First, a disclaimer:
This post is intended for those kids and parents who are overwhelmed with all-things programming and coding, due to statements like “You MUST learn to code” and “ANYONE can learn to program.” I’m not here to dispute such declarations because I do truly believe they are accurate (“must” might not be the correct word in this instance, as it really depends on your personal aspirations, but you get the point…programming is important).
So, it’s understandable that the whole idea of programming can be quite intimidating. And even if you conclude that learning to program is necessary to achieve the goals you’ve set for college and/or future career, what do you do next? How can you get the ball rolling if you’ve never once had any exposure?
To say it another way, this post isn’t for those who are sitting down at the computer ready to program. There are coding courses for that. Rather, the words below are for those who are interested in learning more; who hear about the importance of programming and want to wrap their minds around what that might mean for them.
First, learn something. Anything. The basics, preferably.
Like all things, it’s best to just start with the basics. Sounds simple, but it's often harder to execute. Do you know what programming is? Can you define programming and its other components? It’s hard to learn how to do something if you can’t really formulate in your mind what that something might be. So, do some light reading. Learn the basics. Watch a short video. Get to a point where you can tell a friend or a family member about programming in a couple of sentences. Here are a couple other easy to follow resources on programming and its different facets.
Then, go somewhere or talk to someone to learn a bit more.
What really helps something new and novel stick in your brain is being able to talk to someone else about it. Tell a friend about how the video game you’re playing couldn’t be possible without programming. Ask a robotics teacher at school about how programming powers bots.
Never underestimate the value of learning through conversation. It gives you a chance to recall what you’ve already learned while potentially learning something new by listening.
If you simply can’t find anyone in your immediate circle who cares to talk about programming, branch out. Visit a tech museum, join a related club at school. These venues not only offer the chance to learn a new skill, but they also facilitate being able to talk to likeminded individuals.
Next, do something. Again, even if it’s something small—that’s OK.
Another potential roadblock to learning a new skill is trying to take on too much right out of the gates. You’ve just learned that programming is the basis for your favorite video games and movies, robots, and more, and you’re all in, ready to develop the next Angry Birds. Well, while it’s certainly possible, it’s important to maintain realistic expectations.
So, start small. Get a feel for programming visually through a program like Scratch before you dive in to learning how to code. Or find an app that introduces kids to programming. These types of activities are perfect for anyone who wants to take baby steps towards learning how to program.
Now, do something bigger.
You’ve laid the ground work and dipped your toe into the programming waters. And while it still isn’t quite time to shoot for the stars, you can now begin to set your sights on bigger things.
To help facilitate the learning process, stick to something with which you’re already familiar and enjoy. Look into creating a simple iPhone app, or Facebook game. Take an online course learning how to create a game like Angry Birds at Techrocket.com. By sticking to areas of familiarity, you’ll be able to more easily see how different pieces fit together and are brought to life through programming.
Awesome. Now what?
With all of this, is learning programming really as easy as “learning something,” “talking to someone,” and “doing something” as stated above? Of course not. But, for those who have been stymied by just getting up and moving, a set of guidelines so seemingly simple is a great place to get started. I will also say that the combination of summer camp + programming course provides everything laid out above. Beginner courses lay the groundwork (the basics). The availability of knowledgeable instructors and likeminded peers make it easy to find someone to talk to. Plus, you can start small, and work your way up to the prospect of eventually learning to do something big.