Dear readers, probably many of you have the ambition to become programmers and develop software for a living, or work in the IT area. That's why we have prepared for you a short guide on "How to become a programmer", so we can help you take the first steps towards this desired profession.
You can become a programmer (working in a software company) after at least 1-2 years of intensive training and coding every day, solving thousands of programming tasks, development of several more serious practical projects and gaining a lot of experience with code writing and software development. You can't become a programmer for a month or two! The profession of software engineer requires a lot of knowledge, covered with a lot of practice.
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There are 4 main skill groups where all programmers must have. Most of these skills are resistant in time and are not influenced by the development in specific technologies (that are changing constantly). These are the skills that any good programmer has and to which every beginner must strive:
- coding (20%)
- algorithmic thinking (30%)
- computer science and software engineering concepts (25%)
- languages and software technologies (25%)
Writing code forms around 20% of the minimum knowledge and skills of a programmer, needed for starting a job in a software company. The skill of coding includes the following components:
- Working with variables, conditional statements, loops
- Using functions, methods, classes and objects
- Data manipulation: arrays, lists, hash tables, strings
The skill of coding can be acquired in a few months of hard learning and solving practical problems by writing code every day. This book covers only the first point of coding: working with variables, conditional statements and loops. The rest remains to be learned in follow-up trainings, courses and books.
The book (and the courses based on it) gives only the beginning of one long and serious training on the way to professional programming. If you don't learn perfectly the material from this book, you can't become a programmer. You are going to miss fundamentals and it will be harder in the future. For this reason, give enough time to programming basics: solve many problems and write code every day for months until you learn to solve every problem from the book very easily. Then go ahead.
We specifically note that the programming language does not matter for the ability to code. You can code or not. If you can code with C#, you will easily learn to code with Java, C++ or other languages. That's why the coding skills are being studied quite seriously at the in all SoftUni programs, and each programming book for beginners starts with them, including this one.
The algorithmic (logical, engineering, mathematical, abstract) thinking forms around 30% of the minimum skills of a programmer needed to start the profession. Algorithmic thinking is the ability to break a particular problem into a logical sequence (algorithm), to find a solution for every separate step and then assemble the steps into a working solution. That is the most important skill of any programmer.
How to build algorithmic thinking?
- Algorithmic thinking is developed by solving multiple programming (1000+) problems, as diverse as possible. That is the recipe: solving thousands of practical problems, building algorithms and implementing the algorithms, along with debugging the issues that come up in the process.
- Sciences like physics, mathematics and similar ones helps a lot, but they are not mandatory! People with engineering and technical skills usually learn very easily to think logically, because they already have problem solving skills, even if it is not algorithmic.
- The ability of solving programming problems (for which algorithmic thinking is needed) is extremely important for a programmer. Many companies test particularly this skill during their job interviews.
The current book develops the beginner level of algorithmic thinking, but it's not enough to make you a good programmer. To become good at this profession you must add logical thinking and problem solving skills, beyond the range of this book. For example, working with data structures (arrays, lists, matrices, hash-tables, binary trees) and basic algorithms (searching, sorting, searching in tree structures, recursion, etc.).
Algorithmic thinking skill can be developed while studying in the Software Developer programs at SoftUni as well as in specialized algorithmic courses data structures and algorithms.
As you may have guessed, the choice of programming language does not matter for the development of algorithmic thinking. It is a skill unrelated to Programming. Because of their well-developed logical thinking, there is the misconception that all programmers are smart people and having a high IQ is a requirement for entering into the profession.
Fundamental knowledge and skills for programming, software development, software engineering and computer science comprise around 25% of the developer's minimum skills to start a job. Here are the more important of these skills and knowledge:
- basic mathematical concepts related to programming: coordinate systems, vectors and matrices, discrete and non-discrete mathematical functions, state automata and state machines, combinatorics and statistics concepts, algorithm complexity, mathematical modeling and others
- programming skills – code writing, working with data, using conditional statements and loops, working with arrays, lists and associative arrays, strings and text processing, working with streams and files, using programming interfaces (APIs), working with IDE, debugger, developer tools, etc.
- data structures and algorithms – lists, trees, hash-tables, graphs, search, sorting, recursion, binary search trees, etc.
- object-oriented programming (OOP) – working with classes, objects, inheritance, polymorphism, abstraction, interfaces, data encapsulation, exceptions management, design pattern
- functional programming (FP) – working with lambda functions, higher order functions, functions that return a function as a result, closure, etc.
- databases – relational and non-relational databases, database modeling (tables and links between them), SQL query language, object-relational mapping (ORM), transactions and transaction management
- network programming – network protocols, network communication, TCP/IP, concepts, tools and technologies from computer networks
- client-server interaction, peer to peer communication, back-end technologies, front-end technologies, MVC architectures
- technologies for server development (back-end) – Web server architecture, HTTP protocol, MVC architecture, REST architecture, web development frameworks, templating engines
- front-end technologies (client-side development) – HTML, CSS, JS, HTTP, DOM, AJAX, communication with back-end, calling REST API, front-end frameworks, basic design and UX (user experience) concepts
- mobile technologies – mobile apps, Android and iOS development, mobile user interface (UI), calling server logic
- embedded systems – microcontrollers, digital and analog input and output control, sensor access, peripheral management
- operating systems – working with operating systems (Linux, Windows, etc.), installation, configuration and basic system administration, process management, memory, file system, users, multitasking, virtualization and containers
- parallel and asynchronous programming – thread management, asynchronous tasks, promises, common resources, and access synchronization
- software engineering – source control systems, development management, task planning and management, software development methodologies, software requirements and prototypes, software design, software architectures, software documentation
- software testing – unit testing, test-driven development, QA engineering, error reporting and error tracking, automation testing, build processes and continuous integration
We need to once again mention that the programming language does not matter for acquiring all these skills. You will accumulate them slowly, over years. Some fundamental knowledge can be learned theoretically, but to get an in-depth understanding of it you need a lot of practice.
Fundamental knowledge and skills for programming, software development, software engineering, and computer science are taught during the Software Developer Program, as well as a number of open courses. Working with a variety of software libraries, APIs, frameworks and software technologies and their interaction gradually builds this knowledge and skills, so do not expect that you will understand them from a single course, book or project.
Having basic knowledge in the areas listed above is enough to start a job as a programmer. Your further improvement will come as a result of the technology and development tools you will use in your day-to-day work.
Programming languages and software development technologies form around 25% of a programmer's skills. They have the largest learning content, but they change very fast over time. If we look at the job offers in the software industry, they usually mention words like the ones below, but in the job offers they secretly mention the three main skills: coding, algorithmic thinking and knowing the fundamentals of computer science and software engineering.
For those clearly technological skills the programming language does matter.
- Note: only for these 25% of the profession the programming language does matter!
- For the rest 75% of the skills the programming language doesn't matter, and these skills are resistant in time and transferable between different languages and technologies.
Here are some commonly used software development stacks which software companies are looking for (as of Jan 2019):
- C# + OOP + FP + classes from .NET + SQL Server databases + Entity Framework (EF) + ASP.NET MVC + HTTP + HTML + CSS + JS + DOM + jQuery + cloud + containers
- Python + OOP + FP + databases + MongoDB or MySQL + HTTP + web development + HTML + CSS + JS + DOM + jQuery + Django or Flask + cloud + containers
- Java + Java API classes + OOP + FP + databases + MySQL + HTTP + web programming + HTML + CSS + JS + DOM + jQuery + JSP / Servlets + Spring MVC or Java EE / JSF + cloud + containers
- PHP + OOP + databases + MySQL + HTTP + web development + HTML + CSS + JS + DOM + jQuery + Laravel or Symfony or other MVC framework for PHP + cloud + containers
- C++ + OOP + STL + Boost + native development + databases + HTTP + other languages and technologies
- Swift + OOP + MacOS + iOS + Cocoa + Cocoa Touch + XCode + HTTP + REST + other languages and technologies
- Go + OOP + Linux + Protobuf + gRPC + cloud + containers + other languages and technologies
If the words above look scary and incomprehensible, then you are at the very beginning of your career and you need many years of learning until you reach the profession of a software engineer. Do not worry, every programmer goes through one or several technology stacks and needs to study a set of interconnected technologies, but it is imperative for you is know how to write programming logic (to code) and think algorithmically (to solve programming problems). Becoming a good software engineer is impossible without those skills!
As it already became clear, the difference between programming languages and more specifically between the skills of developers in different languages and technologies forms around 10-20% of the skills.
- All programmers have around 80-90% of the same skills that do not depend on the programming language! These are the skills to program and to design and develop software, that are very similar in different programming languages and development technologies.
- The more languages and technologies you know, the faster you will learn new ones, and the less you will feel the difference between them.
Let us state once again that the choice of programming language (mostly) does not matter - you just need to learn to program. This process starts with coding (by reading this book or enrolling in a Software Developer program), continues with mastering more complex programming concepts (like data structures, algorithms, OOP, and FP), and includes using fundamental knowledge and skills for software development, software engineering, and computer science.
Only when you start working with a specific technology into a software project you will need a specific programming language, knowledge about specific programming libraries (APIs), frameworks and software technologies (front-end UI technologies, back-end technologies, ORM technologies, etc.). Keep calm, you will learn them, all programmers are learning them, but first you need to learn the foundation: to program and do it well.