Tips on getting started with programming

A nice fellow recently asked me for advice on how to get started as a programmer.

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer and there’s hardly “one good answer”, but I think that there are a few guideposts that can help anyone in their journey.

Purpose

Seems obvious but you’d be surprised at how many people study programming to “know programming” without any clear direction as to what they’re going to do with it.

It’s like spending all your days learning every possible chord for a guitar without ever playing a single song. It’s no fun and you feel like you’re going nowhere.

Decide what it is you want to build. Have a clear image in your mind of what it is you want to make and work backward from there.

For my first project I wanted to create a phone book application. I had no idea on how to do that, but I knew there was a need for it in the place I was working. That gave me a sense of direction and a place to get to.

I went to the store and bought a book that taught me how to build database applications. I read just enough to build the first screen or two. Then I got stuck. I went back to the book and continued reading through it. 30 pages later I had my answer. I used what I learned to build a couple more screens. Then I continued alternating in this fashion. By the time I finished the book I was done with my 3rd project.

Which leads to me the next point:

Commitment

There’s a really interesting paradox of choice today. There are simply too many options on how to get started as a programmer. There’s YouTube videos, online courses, tutorials, projects, bootcamps, books, meetups, colleges and on and on ad nauseam. This can get overwhelming quickly and scare away new programmers.

My suggestion? Pick something that works for you and stick with it to the bitter end.

You can’t attain anything beyond superficial skills by constantly jumping around. Resist the temptation and stick with whatever course of action you picked. When you’re done, you can pick something else.

And finally,

Write a ton of code

Reading books and watching videos alone is not going to make you an expert programmer. To really grok programming you need to write a lot of code. Write code and don’t worry about getting it perfect. A year from now you’re going to look back at that code and feel sick to your stomach. That’s okay, because a year after that, you’re gonna feel the same about the code you wrote the year before. It means you’re getting better.

Happy coding.

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