Re: Learning to code on the cheap

Subject: Re: Learning to code on the cheap
From: M Giffin <mgiffin -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2003 11:30:39 -0700

Karen Casemier wrote:

I don't want to become a coder, but I'd like to build up my technical
knowledge so I can become more self-sufficient. I would do a google search,
but I'm not quite sure where to start: do I start by trying to build a
general understanding of programming, or do I just jump and try and learn a
language (currently I'm working in C++, but that will be changing - and
other products are written in other languages). I'd like to hear from other
technical writers who work at this level about how they gained the knowledge
they needed.


This is my worm's-eye view of the subject of learning programming. I'm a 20-year technically-oriented tech writer, and I wouldn't mind being a programmer (or "developer" as I often hear them referred to), but even if I don't become a programmer, knowing a lot more about programming will help greatly in my documentation of APIs/SDKs.

Basically I have read books and dug into various websites. I have concentrated on books, so I haven't seen any "How to Learn C++" websites, although I'd be surprised if there weren't any. I have taken no official classes, although I plan to take some. But I have learned a great deal that has helped me in documenting APIs/SDKs.

As a complete novice, groping my way along blindly in the dark, I have found that programming is a very wide, deep, complicated subject, and it's hard to know where to begin.

I decided to start with C++, a vast and nasty language, because it is widely used, and because I figure everything else will appear easy in comparison. I discovered the book "Who's Afraid of C++" by Steve Heller, which has an extremely good learning gradient for a complete newbie. It comes with a C++ compiler, but unfortunately, it's several years old and it might be hard to get it running on anything later than Windows 98. Also, if you want to learn the very popular Microsoft Visual C++ development environment, this book won't help you. I also have several other "Learning C++" books. It's good to have more than one reference, because seeing the same concept described in different ways helps to round out your knowledge.

I've decided I would also like to learn some scripting languages, especially Tcl and Perl. I run across Tcl a lot in data communications companies, and Perl seems to be used nearly anywhere there is web development going on.

I also make friends with the progammers I work with at various clients, and ask them questions about programming (I'm not too afraid of making a fool out of myself). This gives me an idea of their reality, which helps me put my own learning in a real-life context. And it helps in knowing the audience for my API documentation.

Mark Giffin


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