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How To Become A Computer Programmer

Your First Real Lesson

devdads City


July 15, 2022

How To Become A Computer Programmer

Can Anyone Learn How To Code?

I’ve been asked on numerous occasions what programming is, how it works and if it’s really that hard to become a computer programmer? I usually get the question:

Can I Become A Computer Programmer?

Well, yes. Yes you can. Yes, even you. Today, you will get your first real lesson in becoming a real computer programmer.

Programming Is Hard But You Can Do It Too

It’s hard to argue that our world is deeply affected by technology and in particular computing technology. For better or worse, technology is here to stay and technological progress is something we have to keep up with if we are to make sense of the world around us. The reality is that using technology is far easier than understanding it and even more — making it. As you’re reading this you’re using a computing device right now. But how does that computer work? What makes it work the way it does? And how would you get it to work the way you want it to?

These are questions that you may have asked yourself at some point but somehow, someway, you’ve given up hope that you will ever “get”computers. You can use them, click them, scroll them, navigate them, but making programs for them — well, that’s not for you — right? And then there were those times when you were curious about computer programming and you might even have taken a course or two on learning Java. Or something. But still, why is programming so hard? Right?

Here’s why:

Computer Programming Is More Than Just Science.

And that means that if you are human — I’m assuming you are, if not, I’d really love to hear about it — then you too can program computers. So the obvious follow up question is, if everyone can code, why is coding such an obscure practice that only a small enlightened subset of humanity can accomplish?

Well I believe the reason for that is that coding is wrongly taught as being science-only. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing against the fact that computer programming is part science. What I am saying though is that it is not only science. Even more, I’m arguing that it is more philosophy and art than it is science. What does that really mean in practice?

That means that if I were to teach you about classes, objects, variables, recursion, methods, if-statements, loops, and a whole lot of other technical aspects of what makes a computer program work, that would be largely inefficient. Perhaps, it would be more than inefficient. It could become a stumbling block in the process of learning how to code and it might even scare you off, ultimately giving you the wrong perception about what coding really is.

I’m saying all this because it happened to me. Let me share a personal story with you.

The Flaw Of Teaching Coding-As-A-Pure-Science

The year was 1995 and I was in grade 10. I was pretty good at math, I was a logical kid, with a love for reasoning and I enjoyed playing chess and solving the Rubik’s cube. At the same time, I spent many hours drawing and writing poetry. My favourite thing of all was philosophy. I enjoyed philosophy to a degree that I can hardly put into words. Needless to say, I was almost sure I was either going to pursue arts, either as a graphic artist or as a philosophy major. So how did I ever end up with a computer science major? Well, I had to take this computer science class in grade 10, just about the time when my head was spinning from all the philosophy books I was devouring. I could care less about how computers worked.

Let me be as clear as possible. I hated that course. Deep. Passionate. Hate. Urgh.

I couldn’t wait for the course to finish. Nothing made sense to me. I remember the teacher talk about arrays once. Of course I had no idea what arrays were. To make things worse, the teacher asked the class once how many dimensions could an array have. Well, what kind of question is that, I thought. Everyone knows our world is 3-dimensional. Ok 4-dimensional if you wanna get funky and include time as a 4th dimension. But when someone answered n dimensions, I was thrown in a world of intellectual hurt.

Huh? What does n dimensions even mean?

Long story short, I almost failed that course. I barely finished with a passing grade and I told myself that computer programming is absolutely not for me. I would definitely pursue some sort of arts major and that would be it.

Something Beautiful Happens When You Tap Into Coding-Beyond-Science

A few months later, something bugged me though. As a philosophy enthusiast, I spent a few months analysing my utter failure in that computer programming class. I kept thinking of some of the guys in the class who had so much fun programming and I couldn’t understand how someone can actually have fun with variables, arrays and even worse, n-dimensional arrays. I remember some guy in class who was so way ahead of everyone else that he would actually code small computer games in between classes. Once in a while he would give the rest of us mere mortals a sneak preview of what he was currently working on. I once saw him demonstrating a shooting game where you had a cowboy character and you had to shoot some stuff up and you would even get points and stuff. That really intrigued me.

I just couldn’t make the connection between the theory and practice.

And that’s the secret of real computer programming:

You Have To Make The Connection Between Theory And Practice.

Here’s how I did that. A few months later, I put myself out of my misery and right around the winter holiday, I went and found that smart guy from my computer class and I asked him to give me a copy of the programming language we were supposed to learn in class.

That language was Turing. I took the floppy disk home and plugged it into my very old 386 PC (those were the days) and loaded Turing up. Now, this was before Java was cool and before the Internet was widely available. That means, I just went and tried different things to see what would happen. Right about that time I had a passion for Tetris so I set for myself this insane goal of writing a Tetris-like computer game and I told myself I won’t give up until I did it.

Guess what. I did it. It took me a few long weeks of trial and error but I eventually did it. And it looked kinda like this:

It was around Christmas time. I remember it still. I ran over to my parents and told them I wrote my first computer game. Me, the heads-up-in-the-cloud-artist-philosopher teenager. I suddenly had become a programmer — and no one forced me into it. I even enjoyed it.

I was ecstatic. I felt alive. I felt on top of the world. You know that feeling?

A few months before, I had almost flunked the class that was teaching us basic stuff, and now I had written an entire game, including levels and a scoring system, complete with graphics (all-be-it very primitive graphics) and all.

But how did that happen? What happened? How did I become a programmer all of a sudden, when just a few months ago I was convinced programming was definitely not for me?

The Real Secret: Approach Programming With A Philosopher-Artist-Scientist Mindset

The lesson to be learned in all of this is that computer programming is also about philosophy and art, not just about science. That mindset makes a world of difference. Coding is part science in the sense that learning about variables and arrays and all that technical stuff was necessary in order to code my first ever functional game. Absolutely necessary. But it’s not all that was required for me to code that game. They tried teaching me that way a few months before. It didn’t work.

What they didn’t try teaching me was the other part — the important one.

The creative component that makes computer programming so appealing to me and many others. If only they would’ve told me that it is an art. An art that would allow me to create amazing things. An art that would allow me toexpress my imagination. Then that would’ve been incredibly appealing to me. I would’ve learned the science behind it — gladly — in order to practice the art. In order to create.

And so the lesson for you today is precisely this. Don’t approach the science part of computer programming first, or you might never get beyond it and you’ll miss all the real fun. Before getting into the science of computer programming, you have to approach it with the mindset that it is an art that allows you to express your creativity. Much like painting, writing or sculpting. Much like music. No two computer programmers are alike, just like no two musicians are alike. You have to approach computer programming — before you do anything else — with the mindset that it is a way for you to become an artist. That it is a creative craft and that the work of your hands and mind will rightly be called your works of art.

Coding Is more than Science. It is Philosophy, Art and Science. Go Build Something Beautiful and Meaningful.

I’d love to know what your programming learning experience has been so far and where you’re headed next.


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