Career / Career Progression

Intro to Programming

by Team Nuggets
Intro to Programming
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Updated on October 20, 2023

Computer programming is sort of like gravity: it's fundamental to our way of life, almost everyone knows that it exists, most people understand that it's really important, yet very few people have a good understanding of it. 

Programming puts computers' power, versatility, reliability and speed into our hands. Imagine everything that makes our modern world operate: the Internet, video games, smartphones, CGI in movies and TV, every app you've ever used – all that and much more is possible thanks to computer programming.

What is Computer Programming?

Computer programming is defined as the process of developing instructions for computers to follow that enables them to perform tasks, solve problems and interact with people. 

Programmers, also known as developers or coders, understand the languages computers and applications use. They use their knowledge of those languages to break down complex challenges into smaller steps that a computer can solve. 

However, not everyone who learns programming becomes a programmer: it's possible to augment your normal job – whether you're an accountant, educator, banker, or something else – by learning how to write programs to do parts of your job for you.

The field of programming involves many different job opportunities, skills, and a ton of knowledge. You could spend your entire career as a programmer and never learn the same languages or encounter the same problems as another career programmer – even one who works for the same company! 

Making sense of the programming career field is a unique challenge, but below, we've broken it down to its component parts and explained steps you can follow to become a programmer yourself.

Introduction to Programming Free Video Playlist

This free training video playlist introduces programming as a concept and a career. The videos are presented by Ben Finkle, a long-time programming expert whose career has included mastering ASP.NET, C#, and even Visual Basic. Feel free to watch these videos in any order – they're designed to be watched in order, but you can also skip to the sections that apply to you specifically.

Ben's videos explain the basics of the programming career field, how to get started writing your first program, and what languages you should consider learning. As you watch the videos, you'll learn programming basics, and you'll also see what a CBT Nuggets course is like.

What are the Programming Fundamentals?

The first programmable computer was built in 1945, meaning we humans have nearly 80 years to nail down the fundamentals of programming. Despite that, and despite how popular computers and applications are in our modern world, there's still a ton about programming fundamentals that feel like a mystery to most people.

Computer Programming, Defined

Programming languages, algorithms, and data are three programming fundamentals. At its heart, programming is writing instructions for computers to carry out. But those instructions aren't usually written in languages that humans speak. Instead, there are highly specialized languages that are better suited for the ways that computers "think." 

Using those technical languages, developers create algorithms, which are more complex sets of instructions that involve math and dependencies, and can produce multiple outcomes. 

Lastly, everything a programmer writes has to interact with data. Computer programming relies on accessing and using data, whether it's taking inputs from users or processing information stored in databases and repositories.

As far as job titles go, computer programmers specialize in various ways. Some programmers work solely on "front-end development," which deals with user interfaces or shaping how a program feels and looks. "Back-end developers" focus on the logic and instructions that are like the 'guts' of a program. 

DevOps engineers optimize internal processes for actually delivering programs to their users. Add to that all the non-IT professionals who write code to improve their jobs, and the list of programming specializations goes on.

Programming Language Fundamentals

Estimates put the total number of programming languages ever produced around 8,000, but today, the number of actually used languages is closer to 250-2,500. Most of those are for very particular use cases. There are 50 or so programming languages used by the vast majority of coders, including languages like JavaScript, Python, SQL, Bash, Java, C#, C++, and PowerShell.

Typically, professional programmers learn a handful of languages throughout their career, depending largely on the problems faced, technologies used, and organizations supported.

Programming for Beginners: How Do You Get Started?

The journey can seem daunting if you're coming at programming as a total beginner. We can't provide you with a one-size-fits-all roadmap, but there are some programming concepts you should plan on encountering:

  • Programming Basics: The first step is to learn the fundamentals of a programming language. Python and JavaScript are extremely popular programming languages because they're versatile and powerful even when used simply. Finding a programming course that teaches the basics of a foundational programming language will teach you the most important vocabulary and concepts.

  • Advanced Programming Concepts: Writing complex algorithms and managing data structures are advanced programming skills that wouldn't be considered fundamentals but are still necessary for a career in programming. Once you've got the basics of a programming language down, move on to courses that teach advanced applications of programming concepts.

  • Build Simple Projects: Programming is the art of doing and creating: once you have enough knowledge to build anything, do so! Even simple projects like a calendar app, a to-do list, or a stock market tracker can be modular – getting improvements as you learn more complex skills. Plus, the process of actually developing an application teaches you in ways nothing else can.

  • Deepen and Widen: There are hundreds of programming languages for a reason: they each approach problems and deal with code differently for different reasons. After getting programming fundamentals under your belt, the next step is to expand your understanding of what different programming languages are capable of by learning about different ones.

  • Specialized Programming Training: From web development to mobile apps, there are countless reasons to develop a program, and different languages, frameworks, and solutions for making them happen. Explore what specialization interests you and start looking for online courses that explain new languages or concepts in programming.

  • Stay Curious, Keep Learning, Meet Others: There's no end point in learning to be a computer programmer. By the time you've mastered the languages you want to learn, there will be new technologies, languages, and applications. Stay current about where the career field is headed by staying curious and meeting other programmers.

What Do Different Programming Jobs Pay?

Because a job in programming can include many different roles and responsibilities, compensation for programmers can vary significantly. Location, experience, and specialization all affect what a programming job pays. Entry-level positions, like junior software developers or programmers, might look forward to salaries around $50,000 to $80,000/year.

More experienced programmers typically see increases in their earning potential. Depending on location and expertise, mid-level programmers and software engineers can earn anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000/year. Advanced and specialized roles in machine learning, cybersecurity, and software architecting can command even more. 

The exact amount a programmer of any experience can expect to be paid varies greatly based on factors like the company, industry, and geographical location. Tech hubs like Silicon Valley obviously tend to offer much higher compensation packages because of competition and cost of living.

Are There Programming Certifications?

The IT career field has many certifications to choose from and consider, and there are certifications related to computer programming knowledge. But many people also believe that programming certifications aren't worth it. There's no right or wrong, but there's much to consider when considering programming certifications.

What are the Best Certifications for Programming?

There are two categories of programming certifications: certs that test depth of knowledge and familiarity with a certain language, and certs that test a programmer's ability to accomplish certain tasks. 

Language-focused programming certifications might be maintained by the company that manages the language itself (such as Red Hat), or by non-profits that try to standardize the use of the language (including C+ Institute, JavaScript Institute). 

As a category of certification, the value of these certs can be hotly debated. Some career programmers claim that producing good apps and projects is more valuable than being fluent in a language you don't know how to use.

On the other hand, there are programming certifications that could be thought of as skills-based or role-based certs. These are usually maintained by hardware and software vendors (such as Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco), and they validate a certain level of competence in solving problems inside their ecosystem. Certs in this category usually don't have requirements as to what language the test-taker uses. 

Some examples of well-regarded programming certifications include:

  • Oracle Certified Associate Java Programmer: Oracle maintains Java, and this foundational cert covers the high-level skills necessary to develop in Java.

  • (ISC)2 Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional: (ISC)2 is known for vendor-agnostic certifications, and the CSSLP covers the professional skills a developer needs to work effectively on a large development team.

  • Azure Developer Associate: Microsoft expects candidates for the Azure Developer Associate to program in a language supported by Azure to solve problems related to data storage, data connections, APIs and SDKs, and debugging in a Microsoft Azure environment.

  • AWS Certified Developer Associate: To earn the AWS Certified Developer Associate, you'll need in-depth knowledge of at least one high-level programming language and know how to code solutions that open up opportunities in cloud-based networks powered by Amazon.

Learning Programming Basics

Getting started with any new career is challenging, but programming can feel especially difficult because it feels like so much is hidden behind the curtain of experience. 

How do you choose the right language? How do you get experience without having a job that needs experience to get in the first place? Learning the basics of programming from online courses is the best way to get started in the field.

Are There Programming Courses or Training for Beginners?

Yes, there is programming training for every stage of experience. From the absolute foundational programming concepts to advanced applications, online programming courses can help you get started with programming or complement your existing career with programming.

If you've never done anything in programming or development, the place to start is with an introductory training to programming and development. Find a training that explains the nature of programming languages, algorithms, and executing code – you don't need to learn any languages to understand where to start.

What Programming Trainings Provide Advanced Training?

Programming has many applications, and different courses can tailor your knowledge to that application. For example, web development is writing code used by websites, web applications, and web servers to deliver experiences to Internet users. 

A web development programming course would include explanations of HTML, CSS, PHP, and JavaScript. HTML is the global standard language for web pages and CSS is the way to apply unique appearances or styles to HTML. JavaScript is one of the most common programming languages for web pages and websites that need dynamic content: content that can change while a user interacts with it. PHP is the language used to interact with web servers and web databases.

Web development is an example of front-end development – back-end development is a wholly different discipline. If back-end development is more interesting, an introductory course on MySQL would be a good place to start. The ability to connect applications to data sources sounds simple enough, but configuring and deploying MySQL databases is a skill that has no theoretical limit – you can always be better.

As you've probably figured out by now, computer programming is a wide, deep, and complicated process and career field. It can be hard to break into programming without a formal education, but certifications and online courses can help compensate for any gaps in your training and knowledge. Prepared properly, you could write applications and develop solutions for a living.

Now that you've learned more about computer programming, maybe you're realizing just how many different IT opportunities exist. If you want to find out about more options, check out our Intro to IT training content and find out what best suits your skills and interests.


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