Learning to program: 3 lessons to help you get started

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When I first realized I wanted to program and develop software instead of working in a call center, I had no idea where to start. I thought, How does a computer program even work? What do I need to learn, and where do I begin?  It didn't take me long to realize that there are hundreds of different ways to tackle this problem.

I didn't know if I should learn Java or JavaScript (let alone the difference between the two), or which tools I'd need to foster my growth. Luckily, I had Pluralsight and, along with a hefty amount of research, I was able to forge my own path through the jungle of programming. Along the way, I learned few invaluable lessons that I'd like to share.

Lesson 1: Start with just one language and master it

This is the first thing I learned from Iris Classon and Scott Allen in the Learning to Program - Being A Better Programmer Pluralsight course. While this might sound like common sense, once I got a taste of programming with JavaScript my thirst for more knowledge was insatiable. Not just for JavaScript, mind you, but for anything related to programming. I started watching courses with topics that I couldn't even comprehend yet and quickly got lost. Don't make this mistake.

Maybe you get a little bored with JavaScript one day and want to try some C#, or maybe even dabble with PHP. Think again, grasshopper. Your training has just begun. Learning programming is like learning a new spoken language. You wouldn't try to learn German and French simultaneously, right? Everything would start to get mixed up, and eventually you wouldn't know if “Käse” is the French word for house or the German word for cheese. But, if you already had a handle on German before moving on to French, then you'd have a much easier time; you'd be able to see the similarities and differences without confusion. The same concept applies to programming. Keep this in mind, and you'll quickly be on the road to success.

Lesson 2: Ask lots of questions

We've all heard or been told that there are no stupid questions. But when you're just starting out it's easy to feel like every question falls into this category. Not to worry! Nobody was born an expert and you might one day become the go-to guru for your desired technology, but you'll never get there without asking questions. For the perfect example, take a look at children. They'll ask just about any question that comes to mind and they expect to learn something every time they ask. Try to put yourself back in that questioning mindset and ask everything you can in order to get the most out of your training. In the end, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the topic and, hopefully, some fun facts that will help you later on in your development.

Lesson 3: Practice makes permanent (and hopefully, perfect)

Again, we've probably all heard that practice makes perfect. But I disagree, and here's why: What if you've been practicing wrong? For example, I was in piano lessons for most of my childhood and I was always keen to master the pieces I was given. In my haste for mastery, I often learned some of the song wrong (wrong timing, one note off, etc.). Since I had drilled the incorrect version so many times, my muscles only remembered that version of the song and it was hard to correct. The same can be said for programming.

There are plenty of resources and methods out there that you can use to learn to program and, more importantly, to help you learn the best practices for programming. There are also a lot of resources that will not really help you outside of teaching you the syntax of a language. I wasted my time with one of these for a couple of months before I found Pluralsight, and the difference was like night and day. I also found a lot of value in using coding katas, which are exercises involving programming that will help drill you on certain skills. There's also no substitute for good, old-fashioned programming (if there is such a thing!) and practicing by writing your own programs for fun.

Time to get started

That's it! You now know all that I know about how to get started in programming, and I hope it works just as well for you. If you're wondering where you should start out in your training, there are numerous learning paths on Pluralsight's blog that can serve as handy guides. Happy coding!

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Amelia White

is a Content Specialist for Pluralsight. She is currently working on a BS in Computer Science and, in addition to all things geeky, loves learning new things and hiking in the scenic glory of the Utah mountains.