This article was originally published on Inc.com. It has been reprinted here with permission.
By Samuel Edwards
At a time when certain job professions are withering away at the hands of technology and automation, there’s one skill set that continues to be more in demand than ever before: coding.
Businesses and organizations are constantly looking for website developers, software developers, and computer programmers. In other words, if you understand how to code and prove to be knowledgeable, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding high paying jobs that are flexible and enjoyable.
The trouble is that coding isn’t easy. It takes a lot of time, work, and dedication to understand the basics of coding. It’s like learning a new language, which takes a lot of time and effort. However, once you’ve successfully learned a second language, you can generally learn a third and fourth without much trouble.
Five Things You Need to Know
While it’s impossible to teach you everything you need to know about coding in a single resource, consider this article a 101 introductory guide. It’ll provide you with some helpful tips, information, and terminology that will allow you to decide whether or not coding is something you’d be interested in learning more about.
- Know the Five Basic Concepts
There are many different coding languages, but there are five basic concepts that remain consistent throughout. In order to understand programming, you must grasp these ideas. While you can certainly read about them in much more detail, these are the basic terms and definitions:
- Variables. Programs are built on variables–they are the backbone of any programming language. In simplest form, a variable is a method of storing information that’s intended to be used later. It can then be retrieved by referring to the word or term that describes this information.
- Control structures. A control structure is a piece of programming that analyzes different variables and chooses how to proceed based on the parameters in play. It’s essentially the decision making aspect of computing and determines responses based on certain actions or inputs.
- Data structures. These are specific methods by which data is stored and organized in a computer. It’s stored in such a way that it can be efficiently accessed and used when needed.
- Syntax. Even if you don’t have much coding knowledge, you probably know that different characters and symbols are used. Well, the syntax is the set of rules that defines the combination of various symbols and which ones are properly structured. Syntax is essentially the grammar handbook for the coding language.
- Tools. Finally, we have tools. This is the easiest of the five concepts to understand. As in the real world, a tool is simply a piece of software that allows you to program faster and more efficiently. There are thousands of tools out there, so choosing the right one for your specific needs is most important.
If you understand these five basic concepts, then you have a much stronger foundation than half the people who attempt to learn coding.
- Choose the Right Language
There are tons of different coding languages. The key is to choose the right one. And the best way to choose the right language is by getting to the root of the issue: Why do you want to code?
Do you want to build websites? Develop apps? Gain more control over your own data? There are hundreds of different applications, and the language you choose will depend on the goal you’re trying to accomplish.
The good news is that many coding languages are similar and share some of the same basic concepts. The best piece of advice is to pick a language and stick with it until you know everything about it. Then, you can use another language–you’ll find that your previous understanding will make things a bit simpler.
- Learn by Coding (Not Reading)
Children don’t learn how to ride a bike or tie their shoes by watching a YouTube video or reading a book. The only way they ever understand how to balance or tie knots is by doing it over and over again.
“Coding works in much the same way,” coding instructor Michael Choi says. “You might fly through a chapter of reading and have no problem understanding a topic like ‘for loops,’ but if you don’t play with the code right there and then, you’ll never remember the syntax when you go to actually implement it for the first time.”
- Understand the Fundamentals
When you decide to learn a coding language, it’s natural to want to fast-forward to the specifics so you can start creating things. However, it’s important that you don’t brush past the programming fundamentals that are included in just about every course or guide.
The only way to develop a comprehensive understanding of coding is by first building a foundational knowledge of how and why programming does certain things. A failure to understand the basic building blocks will limit your comprehension down the road.
- Try Coding by Hand
Coding obviously works in conjunction with software and technology, but one of the best things you can do is learn how to code by hand. It’s a tried and true method of learning and–despite all of the advancements over the years–it still remains one of the most fundamentally sound learning options.
When you code by hand–as opposed to on the computer–you can’t check to see if it’s correct halfway through the process. As a result, you have to be more aware of what you’re doing. Plus, if you end up applying for a job in the future, a lot of technical interviews require applicants to code by hand as part of the process.
Coding: A Valuable Professional Skill
Coding is a valuable professional skill to possess. While it’s not easy to learn code and start programming, it is possible. There are plenty of guides, tutorials, videos, and articles on the internet to get you started.
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