I’ve written about learning programming before and created a module on it on Learneroo.com, but its also useful to have one post that helps you get started programming. I wrote such a post recently on Lifehack:
Guide to Learning Programming
While there are online tutorials for learning other programming languages, there isn’t much for Java. I decided to do something about this and began creating some Java content on Learneroo. To fund the continued development of the site, I created a Kickstarter Project. Please check it out!
In previous posts, I wrote about the creation of an automated store machine in the 1900′s. In the chart below, I have jumped ahead to when the actual machine is first installed. I think this chart can help people get an overview of certain concepts by seeing them in physical form. I created the rough sketch below with a pencil, but when I get better drawing software I will be able to create a digital version, which will be updated with color and more.
While initially the main purpose of the machine was so the store owner could track inventory, many new features were added. This picture focuses on customers who which to view the inventory/catalog information themselves.
The customers enter their information by punching holes into a “HTTP” card they are viewing. This card then goes into the Router which cuts it up and sends it to the appropriate controller. For example, if a user asked to views product #43, the router will pass “43″ to the Product Controller’s viewing arm.
The controller will then send this information to the Active Record Player, which will send back the relevant data, as seen in the previous post. In this case, it would send back a copy of product card #43. The controller’s Action View will then take over and combine the data with the relevant templates to create a page. This will involve cutting up the data-card and inserting the information into the correct location on the “view product” catalog page. The page will then be combined with some general headers and some styling layers from the assets box, and then the whole thing will be pressed into a single page and sent back to the customer.
As mentioned previously, Google was going to offer a quick ways to host your static website: Host Webpages with Google Drive. This makes it quite simple for someone to share a website. I assume they’ll get around to making it easier for people to use it with a custom domain.
This is part two in a series about a mad engineer and the machine-framework he created in the early 1900′s. Any resemblance to modern frameworks, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
In the first post of this series, the store owner, Jim Blackford, outlined the basic requirement he would need for Version 1 of the Automated Store Machine. We’ll quickly review his requirements:
Blackford: Well, I want to keep track of my inventory. So I guess it should let me create inventory records and store them well. The I should be able to access them at any time to read them, update them, or delete them. And it should keep track of how much inventory I have, and let me modify that when I get a new delivery or sell an item.
Dr. Hanson: Crud, that’s a lot of work. But me and my assistant can get started on building that machine. We’ll keep you posted on our progress…
Part II - In The Hanson Basement.
Dr. Hanson discusses his plans with his assistant, Dave Kemp.
Dave: What up doc?
Hanson: We have a new project. I met with Mr. Blackford, and he needs a machine to track his inventory.
Dave: An inventory machine? How will that help you achieve world domination?
Hanson: This machine will not just be focused on tracking inventory. For Mr. Blackford’s own sake, we will need to make it extendible so we can add new components to help with his store. But my plan for this machine is greater than that. Once we complete this machine, we will look at the principles of its design and use them to build other machines for all sorts of purposes. Ba-Ha-Ha!
David: How will you do that?
Hanson: We will need to work out the details. But we will use solid engineering patterns that will then be able to used when building other machines. After all, what is the purpose of any calculating tabulating machine? It needs to store and retrieve data in an easy fashion, and perform simple operations on the data. Once we have the right design worked out, everyone will want our machine! They will no longer need to have their own Personal Hodgepodge of Pasta built from scratch, they will be able to start out with solid architecture.
Construction Begins – Accessing data (rough version)
My previous chart of resources to learn programming was well-received, but some people suggested additional resources. I decided I would try a new format to display more resources for learning programming. It is a map of different resources, which are ordered from left to right based on experience. You can choose a resource from each vertical, and then move to the right as you gain experience. A sample path is shown in the image. It would be interesting to see how these kind of charts can be improved to quickly display relevant information about each item. Click on the image below get a clickable image map, an SVG should be coming soon.
I decided to update the Zappable Guide to Finding a Web Host. This guide is intended for a newbie who is would like to find out about different hosting options, though I think others can find helpful stuff here too. Most people just Google for information and get results based on SEO instead of what’s most helpful. While Google’s results have improved, you still won’t get a helpful review of the many different options possible. In the chart, I try to explore many different free options, and a couple of paid options too. (Note: I made some of the links into affiliate ones.)
The basic categories I explore are Static Hosting, Cloud Hosting, Cpanel hosting and regular dynamic hosting. I provide recommendations for in each category that I think are good and reliable. This chart should help people quickly find a good web host choice. If you want some more background info and specific details, see finding a web host. The chart is embedded below and a PDF is available here.
Note: An updated version of this chart is now available on Learneroo.com.
Free Resources For Learning a Programming Language
|Good For Kids / Game Programming||Greenfoot||Invent Your Own Computer Games||Hackety-Hack, Games: Ruby4Kids||CodeAvengers|
|Interactive Tutorial – Codecademy?||No, You can try Programr||Yes||Yes, there’s also
|More Practice and Help||CodingBat Problems||Visualize Python executing
(1st part is free)
|Use Firebug or Developer Tools.
(See Waterbear for visual coding)
|Good Free Book for Teaching Programming||How to Think Like a Computer Scientist||How to Think Like a Computer Scientist||Learn to Program
Humble Little Ruby Book
|Interactive Video Course||Intro to CompSci -
(Warning: full Stanford course)
|More Training / Bootcamps||See Local / Online colleges||See online courses or corporate PythonTraining||Most Bootcamps are for Ruby on Rails||Catalyst.
For kids: CodeHS.com
Note: An updated version of this chart is available on Learneroo – Programming.
Now that I finished the series on programming, I figured I would make some charts for it. This flowchart will help people pick a language. Click below to enlarge, or view it on Scribd. For more info, see the original post.
Say you don’t want to edit old PHP scripts, but instead want to create your own new web application. A good choice would be Ruby on Rails, the ‘cool’ framework for creating websites. It contains various tools and elements that are common to most web applications so you do not need to re-create them from scratch in your own website. For example, most web apps have forms that take user data and place them in a database. Ruby on Rails lets you create such forms quickly and securely. Rails is written in Ruby, so to code with Rails, you will need to know some Ruby. While you don’t actually have to spend that much time coding with Ruby before starting Rails, I think it makes more sense for a beginner to get comfortable with programming basics before taking on a complex web framework.
As always, it’s good to jump right in with an interactive tutorial, which there is no lack of in Ruby. You can spend a few minutes on TryRuby and then look at Codecademy or go through slightly more advanced material on RubyMonk, which has 1 free course and additional courses for $10/month. If you like videos, you can pay $25/month and get access to CodeSchool’s courses, including RubyBits.
You should have a book also though. Learn to Program is geared at teaching programming concepts to beginners, and they aso have a more recent paid edition. The Humble Little Ruby Book is good for learning Ruby, though if you prefer more attitude and random cartoons, there’s the famous Why’s Poigant Guide to Ruby. If you have more experience and really want to get experienced at Ruby, there’s the Pickaxe Guide.
Ruby on Rails
After learning the basics of programming and Ruby, you can start learning Rails, which also has interactive tutorials. CodeLearn recently launched to let people learn Rails by trying out things from within their browser. If you like learning by watching zombie videos, check out CodeScool’s famous RailsForZombies. You can then signup to CodeSchool and get access to the sequel.
The ‘official’ free text to learn Rails is the Ruby on Rails Tutorial, which goes through all the details on how you would create a Twitter-clone, from getting things installed to version control, from “rails-flavored” ruby to nice CSS styles, and of course, all the fundamentals of Ruby on Rails.
The book places a strong strong emphasis on writing test code, which is code that tests out your main code to ensure it does what you want it to. It follows the TDD and BDD processes, which means you write the tests before you write your actual program’s code. Sometimes you will spend more time writing the tests than actually writing the rails code, but this way you will know your software always works. You can always skips some of the test-parts if you feel its too much.
The issue with a step-by-step tutorial book is that you need to make sure you think about how to do things, and not just copy what the book says. It might be helpful to try to figure out what to do before looking at the code in the book, though that won’t always be possible.
If you have a little experience, you might like Agile Web Development with Rails, which goes through how to create a shopping-cart application in part 1, and contains a rails reference in part 2. To learn how to do specific things, you can watch the screencasts on Railscasts. There’s also the official Rails Guides, which cover various aspects of Rails.
Of course, to actually learn Rails or programming well, you need to work on your own projects. As mentioned, you should find someone to help you work through a project. If you have a couple months, you could consider signing up at one of the Rails bootcamps that sprung up recently. Devbootcamp pioneered the bootcamp approach in SF, AppAcademy claims they’ll only charge you if you get a job, Starter League is well-established in Chicago and Flatiron School recently started in NY. They charge $8k – 12k, but many give partial refunds if you take a job with one of the companies they’re connected with.
With all these resources, it’s easy to try out programing and then pursue it further if you like it.
Before learning actual programming languages you’ll want to get familiar with the basics of the web. Web pages are structured with HTML and styled with CSS, so you should quickly learn how they work. If you were editing pages before using a WYSIWYG tool like Expression Web, its time to start editing the actual HTML and CSS code. You can either do this in a simple program like Notepad++, or within Expression Web from the “code” view so you can still use some of its tools. To start learning HTML, you can go through a tutorial, such as one of the resources here from Mozilla. W3Schools often comes up on Google searches, and they have some useful interactive resources, but beware that they may contain a few inaccuracies. To get an idea of how HTML and CSS is used, you can view the source of any webpage you visit by clicking on “view source” in your browser. You can also play around with the HTML and CSS from within the Chrome developer tools or with Firebug on Firefox. This will let see how many different websites use CSS styles.
HTML on modern websites are not created by hand or by an HTML editor, but by web applications, such as a CMS. Web apps are written in programming languages, such as PHP or Ruby. As discussed, many web apps are written in PHP. So if you want to develop new components for your WordPress blog or wiki, you need to learn PHP. W3schools has a fair amount of info on PHP, and I don’t think it has too many errors. WebMonkey looks like it has a good tutorial for beginners. There aren’t many new interactive tutorials on PHP, but there are many books you can purchase.
Stay tuned for the next post on Ruby and Ruby and Rails, the most popular modern framework for creating websites.
In the last post, I discussed some steps for learning to program, and ended with a few general resources. This post will provide some specific links and free books for learning programming with either Java and Python, and the next post will go into web development languages.
As discussed, Python is a great language to learn programming with, and there are tons of learning resources online. A good path would be to start with a simple tutorial and problems, and then go through a more advanced resource that teaches fundamentals of programming.
Codecademy recently expanded to offer Python tutorials, and they have a well-designed site that’s good for beginners. There are many other places you can practice problems, such as CodingBat or PythonChallenge. To get a better understanding of what the code does, you can visualize your Python executing.
To learn computer science fundamentals, How to Think Like a Computer Scientist is a great interactive book to go through. After you get through that (or if you already have programming experience), you’ll want to look at Dive Into Python 3. If you want a video course, Udacity offers short videos combined with coding problems. You can start by building a search engine in Introduction to Computer Science, and then move on to either Algorithms or Web Development.
Also, If you know a kid who wants to create computer games, Invent Your Own Computer Games is a free eBook on the topic (see also the PyGame modules.)
There aren’t as many free Java resources, but there’s enough to get started. There’s a Java version of How to Think Like a Computer Scientist available online. There’s also a free version of Thinking in Java, though you may want to buy the most recent version instead. If you like lots of pictures and attitude, Head First Java is a good book. Once you have more experience, the recommended Java book is Effective Java. You can also go through the official Java tutorials.
Since Java is a different kind of language than Python, there aren’t as many interactive resources online. To practice problems, you can go through CodingBat and some stuff on Programr. However, to benefit fully from Java’s “safe” features, you will want to do most of your programming in an IDE. I used to recommend against using a beginner IDE like BlueJ, since it lacks features that are also useful for beginners. However, their IDE has improved so that it contains most beginner-friendly features, such as built-in documentation. A good IDE to use later is IntelliJ, and Google recently came out with a version of it for Android. However, if you know a kid who wants to learn programming, it might be worth checking out the Graphics-focused IDE, Greenfoot.
Since app-development is very popular, I’ll briefly discuss it here. Due to Android’s complexity, you shouldn’t try developing apps before you’re comfortable with Java. One you’re ready, Google provides a fair amount of training resources. You can also buy a book like Programming Android. If you’re impatient to start creating apps, you can use the visual programming tool AppInventor, which should help teach some programming concepts.
In the last post I discussed picking a programming language; this post will discuss a a general plan for learning programming. The next post should link to some language-specific resources.
Basics - The first step is probably to find a good online tutorial that teaches the basics. I don’t think long video lectures are a good way to learn programming, since one needs to focus on doing things, and they are also hard to refer back to. Instead, one should find a good interactive tutorial that lets you practice as you go through it. You should practice with small additional problems on your own, either ones you make up or problems you find online.
Reference – Make sure you know where to lookup stuff. You don’t want to immediately do a general Google search for every question. Each language has official documentation that you should be able to search quickly to find out how to use something. It might also be helpful to have a specific book or site you check to get more info. It can also help to keep your own code samples organized so you can quickly refer back to previous work you’ve done.
StackOverflow – StackOverflow.com is a free Q&A site for programming. Once you know your programming basics, if you have a question on how to do something, you can search StackOverflow to see if its been asked. (Often it’s easier to search StackOverflow through a Google site search.) If you can’t find an answer, you can ask the question yourself on StackOverflow, but make sure you spell out the specific issue your’re having. Well-written questions on popular languages often receive very fast answers on StackOverflow.
Bigger Projects – After you’ve gone through the basics and worked on small coding problems, you’ll be ready to take on a bigger project. You should now pick a project that you really want to work on, and learn more as you work on building it. When you get stuck, searching the web (and StackOverflow) will sometimes help you figure things out. However, it helps to have a more experienced programmer to turn to when you’re really stuck or for general feedback and guidance. You can either find someone you know, hire a mentor, attend meetups, or even enroll in a programming bootcamp.
Stuff To Learn - Besides learning the specifics of your language, you should also learn the general basics of programming. This includes topics like object-oriented programming, algorithms and data structures. You don’t need to cover everything that’s done in a college algorithms class, but there are certain topics everyone programming should know. Some algorithms tutorials are available on TopCoder, and if you want a fuller treatment, Coursera and Udacity seem to have decent courses on the topic. Its also important to (eventually) learn good programming practice, such as using version control, debugging techniques, and writing test code (Udacity). Once you’ve learned these topics, you’ll have the experience to help beginner programmers!
Lately, learning how to program has become quite popular, so I figured I would put together a quick guide to help people get started. As I discuss in The Future of Education II, I think many people should learn some programming. Even if they don’t want to do it full-time, they’ll still be able to use it for various smaller things in life. In part I of this guide, I’ll discuss the different popular languages that one can learn.
The first step is to pick a language. You shouldn’t worry to much about this choice, since you can learn the basic programming fundamentals no matter what programming language you choose. However, you might as well pick the language that fits best with your goals. Since the web is the main area of action nowadays, I’ll quickly review how websites work before going through different languages.
PHP is a language built for creating dynamic web pages, and it runs on the server-side. Let’s say you just finished building websites without coding and now you want to be able to customize things further. You want to learn how to program the brains of the website, i.e. the back-end. A large number of websites and scripts are built using PHP, and web hosts often come with a list of one-click-install scripts. If you want to create a plugin for WordPress or work with the same script that runs Wikipedia, then PHP is for you. Practically all dynamic web hosts run PHP, and its very easy to get started with it. However, PHP has some issues, such as a messy syntax and certain inconsistencies and quirks. This means it might be better to learn a different language if just want to learn programming or you want to create an entirely new web app. However, PHP has improved over time, and if it fits your purposes, go ahead and learn it.
Ruby is similar to Python in many ways. It is a general-purpose language which is focused more on programmer productivity than running-time on a machine. This ‘slowness’ isn’t really an issue for most cases a beginner will deal with. Ruby has become very popular recently due to the website-building framework written in it – Ruby on Rails. Rails developed certain principles (such as “convention over configuration”) that let programmers built websites quickly. If you are interested in creating websites with Rails, then it obviously makes sense to learn some Ruby. While Rails can be used without that much Ruby knowledge, I think a beginner should first learn a simple language before taking on a complex framework.
Java is different than the other languages listed here in a number of ways. All code created in Java needs to be “compiled” into another code before it runs, and all variables need to be “declared” with their name and type. Java also enforces a methodology known as “object-oriented programming”, requiring all code to belong to an “object”. While there are various benefits to these decisions, they can make it take slightly longer to play around with code and test things out. Java is a heavy-duty language that runs quickly on machines, and it is taught in schools and used in many big companies. People who program in Java use an IDE for programming, which can provide various features to help with programming, such as auto-completion suggestions while they code, and automatic highlighting of certain errors. Java is also the language that Android and Android apps are written in, so if you want to code such apps, you need to learn Java. Java’s rules will help you detect certain errors before even running the code, so it does have certain benefits as a first language. However, Java is not the language to pick if if you are interested in quickly creating dynamic websites, or in writing quick scripts for various purposes.
Pick:__ if you want to:__
PHP – Work with existing PHP scripts
Python – Use a easy general-purpose language
Ruby – Create sites with Ruby on Rails
Java – Program Android apps, Strict rules prevent errors
The open-source software company RedHat has been running their cloud service OpenShift for a while now, but it wasn’t too useful for non-developers. However, yesterday they announced Instant Applications, which lets anyone instantly create a WordPress, Drupal or Ruby on Rails website. This can be very useful for people who want free WordPress hosting, (especially since DreamHost ended their free hosting) and it will be able to handle any amount of traffic. They will eventually start charging for it, though I assume there will still be a free tier.
Steps to create free WordPress blog:
- Sign up for OpenShift.
- Go to create application and select WordPress.
- Pick your general public name and app name and then click “create application”.
- After the app is created, you will be able to log in to it with:
Username: Admin Password: OpenShiftAdmin
Make sure to immediately change your password from the WordPress control panel! (Users>Your Profile>New Password)
To setup the WordPress blog with your own domain, see these instructions on the OpenShift blog.