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Learning how to code: the basics

As is the case when learning any new skill, there are lots of questions that need answering when delving into the world of computer programming. Whether coding or learning about different methods or tools; getting a hold of the basics is no easy task when you’re first starting out. Learning to code can be a challenging experience, especially if you plan to learn the basics of this wide-ranging discipline on your own. Hit the ground running and find out what it takes for a successful start to the basics of coding, commands, and scripting languages.

Coding for beginners: getting ready

Those interested in learning more about a coding language need to be prepared to do a lot of reading. Getting a foothold on the matter through texts on forums and from books is a step in the right direction. Setting aside time to thoroughly familiarize yourself with this material will help you build up the basic knowledge required to move on to the next steps. The good news here is that there’s a matching forum and wide-spread community for every programming language. Here, you’ll be able to find answers to virtually any question you may have on the topic. And should you encounter a problem for which you aren’t able to find the answer, then simply post your own question in the forum; somebody with an adequate amount of know-how is bound to reply. Make sure to also create a well-organized log or database of the solutions to past questions you’ve run into. This may come in handy at a later point in time.

Learn coding: which programming languages are there?

One of the most important questions that needs to be answered before you can truly begin learning to program involves finding out which languages are out there and which one is right for you. Some of the most well-known and commonly used options to choose from are:

  • Java
  • C
  • C++
  • C#
  • Objective-C
  • Python
  • Visual Basic .NET
  • PHP
  • JavaScript

Keep in mind that the complexity of these languages varies. Also know beforehand the reason you’re learning to code in the first place. Do you plan on building websites? Is it your goal to develop apps for smartphones or tablets? Or would you rather program a micro controller that can be used to improve fundamental objects in your day-to-day life, like your car?

Programming for the web

For those wanting to know how to design internet websites or adjust web applications, it’s best to start with the basics. While HTML and CSS aren’t programming languages per se, they comprise the basis of most websites and therefore provide a good starting point for beginners. HTML makes it possible to design website elements and create a basic framework. HTML5 takes things one step further by offering more audio-visual possibilities.

With CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), it’s all about design. The properties of elements like position and color are determined here. And while HTML and CSS is an excellent choice for creating websites that are both simple and functional, they can only be used for static web pages. Once the starting material is prepared, it’s time to get started with the actual programming. The scripting language, JavaScript, is a relatively easy option for taking your first stabs at dynamic web design. JavaScript lets users create dynamic websites that make useful features possible, like the ability to automatically adjust the size of different elements and add image galleries. PHP and SQL complement this basic web application programming package. PHP is an open-source script language and can be embedded into HTML. SQL is a database language that allows users to define and edit data structures; it also allows users to query these structures’ underlying databases. Basic PHP and SQL knowledge particularly come in handy when setting up more complex pages (like sections for site members) or working with a CMS program.

Of course these make up only but a small selection of the many languages and scripts available for online use. Nevertheless, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP can help you cover enough of the basics needed for most internet applications. W3Schools.com is a great resource for finding relevant documentation and tutorials on all of the abovementioned scripts and languages.

Programming apps

Those interested in learning how to write code for games, image editing programs, or apps, need a different set of tools to achieve their goals. The most important basics here are C, C++, and Java. These three share a similar syntax, so anyone who’s familiar with C or C++ should have an easier time learning Java. Learn-C.org offers detailed tutorials on how to program with C.

Apps for iOS and OSx

Cocoa is a good resource for programming apps for iPhone, iPad, etc. Cocoa isn’t a programming language, rather it’s an application programming interface for Apple’s operating system, Mac OS. Xcode is a development environment for Mac OS that allows users to create iOS applications together with Cocoa. Interface Builder is a graphic design software for app user interfaces. The Objective-C is one of the languages used here.

Apps for Android

Apps and applications for the operating system, Android, are written in Java. The integrated development environment (IDE), Android Studio and the Java Development Kit from Oracle, as well as a firm understanding of some necessary basic skills, is all that’s needed to develop a diverse range of different app types.

Learn to code online

Whether you’re applying for the job or sitting at the helm of your very own startup: today, programming skills are a significant bonus for anyone working in the online sector. Luckily for those who are less experienced, there are online resources available for getting a quick, straightforward introduction to the IT world. Online courses have become a popular go-to solution for those aiming to learn how to code.

Code Academy: learn to code for free

Code Academy offers interactive programming courses for HTML, JavaScript, and PHP, etc. Other, more eclectic, courses are also available. For instance, subject areas, like programming interactive websites, are offered.

Udemy

The online learning platform, Udemy, offers over 40,000 online courses—from photography to design. IT, software, and programming are also covered, some for free, and some fee-based. For example, the site features a free introduction to Java, HTML5, or PHP. Other programming languages, courses on mobile apps, and e-commerce are unlocked in exchange for a fee. Another practical aspect: they also offer a programming course for entrepreneurs.

  • Language: English, other languages are available as well
  • Prerequisites: varies depending on the course; ranges from total beginners to some required experience
  • Cost: free courses, and fee-based course starting at approximately $14.00

Code.org

Code.org is an online portal designed specifically for those starting with absolutely no prior knowledge to programming. There’s a wide range of playful tutorials that are based on popular online games, like Angry Birds. Code.org aims first and foremost to hammer home the basic logic of programming. Code.org is available in many languages. Users can expect small games and tasks to aid them along their way as they make progress. 

  • Language: English
  • Prerequisites: for total rookies
  • Cost: free of charge

Plenty of support from the get-go

Once it’s clear which programming and scripting languages best suit your needs, you won’t be left hanging trying to figure out what to do from there, as the internet is chocked full of online tutorials and other helpful resources. And aside from owning a PC that’s equipped with a suitable editor, the remaining cost factors are also generally more than manageable.

There are many editors to choose from, and Notepad++ is a popular choice for Windows users as is BBEdit. Mac users, on the other hand, tend to gravitate towards TextMate. The editor, Sublime Text has proven itself among both Mac and Windows users. For languages like Java or C, a compiler that already includes an IDE is often your best bet (examples include: Eclipse, NetBeans, Visual Studie, or X-Code).

Online courses are both practical and popular, but it’s always worth having a look at what options are available at your local University or community college. Even in today’s digitized world, learning things the old way, live and in 3D, can sometimes be the difference between gaining a few skills and a real breakthrough into the topic.

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