Re: Learning to code on the cheap

Subject: Re: Learning to code on the cheap
From: "Mike O." <obie1121 -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 17 Jul 2003 09:05:40 -0700 (PDT)

The good news is everything you could want to learn is
available on the web, usually free. The bad news is it
still takes lots of investment of your time to really
learn something, there's no way around that.

I learn most new stuff on the job, anyway. My learning
style is that I need a non-trivial project in order to
really learn something.

Do you want to learn to code? Or do you want to learn
to use code as a resource in your role as a TW? Those
are different things.

The specific programming language IMHO is unimportant;
most human-readable code is very similar on the

You will need to acquire a basic understanding of
program logic. I got mine in several different ways
over much time: with an undergrad Programming 101
class using Pascal, a night class in VB, some long
nights writing Word macros, some Perl scripts I wrote
in a hurry when I needed to get something done, and
lots of head-banging while trying to figure out code
on the job (Java, Perl, VB, C, C++, Forte, scripting
languages too numerous to mention).

Exception: Object-oriented programming is a little
outside this paradigm, but not too much. If you need
to follow OO code, try to find a friendly developer
who will tolerate your newbie questions - that's what
I did.

Nowadays though, mostly I use Google to find out
stuff. It's kind of scary how professionally dependent
I have become on Google.

Once you have a basic ability to understand program
logic, I don't think the specific language matters too
much for a TW, or a project manager, for that matter.
After all, TWs function more as analysts of code than
as authors or designers of code.

Two years ago I documented the internals of a server
product, mostly by reading the code. The other day,
somebody asked me what language it was in and I didn't
even remember at first (it was C++).

For a TW, reading code is not like reading a novel;
it's more like using an encyclopedia. You will almost
never *read* the code in the sense of starting at the
beginning and finishing at the end.

I treat the code as a knowledge base to be used as a
resource in my documentation work. I frame a question
I want to know about the system, and then I go find
the answer in the code. Code is even better than most
KBs because the answer is guaranteed to be there; you
just have to find it.

Mechanically, you need to make sure you (a) have *all*
the code, (b) can full-text search all the code, and
(c) have a pretty good high-level understanding of how
the code is organized. If you have all that, then you
can find the answer to any question; it's just a
matter of detective work.

Mike O.

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