20 Jun 2014

So You Want to Program?: Starters Guide

First off: it’s a good idea. You have a chance to apply problem solving and creative skills on a daily basis. You can find amazing work conditions. Your skills will be in demand (depending on language and tool choices). You could do remote work from the comfort of home for a salary well beyond the average American income.

Let’s Talk

I know someone trying to make it into the programming world by way of DevBootCamp and she, Krystyna aka @Wimsy113 asked me about thoughts on learning other programming languages such as PHP or .NET.

She’ll be learning Ruby, Javascript, and maybe some SQL basics during her time in DevBootCamp.

What are my thoughts on other languages at this early stage?

I’m not a language purist and don’t do well with dogma. PHP / .NET / Ruby all have their place and all can be part of one’s career. They fulfill similar tasks, all being competent languages for web development. I’m biased towards Ruby and PHP because their ecosystem is based on Open Source Software, but they all get the job done.

Since it’s early in her learning, here’s what I think is the best choice for now:

  • Stick with Ruby and leave PHP and .NET alone for the time being.

Ruby will form the backbone of her education at DevBootCamp and neither PHP nor .NET will prepare her as well as more plain Ruby. After she completes that intense training and has a basic footing in Ruby, checkout some other languages but realize that Ruby is a solid money-maker for the time being.

High Level View

What’s the high level view of how languages will enable her to solve problems and what priority should they get in her limited time to study? Items are ranked in general order of importance for her career advancement and taking into account that there’s a finite amount of hours she can study.

  • Ruby is a solid backbone and glue for solving problems through building websites. Ruby’s a must have skill and proficiency will mean job advancement.
  • HTML. It’s a must have though probably won’t occupy most of her time at work.
  • Linux/Mac commandline. It’s not glorious but it’s a required skill for this kind of web development. It’s as close as web dev work gets to getting hands dirty, and it’s fun :).
  • Javascript should be part of the education at DevBootCamp. This enables her to make websites more interactive and live, vs a straight Ruby application. It’s another must have skill nowadays for web development.
  • SQL, it’s the nearly-universal language of relational databases. A basic understanding is good. Whether it’s highly valuable or of little value depends on the role and company. Some shops have dedicated database admins, others leave those responsibilities to software developers. It’s a nice to have but not necessary to master skill (at least early on). I’d wait on this until being more established as a developer.
  • CSS. Good to know some but the heavy lifting might be done by fulltime designers. In the last 9 months of work, I haven’t needed to write a single line of CSS. Though I do a little bit on side-projects while freelancing.

Once she’s comfortable with Ruby/Commandline/Javascript, then branch out and dabble in other languages. Re-create something in a new language for fun: PHP, .NET, Clojure, Haskell, whatever! Learning new languages will improve her programming mind both in the new language and in her known languages.

And for a little bit of unsolicited advice, aka a few things I wish I knew when getting into software development:

  1. Attend Meetups and Conferences related to your languages/tools of choice. For me this would mean Ruby, Elixir, and Functional Programming. These are some of your potential future co-workers. Share your excitement, they’ll love it.
  2. Talk to everyone you can at conferences/meetups.
  3. Talk to folks on twitter and get them engaged and excited about your journey. Chat with or research @joshuakemp01 for a good account of how this pans out.
  4. Blog about the little details of your journey. Both the technical stuff and the problem solving tricks you learn.

Remember: it’s a marathon. So keep your head up, look after yourself, and catch your breath when necessary.

Help Krystyna Achieve Her Goals