RE: Which class

Subject: RE: Which class
From: Emily Berk <emily -at- armadillosoft -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 24 Oct 2002 20:48:58 -0700

Hey, guys:

I am trained as a computer programmer; have coded in C++ since 1985 and in Java since its early days. I have taught Computer Programming in a college setting and I have tutored a number of friends through their computer programming courses.

In my experience:

Programming, regardless of the language, requires an ability to solve particular kinds of problems, a willingness to play with technology and a pretty powerful ability to deal with the mundane and arbitrary rules of that particular language.

Some people are good at programming; some are not. I believe there does exist a programming-ability gene.

But even people who have an aptitude for programming usually find that learning to program in one's first computer language takes a LARGE investment of time and effort. (Think about chess masters; certain kids come in with an aptitude for the game. But they have to first learn the rules and then keep on playing a lot of games to improve.)

Learning to program in each subsequent language takes less time, but getting the details right still takes time.

In general, we adults, unless we are being paid to learn and use a computer language, find ourselves unwilling to invest the amount of time necessary.

A friend recently took a community college course in Java. The course met twice a week for about an hour. He spent half an hour getting to and from the course. Each assignment (and there was one for each class meeting) took him between 2 and 4 hours to complete, and studying for exams added up as well. So, total time each week, not including studying, was at least 10 hours for this very smart person. That is a very large amount to time for just one course, especially when it's added on to the end of a long high-tech work-week.

So, if someone who already knew that she did not like programming asked ME which programming course to take --- well, I'd tell her to take a course in QA techniques or hardware diagnostics or -- aeronautical engineering -- or still life drawing.

I do believe that the ability to actually program, to write computer programs from scratch, is necessary in order to successfully function in certain tech writing positions. On the other hand, I also know that certain people have a better aptitude for learning to program than others.

It's like I tell my daughter when she wakes me up in the middle of the night, weeping bitterly because "It's not FAIR that I can't sleep. Other people can sleep."

I tell her, "Some people are great athletes, and some people are great scholars. Some people are insomniacs. You aren't good at sleeping (I am not either), but you are gifted at other things."

Choose your bliss, Erica.

If it's between

Visual Basic

My advice, tendered with great respect and long experience, is to go with none of the above.


On Wed, 23 Oct 2002 09:08:47 +0200, "Martin Polley" <Martinp -at- Surf-com -dot- com> suggested that Erica Sullivan, who is "a Tech Writer not really interested in programming languages" take a course in:
>... Java. Why? IMHO, you are more likely to learn how to do "real" programming ...


>Java, C and C++ are very close relatives. Learn one and you will be able
>to understand a good deal of the other two. ...
>But if it was ME, I'd go with Java. I would expect a Java course to take
>me right into the "meat" of actual programming, instead of spending a
>lot of time understanding what an IDE is, and how to work with it.
> ...
>Good luck! (And who knows, you may actually enjoy it!)

~ Emily Berk ~
~\091101 *** Armadillo Associates, Inc. ~

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