Go Back   Computer Forums > General Computing > Programming
Click Here to Login
Join Computer forums Today


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
 
Old 12-02-2009, 06:12 AM   #1
Site Team
 
berry120's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: England, UK
Posts: 3,425
Question Programming - where to start

Please note that this post is from 8 years ago, and while it may be an interesting read, times have changed and the information may no longer be up to date or accurate.

I often seem to end up advising people on what to do when they're just starting out with programming - so I thought I'd put all the information here in one place. It's not the shortest of reads, but if you want some advice on the best route to go down, then here it is! Where applicable, I've backed up claims and shown sites / locations with some references which can be found at the bottom. Sadly this wouldn't all fit into one post, so it had to span a couple!

There's many options available to you if you're just starting out with programming, and if you've had a look around for any period of time this huge array of options can be quite bewildering. There's a fair few choices to make, from what type of language to go for to what tutorials or worksheets to follow through - and to some this choice is enough to put them off altogether! There's hundreds, if not thousands of languages out there in one form or another and for the more popular ones there's probably at least this number of tutorials per language. Where on earth do you start?

Probably the first thing people start with is to choose a language, and this is a topic of much debate and sometimes outright disagreement. However, to get rid of one common perception from the word go - HTML is not a programming language. (1) It's a markup language.

There's lots of actual programming languages people recommend though - I'll try and cover the main ones here with their pros and cons. Before I kick off though I'm going to exclude languages in 2 main categories:

Old languages. Things like C, Fortran, COBOL, ASM - they were good in their day, they're not now and with the exception of C (which is good for very low level stuff but not much else these days) I'd question whether it's worth learning them at all. By all means give them a look if and when you're an experienced coder to see what they're like, but it's a terribly bad idea to base your programming experience on one of these!

Secondly, unused languages. Well, not always unused, but at least rarely used. Things like Realbasic (only EVER used for teaching), haskell (a great tool to have under your belt but not to start with!) and D (a good idea but no-one really uses it) are interesting things to have a look at, but again it's a bad idea to base your programming knowledge on a language that might be redundant, obsolete and unused in a year or so.

One of the most common beginner languages in use is VB.NET - it's a Microsoft creation geared pretty specifically to make it easy to get started with a language, and as such it really is very simple to pick up. A lot of people start out with this language, and it's not as dead end as many think, it's sometimes used in a corporate setting as well, and the APIs behind it are pretty extensive.
However, despite these points I'd personally advise quite strongly against it. It's major strong point (its ease of use) is also its biggest drawback, it lets you slip into LOTS of horrible programming practices that make migrating to other languages properly (not just by hacking things to work) an absolute nightmare. It's also very easy to write horrible code in VB itself - out of all the bad code I've seen, most of the worst has been in VB. And as such, if you google around you'll find there's lots of awful tutorials on it as well that teach these bad practices (usually because the person who's writing it doesn't know any better.) If all you'll ever want to do is knock together a few quick scripts, and it's just for personal reasons and you'll never want to program for a living then fair enough. VB.NET might just provide the quick and dirty approach that you need! If however you're looking to learn how to do things properly and want to get into good habits then I'd give this a miss. In fairness a lot of decent programmers I know have started programming this way and for some it's even proved useful in retrospect (mainly when they've been given old, buggy VB code to maintain or fix). But going back now, very few of them would recommend it as a good language to kick off with.


Another common one that's branded around the place is PHP. Not a bad language in itself, and definitely nicer than the perl CGI scripts that preceeded it, it's a very commonly used language and an absolute necessity if you want to get into web programming. This and Microsoft's ASP.NET are literally the two dynamic languages around on the web at the moment. Sure there's others, but these two rule the roost, most open source (and a lot of closed source) web apps use this - mediawiki, drupal and joomla to name just the first 3 that came to mind. It's also pretty easy to pick up, but it's not as much of a running joke as VB tends to be and doesn't let you slip into quite as many bad practices.
That said, it still does let you slip into lots of bad practices, and while you can quite happily "tame" these if you've been programming in a nicer language already it's perhaps not the wisest move to expose yourself to them from the word go. There's also the obvious point that PHP is a web based scripting language and not a general purpose "traditional" programming language (which, depending on what you want to do, could be a pro or a con.) Again, because it's so widely used and pretty easy to pick up, you also get a lot of badly written and sometimes plainly wrong tutorials around for it - though at least the W3C provide some good, certified ones that you can be sure are accurate and reliable. (2)
So should you go with it as an initial choice of language? Unless you only ever want to do web based stuff I'd steer clear, and even then I'd be careful. I'm no PHP expert but I can do bits in it and MySQL that I need to, and coming from Java background it didn't take me more than a couple of weeks to comprehensively pick the basics up and get going with it in a useful way. It's a possibility, but I honestly wouldn't recommend starting with a web based language unless you only ever intend to do web based work. Migrating from a "normal" language to a web based one is pretty trivial, the other way round tends to be rather more difficult.

Next on the agenda is C++. On the face of it this might seem like a poor choice, it's a comparatively hard language to learn and to debug and can take a lot of time and effort to construct a good, reliable and useful application. However, it's recommendation is not completely unfounded - it's a case sensitive, strongly typed language so it gets you into some very good habits in that respect. It's object oriented so it gets you into the "modern" way of thinking (object orientation is how all big applications are coded these days.) And it's arguably the most used language out there - while a lot of its use is fading as more modern languages like Java step in, there's so many legacy applications out there that you can be sure a good grounding in C++ is something that'll serve you well for many decades yet! It was a standard for many years and it shows, there's lots of good books and tutorials on it, a lot of free, optimised compilers around for it and it's a very stable and mature language.
Despite all that though, I wouldn't really recommend it as a starting point - I definitely would advise however coming back and learning it later on. While it's a great language in itself, as a beginner language it's really not brilliant at all, the compiler lets things through that seem illogical from a beginners perspective and it's got some antiquated features left over from C which, while are brilliant in the right setting, can really get quite confusing if you're trying to understand things from a pure and theoretical perspective! The syntax is also pretty complicated in terms of defining things in header files and suchlike, it's not the most logical thing for a beginner to handle. And due to you having to do your own garbage collection, it's very easy to introduce bugs that you don't even know about (because memory is in such abundant supply these days!) So yes, C++ is a great language to learn. But no, it's not a great language to start with.
__________________

berry120 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-02-2009, 06:12 AM   #2
Site Team
 
berry120's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: England, UK
Posts: 3,425
Default Re: Programming - where to start

Next up, C#. This is actually a pretty good contender, it's a modern language, ties in well with windows and has lots of examples around. It's widely used in industry so your knowledge of it definitely won't be a dead end, and as such there's a lot you can do with it. You also don't have to use Microsoft's visual studio if you don't want to clog your system up with everything .NET related but not C# related that you'll never need - sharpdevelop is a GREAT free tool for developing in it. Being popular, there's also lots of books and tutorials around, both from Microsoft and externally. It enforces good programming practices, it's object oriented and it's pretty easy to pick up and get started with too.

In parallel to C# I'd also like to look at Java. C# is essentially Microsoft's version of Java - if you know one, programming in the other is essentially the same bar a few syntactic differences.(3) Again, it's object oriented, enforces a lot of good practices (moreso than C#) and it's easy to get going.

So what's the differences, apart from the syntax, and would I recommend one over the other? C# has the edge on language features - things such as structs, readonly modifiers and properties are all things that C# has that Java doesn't. It also blows Java out of the water in terms of tying in nicely with windows - graphically and functionality wise, you can have C# applications that integrate very nicely with the registry, with the system tray and as services with only a few lines of code. The same effects using Java are a lot harder to implement.

However, Java has the edge on most other factors. Having been around for longer there's far more resources, libraries and tutorials around detailing how to do just about everything. There's more tools around helping beginners to get going. The compiler and runtime environment are more stringent in Java too (concurrentmodificationexceptions don't exist in C# for example) and it's inherently cross platform. Despite common misconceptions, Java also tends to be faster than C#(4) and is even pulling ahead of C++ in some cases!(5) It's also very widely used, moreso than C#, and nothing looks like it's going to replace it soon. Even if something does replace it (which practically isn't going to happen at least in the next few years!) then you can be sure that it'll always be a useful skill to have just because of the sheer amount of code that's been written in it.

So, my recommendation from the above would indeed be Java. It's not that C# is a bad language in itself, far from it - it's a great one to have. But in terms of a good, general purpose starting language, Java is, in my view just better. No, it's not perfect, like anything it has its flaws and some languages do things better than it does. However, for starting off at present I firmly believe it represents the best possible combination of all the important factors:

- There's lots of good teaching resources around for it
- It's easy to pick up
- The compiler is very good at pointing out all the mistakes it can
- It enforces good programming conventions
- It's very widely used and that doesn't look like it'll change anytime soon
- There's lots of good, free IDEs out there for it (6)(7)
- It's still actively being developed and will be for a while yet
- It's in no way, shape or form a dead end language

So - now that I've established (at least from my view) Java is the language to go with, what next? If you're planning to get serious with any language, I'd recommend a good book. Online tutorials are all well and good, but there's nothing like having something on paper you can mark up, work through and look back on as a reference. There's also the advantage that it'll generally be far better and more reliable than a random site offering tutorials that you found online!

With that in mind I'd honestly recommend Objects first with Java(8) - it's a brilliant book to start you off and explains object orientation very clearly from the word go. This is extremely helpful and what most other tutorials fail to do, in fact I've seen many that only cover it as an advanced topic (which is often completely against the whole idea of using Java in the first place!) It also comes with and uses BlueJ(9), an IDE written by the authors that's specifically tailored to beginner programmers. It's very intuitive and a much better idea than starting off with something like netbeans or eclipse (which is likely to be far more confusing than helpful!)

If you want a fun way to start off, I'd also highly recommend Greenfoot (10) which provides a fun, interactive and pretty easy way to get going in terms of writing basic games or graphical scenarios. Again it's all Java based, but the complicated side of getting graphics on the screen and manipulating them, playing sounds etc. has all been taken care of for you. There's also a pretty strong community behind it if you get stuck, quite a few teaching resources for Greenfoot in its own right and it's being actively developed still. And while it's great to start off with simply, you can also do some pretty impressive stuff with it if you want more of a challenge!

It's quite a read but I hope that's been of use to at least some people that want to start off with programming but aren't quite sure what direction to head in. Any pointers, suggestions or improvements to the above please let me know!


References:
(1) - Powell, Thomas (2003). HTML & XHTML: the complete reference. pg. 25
(2) - http://www.w3schools.com/PHP/DEfaULT.asP
(3) - http://media.wiley.com/assets/264/21...bonus_AppC.pdf
(4) - http://www.manageability.org/blog/ar...m_with_cameron
(5) - http://www.idiom.com/~zilla/Computer...benchmark.html
(6) - http://netbeans.org/
(7) - http://www.eclipse.org/
(8) - http://bluej.org/objects-first/
(9) - http://bluej.org/
(10) - http://greenfoot.org/
__________________

berry120 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-02-2009, 12:32 PM   #3
In Runtime
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 102
Default Re: Programming - where to start

Pretty good guide yeah C++ to help you get in habit
Trueyears is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-23-2009, 12:16 PM   #4
Baseband Member
 
thevil1's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 36
Default Re: Programming - where to start

I'm taking C++ pretty soon. I taught my self the basics of HTML from the main HTML site. www.w3schools.com I also know how to do one thing in Java scrip. that's it
__________________
An optimist is someone who falls off the Empire State Building, and after 50 floors says, ''So far so good!''
thevil1 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 12-29-2009, 12:53 AM   #5
Baseband Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 23
Default Re: Programming - where to start

thats by far some of the most helpful advice ive seen in a while normally people dont put that much effort into threads they just state the obvious im new to this site hope to see more helpful advice thnx alot
crackforums.net is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 02-13-2010, 10:02 AM   #6
In Runtime
 
samueleen's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 129
Send a message via MSN to samueleen
Default Re: Programming - where to start

Thanks for all this, this advice is great
I use Java and C++ now, i actually started off using VB.NET
Thanx so much
samueleen is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-25-2010, 04:49 AM   #7
Beta Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 3
Default Re: Programming - where to start

thanks for the sweet supject
only live is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-03-2010, 08:28 PM   #8
Beta Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 3
Default Re: Programming - where to start

I'm learning java in school now, but it's really slow going. I really want to know how to do animation and images with java.
Y115 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-04-2010, 02:18 AM   #9
Site Team
 
berry120's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: England, UK
Posts: 3,425
Default Re: Programming - where to start

Quote:
I'm learning java in school now, but it's really slow going. I really want to know how to do animation and images with java.
Once you've got the basics of OO, give Greenfoot a try (www.greenfoot.org) It'll let you do image / animation stuff really easily
__________________
Save the whales, feed the hungry, free the mallocs.
berry120 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 06-16-2010, 02:28 AM   #10
Baseband Member
 
Join Date: May 2010
Posts: 48
Default Re: Programming - where to start

I think first of all you should start with C and C++. These are mother language after that you can switch yourself in any platform, because all language have same concept as mother language.

Thanks:
__________________

__________________
http://www.soniktechnologies.in/
http://www.samartha.net.in/
Alex_tom is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are Off



All times are GMT -5. The time now is 11:23 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 4
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
Search Engine Friendly URLs by vBSEO 3.6.0