programming in the
twenty-first century

It's not about technology for its own sake. It's about being able to implement your ideas.

Sympathy for Students in Beginning Programming Classes

Here's a template for a first programming class: Use a book with a language name in the title. Start with the very basics like formatted output and simple math. Track through more language features with each chapter and assignment, until at the end of the semester everyone is working with overloaded operators and templates and writing their own iterators and knows all the keywords related to exception handling.

If you're a student in a class like this, you have my sympathy, because it's a terrible way to be introduced to programming.

Once you've learned a small subset of a language like Python--variables, functions, control flow, arrays, and dictionaries--then features are no longer the issue. Sure, you won't know all the software engineery stuff like exceptions and micromanagement of variable and function scopes, but it's more important to learn how to turn thoughts into code before there's any mention of engineering.

I'd even go so far as to say that most OOP is irrelevant at this point, too.

My real template for a first programming class is this: Teach the bare minimum of language features required to do interesting things. Stop. Spend the rest of the semester working on short assignments that introduce students to problem solving and an appreciation for the usefulness of knowing how to write code.

permalink January 27, 2013



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I'm James Hague, a recovering programmer who has been designing video games since the 1980s. Programming Without Being Obsessed With Programming and Organizational Skills Beat Algorithmic Wizardry are good starting points. For the older stuff, try the 2012 Retrospective.

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