Almost anyone can learn to program. There are only a few requirements (like having access to a computer), and you don’t have to be a genius. (Well… it helps if you are a genius, I suppose, but you don’t HAVE to be one).
This article addresses some of the motivations you might have for wanting to learn to program computers, looks at some things to consider, and discusses a few different ways to start learning now!
What is it you want to do?
There are a lot of reasons for wanting to learn computer programming, and what you want to do with it can help guide you in choosing your path in learning. Perhaps you are interested in programming as a career. In that case you will want to make sure you are learning things that will make you attractive to those who hire programmers. On the other hand, you might just be looking for a fascinating hobby, and in that case you can let be a bit more casual about what you learn and focus only on things that interest you.
Maybe you need to automate various applications you use at work. For example, perhaps you want to automate a word processor to do mailing labels or a spreadsheet to do customized financial forecasting, or maybe you want to write computer games, or have a cool web site, or… the reasons are endless, just as the things you can do with a computer are.
The languages you learn will be influenced by these things, as well as the approach you will want to take as you begin to learn to do computer programming.
What resources do you have available?
Time, money, people who can help guide you, computers, books, programming clubs, classes, programming forums… these are all resources that will be handy as you are learning to program.
If you have a lot of time and money, a computer, and access to learning opportunities like college classes and developer group meetings, you will probably be able to learn at a rapid pace. If you can only spend an hour or so each day, and you don’t have your own computer, and you can only buy one or two books, you will have to adjust your expectations a bit. However, either way, or somewhere in-between, you will be able to learn to program.
What is the level of your motivation?
This is a very important consideration. This isn’t going to be easy. You are going to need to keep going even when things seem impossible and you can’t find the answers you need. It takes a fair amount of brain power, will power, and the ability to work things out. You will be well served if you can muster a “stick-it-out” kind of attitude.
One of the attractions of computer programming is that there is a lot of problem solving, and you will have to solve a lot of them both while you are learning as well as when you are using your skills to do useful things. It takes a lot of interest and dedication to stick with it long enough to get somewhere – if this still sounds good to you, you will probably do okay.
So, how to get started?
There are a lot of ways to go about getting started. You can get started today, regardless of how you are going to approach this over the long run. Here are a few tips on getting started quickly:
* Learn in baby steps – Start with something very easy, and add to it. There is no advantage to jumping in with both feet unless you have unlimited time and resources.
* The quickest way to start might be to use a language that comes with software you already have. For example, you can do a great deal of programming in Microsoft Word using Visual Basic for Applications. There are numerous commercial software applications that include a way to enhance them using programming or scripting languages.
* Here is another idea for getting started quickly: There are simple languages available with almost every operating system (Windows, Linux, Mac) for automating your repetitive tasks. For example, in Windows you can use VBScript. Again – a simple internet search will get you lots of information.
* Pick a more full featured language that is available free – To get started with the least expense and as quickly as possible, one approach is to download a programming environment for free on the internet. For example, you can download the Ruby language and everything you need to work with it for free. Another example is the Microsoft .NET Express languages (VB.NET or C# are good choices) – again, you can download everything you need for free from Microsoft. A little internet search on either “Ruby Language” or “Microsoft .NET Express” will get you all the info you need.
* Use the internet – You already know this or you wouldn’t be reading this article, but the internet is full of resources to help you learn to program. That makes sense, since the internet has been created and programmed by programmers. A lot of programmers are willing to share their knowledge through free tutorials, forums, tips sites, and articles. You will find links to a lot of good resources just by doing a simple search. One thing is certain, there is no shortage of information.
* Work with what you have, or what you can easily get – To get started quickly, my advice is to do something right away and keep doing something every day. Soon you will be better able to judge what areas are most interesting to you and best fit your needs, as well as where to get the information you need to keep progressing.
* Buy used books – Many of the book sellers on the internet now offer used books through a network of thousands of book re-sellers and private individuals. You can save a lot of money this way.
* Once you get started, write simple programs that help you automate something that is wasting your time. For example, if at the end of every day you make a backup of the files you worked on during the day by copying the files “by hand” to a cd, you could write a program that automatically searches your working folders and copies the files for you – without you having to do anything. The extra time you get from each little helper program you write is time you can use to learn more about programming.
* Find a computer programmers “user group” somewhere near you. Almost all larger cities have such groups that meet on a regular basis – usually monthly. Many of these meetings are free, and usually they provide presentations on “how-to” do various programming tasks. They often also have study groups and beginners sessions. Not all languages are represented in all cites – but anything is better than nothing, so it can be worthwhile to attend any meeting of this sort that you can find that is within a reasonable distance.
* Take a beginners course at a local community college or extended studies program. These classes are usually offered at a very reasonable cost, and will help you get started. I have found a number of these classes available on line – and if you are eligible for entry, it can be very convenient to take a course this way.
It’s time to get started
Programming can be fun, challenging, useful, and profitable. Not everyone has the nature or interest to become a full-time programmer, but almost anyone who can use a computer can learn to do something useful or fun with computer programming. If you think it is something you might enjoy, then I encourage you to give it a try and see what it’s all about. It is going to take time and dedication to become proficient, but it all starts with a single step. So now is the time.
by Woody Zuill