How to become a programmer

On April 24, 2013

If you're a non-programmer and intend to become a programmer, it's essential to know the right approach.

To become a programmer, you've to learn a programming language. You know those languages like C, C++, Java, .Net that your programming friends always talk about. You'll be learning one of them.

And when you try to learn anything new, you face so much information, that it's difficult to find the right way to get started. If you go on reading everything about becoming a programmer, you may actually never find time to become one.

So if you've decided to become a programmer, read these steps, use your own mind, and get started immediately.

Understand your purpose
First, it's important to know why you want to learn programming. There can be one or more reasons for doing so. It can be for your career, or just as a hobby.

So why do you want to learn it - Just for curiosity? To make your own apps? To solve existing problems? Because everyone says so? Because you want to understand the technical side of software?

Your purpose will guide you in choosing the right language to learn. Getting down to a specific answer will help you take the next step, which is choosing a language.

Choose a language
The first programming language I learned was C, and I think it's the best way to get started. But many programmers recommend other languages, like python, for beginners. I think it's good to do some research before you start. And by some I mean only some, not too much.

Your purpose for learning should point you to the right language. I see many newbies asking that they want to program in so and so language, so which language should they learn first. I think it's best to get started with the language which you want to ultimately use to create your applications.

And of course, some languages are easier than others, but it makes more sense to choose one that'll solve YOUR problems.

Get a real programmer to teach you
If you know someone who is good at programming, learn directly from them. And you won't need anything else. A programmer, who knows to teach, can make or break your interest in programming. If he's good at teaching, you'll become more and more interested in programming.

Like every other profession, it's best to learn from real people who really know something about the craft. A good teacher can help you in learning difficult concepts easily, and guide you towards solutions when you are stuck with a particular problem. You're lucky if you can find such teacher, and if you do find him, stick with him and learn as much as you can.

Get the best book for that language
Not everyone can find a good programmer though. And you may have no choice, but to learn it yourself. If you want to learn on your own, a good way to start is to read the best book written for that language. I find books to be more thorough and simpler in their approach, than any other mode of learning.

I won't recommend you to start learning via forums, online videos, or online courses. Sure these can help you, but most of them may seem overwhelming and you might even feel discouraged when you see too much content out there. And most of them fail to explain things the right way.

It's easier to start when you hold a single programming book in your hand. And most good programming books start from the basics, and advance you bit by bit, as the difficulty level increases. Also a book only guides you in the right direction, and gives you the opportunity to try out things on your own, and use your own brains to solve problems, which is the essence of being a programmer.

Start from the basics
Since you are new to programming, the first thing to do is get your basics cleared. Even if it takes time, continue coming back to the basics, until you get them completely. If your basics are flawed, your whole approach to programming would be built on a shaky foundation.

Once your basics are cleared, you'll find that you can learn almost any language on your own. Though sometimes even after advancing ahead, your basic understanding will be challenged. When that happens, don't hesitate to come back and learn again. Some times, it takes more than few readings to get a concept properly.

Understand a concept, and write programs using it
When you learn programming, you'll learn new concepts every day. Don't just read them and move ahead. Do something with them. Write a program that uses those concepts.

The same applies to any new programming element that you see for first time. Knowing a program is different from running a program. Programs often don't run the way you expect them. So how to make them run the way you want? By practicing to make them work your way every time.

Focus on what's happening at every step
Perhaps, you'll understand this only when you start programming, but it's essential to have an idea about how programs are executed. Whatever programs you write, try to understand the flow and logic behind every programming statement.

This process is known as debugging. Debug your programs from start to end - At which point does the program starts executing? In which order are your programming statements executed? At what point does your program end?

You'll learn to solve many stumbling blocks in programming, if you understand what's going on at every step.

Understand the logic
I find programming to be all about logic. If you have good logical skills and can program, you can make great things with it. It's logic that makes things work in your code. It's logic that makes things simple and easy to understand. It's logic that takes care of all the conditions and possible outcomes.

I've seen that if you have good logic, then even by using the basic elements of a programming language, you can make powerful programs. Programs that solve problems. Programs that do something useful.

Develop this one skill, and you'll be able to solve the toughest of problems, which come often in a programmer's life.

Practice
The only thing that will make you a good programmer is practice. In programming, you come across new problems and obstacles every day. Sometimes you do the right thing, but nothing works, just because you missed a tiny piece of code. Sometimes you get stuck logically, and sometimes your program behaves in strange ways.

The only way to gain mastery is by practicing a variety of programs every day. Your programs won't always do, what you want them to do. You have to make them work for you. Either directly, or by making your own way.

Just write tiny programs every day. And don't bother too much with the right coding practices. There are many dos and don'ts that are good to know. But if you start with too many things in your mind, it'll only confuse and overwhelm you. So just focus on one thing at a time, and make sure you understand it thoroughly.

To become a programmer, think like one
Every programmer has his own way of thinking and writing programs. To write programs, you've to think like a programmer. Challenge your logical skills with every program you write. Keep your mind clear and open to possibilities.

Think using every part of your brain - think logically; think analytically; think verbally; think imaginatively; think creatively. That's what a good programmer does when he faces a difficult problem.

Solve real life problems by converting them to programming problems. Keep asking yourself questions - What code should you write to get the desired result? How your code should respond to the user's action? What if your code can solve that design problem?

Few other things you should know
How easily you grasp programming, depends on your educational background and the way you think. Our brain is programmed to learn few things quickly, while sometimes we just have to work hard to understand something.

But whatever your profession and background, the first step to become a programmer remains the same - start programming as soon as you can. Don't waste too much time in anything that's not programming.

That means spending maximum time writing code and tinkering with it. Do as you learn. Learn one program, and then try to make ten different variations from it. Write new conditions; increase your program's scope; try to do the same thing with less code; make it run faster; make it look simple.

And don't worry if it takes time to understand simple concepts. Just go along, and if you get stuck for long time on one concept, leave it and come back later. Sometimes you come up with solutions when you least expect them.

There are no limits to what you can do with programming. So don't let anything limit you from getting started.

Anyone can be a programmer. You just have to think like one.

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