In order to start learning how to develop, you must:

  1. Pick a language
  2. Learn how to write and execute code in that language
  3. Start writing programs!

And it's okay to use external resources! In fact, you should get good at researching and understanding what you find.

That's it for now!

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