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Programming IT Technology

Advice For Programmers Right Out of School 469

Posted by Hemos
from the words-of-advice-for-young-people dept.
ari1981 writes "I recently graduated from school with a CS degree, and several of my classes were very theoretical in nature. There was some programming, but it seems not as much as in other schools. I'm currently working at a company where I'm doing primarily c/c++ app development on unix. But as I read slashdot, and other tech sites / articles, and realize for some of the software being written nowadays, I would have absolutely NO IDEA how to even begin writing it. I remember first time I saw them, I thought console emulators were really cool. After my education, I have no idea how someone would begin writing one. With the work I'm doing now, it doesn't seem I'm going to be using (or creating) any of the really cool technology I hear about. How did everyone here begin learning / teaching themselves about different aspects of programming, that they initially had no clue about? How did you improve? Programming on your own? Through work?"
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Advice For Programmers Right Out of School

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:29AM (#17194676) Journal
    I'm just going to throw something out there about your attitude towards computer science. I thought console emulators were cool also but I never took the time to dive into how they worked. I did take the time to dive into some OSS projects (like Weka) and find out how they work.

    While this wasn't what pulled me into computing, it may be your addiction. Here's what I would suggest doing--take a well developed open source emulator (you know, like an NES emulator [sourceforge.net]) and pick apart the source tree. You might find that the code is obviously doing some low level translation of the ROM which essentially changes its executable language to be IA32 or some such thing. It may be that you don't understand the architecture of the NES itself and therefor you can't really develop this yourself. So there's some insider information you lack but it will still be a good learning experience and may prompt you to figure out how to A) dump ROMs and B) reverse engineer a console architecture. Even if these are fruitless searches, how far you're willing to go will be a good indicator of whether or not CS is for you. Yeah, I hate to say this but I know people with CS degrees that simply don't have the debugging mentality to be programmers. A simple test is to think back to the times you saw something neat. Did you ever have a strong internal urge to find out how it worked or to try and modify it to augment its task?

    But as I read slashdot, and other tech sites / articles, and realize for some of the software being written nowadays, I would have absolutely NO IDEA how to even begin writing it.

    Fear not your own ignorance. Only fear your acceptance of it. I am confident that if I wanted to build an emulator I could. I personally find other things more interesting but you just have to buckle down and really pick it apart and look for answers. As I said above, these emulators might have proprietary reverse engineering so these backwards black boxes might not be the best place to start as you may be met with frustration. On top of that, the newer consoles are now fighting a war & implementing encryption scheme which just makes the emulator all that more complicated. Why don't you pick a project like Firefox? Get the source, find out what the common developing environment is and step through the code when you visit a page. That's where it all starts.

    Most importantly, you don't need to do everything from the ground up. It helps to know everything that's going on below the abstractions you sit upon but you don't need to think about that every time you write code. Learn to use libraries & frameworks. To quote Salvador Dali: "Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing." I couldn't start writing an emulater either. But if I looked at the source trees and structures of the more popular ones out there, I'm damn sure I could figure it out. That confidence I have in myself is infallible and that's important to me. Sorry to sound like Dr. Phil but you asked for my opinion.

    There are different tricks to different applications. Some are more simple than others. In my opinion, the less tricks you need to get started in a language, the better. Because we're not all world class magicians (although every language has some players that could rock your world in said language). This is why Java, while not as efficient as C, is probably taught to you first. There are very few tricks one needs to know in Java. But you know what? Java is still quite useful. Those responsible for implementing it did a decent job and now the web service programmer needs to know very little about them because configuring them has been abstracted and made easier by many UI & IDE tools out there. But web services are a very practical and widely accepted concept out there today. In fact, pay the bills by writing some very inane web se

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ontology42 (964454)
      Ok, Myself, well I was "Perscribed" the use of a computer for my deslexiya at 7 years of age. Since I'm almost 30 now that was a long time ago. Bieng Deslexic (IE: a visual thinker??) and completely unable to spell, despite the horrid use of speak and spells. I stumbled into boolen logic via a video game. From there I found out about Basic, C/C++ and Delphi. Now the adivce above is excellent however if you are new to the field it's always a good idea to study the classics: http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/login [catb.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jez9999 (618189)
        I also remind anyone that's learning UML not to get confused / misled by the name. It's not unified, and it's not a language. It is for modeling.

        A more appropriate name would be SDS; 'Standard Diagram Set'.
    • by Bilbo (7015) on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:11AM (#17195354) Homepage
      Regarding your comment about programs rarely being built "from the ground up":

      There has only been one program ever written from from scratch, and that was "Hello World." Everything other program has been cut-n-pasted from that.

      (Well, that's true at least from the advent of "high level" languages like "C", but it's probably true with respect to most Assembly programs too.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by eric76 (679787)
        When I first got into programming in 1972, I never heard of a "Hello, World" program. In the 70s, I suspect it was more common to write a first program that printed out your name.

        The first time I ever saw a "Hello, World" program was in the 1980s.

        I wonder when they originated.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          I believe that it comes from an example in the original K&R "The C Programming Language". Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] shows that I'm mostly right, but they stole it from one of K's memos.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Even HelloWorld, as generally written, depends on a lot of code already being there - printf and the various low level io routines aren't particularly complicated, but they are a pain in the ass if you have to write them yourself.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Belial6 (794905)
      This is very good advice. As for writing your emulator, the NES is the perfect emulator to start with. The design is simple, and the system is extremely well documented. Start searching the web and you will find every detail necessary to write a NES emulator, including several open source projects written in various languages.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by h4ck7h3p14n37 (926070)
      While I do like your comment overall, I have written an emulator while an undergrad and would never suggest that someone begin learning about them by reverse engineering something as complex as a NES emulator. ari1981 didn't mention what material he covered in school, only that it was theoretical so that makes it a bit difficult to determine what areas of knowledge need some improvement. Actually, knowing computional theory is probably half of the battle when it comes to programming.

      Writing in a program

  • digg around (Score:2, Informative)

    by jrwr00 (1035020)
    Goto source forge and have a field day! you can find many projects with tons of different ways to do different things. just drive into the code of ZSNES or Nethack and explore the code, and see how they did it
    • by Tanktalus (794810) on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:23AM (#17195540) Journal

      You, sir, must not be a true programmer. If you were, you would know that goto has long been considered evil. Instead, you should make sourceforge into a function, and call it as such: sourceforge().

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by TheVoice900 (467327)
        Pfft, procedural programming is so last century. Everyone knows that SourceForge should really be a class inheriting from a Site virtual base class, and that you should be calling its visit() method. Additionally, it's connected to a relational database with an XML-based ORM framework.
  • making things you are interested in on your own makes most sense.
  • Write new code (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stibrian (848620) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:31AM (#17194702)
    If you want to be a coder...

    write more code of your own
    write more code
    read more code
    read LOTS of other people's code (DL a smallish OSS project at first, then larger ones).

    rinse, lather, repeat.

    If you're concerned that you're not learning "cool new things" on the job, learn them off the job. Your destiny is your own, as hokey as that sounds...

    love your work.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pjwhite (18503)
      If you want to learn to write books, you don't start by writing a book, you start by reading other peoples books. So, before you start writing code, read, read, read!

      Well, that's one theory I heard about, which seems good enough on the surface, but in reality, you'll probably read just enough to find that one algorithm or method of doing something that you're looking for. If you want to write a terminal emulator, go grab the source code for a terminal emulator and see how they did it.
    • Re:Write new code (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:21AM (#17195514)
      If you want to be a coder...

      write more code of your own
      write more code
      read more code
      read LOTS of other people's code (DL a smallish OSS project at first, then larger ones).

      rinse, lather, repeat.

      If you're concerned that you're not learning "cool new things" on the job, learn them off the job. Your destiny is your own, as hokey as that sounds...

      love your work.


      That's pretty sound advice.

      • Personally I'd say that for the first few years you'd be better off picking jobs with companies where you are likely to pick up disciplined, professional development practices, marketable skills and knowledge than you will be chasing solely after the money. Also don't allow your self to become too specialized, you want a broad skill-set. Excessive specialization is leads to trouble.
      • Learn things you don't learn at work by setting up your own OSS project, joining one or if you absolutely can't stand doing something for no profit set up a shareware product of some sort to keep your self in practice. Half the jobs I have gotten I got because of knowledge I gained on my own time.
      • Another thing to keep in mind is that whether you are writing code at work or privately one of the best ways of learning about software design, as the parent post suggested, is to look at other people's code (think: sourceforge). Doing that also allows you to compare different approaches to solving design problems. For example writing a daemon in C vs. C++ vs. Java vs. Perl. Some approaches will be awful others more sensible but you can learn something from all of them. Even comparing the different approaches people take to solving the same problem in two projects that both use C++ can be interesting.
      ... and yeah it helps a lot if you love what you do for a living. In my experience some employers will actually consider hiring applicants with less experience if they are enthusiastic about their occupation.
      • Re:Write new code (Score:5, Informative)

        by twiddlingbits (707452) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:12PM (#17196302)
        I got to disagree with this "Also don't allow your self to become too specialized, you want a broad skill-set. Excessive specialization is leads to trouble." This is EXACTLY what I have done in my 24 yrs in IT and Software by working at a number of places and a lot of contracts. What employers want now IS Specialization, say .NET with C# and SQL and Exchange, etc. or J2EE with a certain Java server and certain appplication types. I see a LOT less jobs for folks like me who know software, hardware, networks, Project Management, Sales, different methodologies, 25yrs of IT technologies and I also hold an Advanced degree. I suppose my downfall is I'm not a Java or .Net "pro" as I was in Management and Architecture when these technolgies were emerging and never practiced them. I would say find a solid progrgramming niche and MASTER it but beware of the things that are coming to replace what you know. Today's hot stuff is tomorrow's warmed over crap.
    • Re:Write new code (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Xzzy (111297) <setherNO@SPAMtru7h.org> on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:27AM (#17195622) Homepage
      read LOTS of other people's code (DL a smallish OSS project at first, then larger ones).

      Especially here: http://thedailywtf.com/ [thedailywtf.com]

      Learning what not to do can be as valuable as learning what you should do. The comments can be useful too, the problems get picked apart pretty extensively and can be quite educational. If anything you ever write never ends up on a site like that, you can't be that bad off.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spirality (188417)
      I agree with all of that. Joining a professional organization like The ACM [acm.org] or The IEEE [ieee.org] and reading their journals is also a good place to get informed about some of the broader trends in the industry. This is not necessarily writing of code, but learning about the things that underly the code. Core ideas IMHO are much more important than code itself. When you reach a certain level the act of coding should become trivial, like picking up a book and reading it. Its the ideas behind the code that are interesti
    • Re:Write new code (Score:5, Informative)

      by Creepy (93888) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:10PM (#17196260) Journal
      I think you missed two key points:
      Pick something with realistic goals for whatever sized team you have (or self) and set goals
      Design your work first

      If you don't do those, you'll probably never learn to finish code. Setting goals with a team usually needs to be done based on time and skill levels of members. If it's just you, set goals for yourself and stick with them as best as possible. Don't worry too much about missing a date as long as you made progress towards your goal (but make sure to set a new goal).

      Also don't be afraid to axe a project if you have to. I had a flight sim with some beautiful code in it (the blitter was fantastic... too bad blitters died with that era of hardware) and over a year of work and I killed the project even though completion was probably only a few months away. Why? because it had a problem at the core of the engine that was unfix-able and needed to be recoded from scratch to boost it to optimal framerates (specifically, I used virtuals at a low level not knowing that they have an expensive look-up table). I also had bought my first Voodoo card by that point and knew that was the future, not painter's algorithm and blitters. As sad as I was killing what I hoped would be a shareware quality flight sim, I learned so many lessons that it was worth the time spent.

      I can't tell you how many kids I've talked to that want to make a commercial quality MMORPG or a 3D shooter in a few months...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tobiasly (524456)

      read LOTS of other people's code (DL a smallish OSS project at first, then larger ones).

      You've gotta be careful with that approach. I've seen some very poorly-coded OSS projects, and they tend to be the smaller ones. Just because it's open source doesn't mean it's well-coded!

      Rather, it may be more helpful to look at large OSS projects, but one where you can concentrate only on a smaller module. Something like Apache, Subversion, the Linux kernel, etc. These projects tend to have much better coding guideli

  • Refund? (Score:4, Funny)

    by dazedNconfuzed (154242) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:32AM (#17194716)
    realize for some of the software being written nowadays, I would have absolutely NO IDEA how to even begin writing it.


    Sounds like you should ask your school for a refund.

    • Re:Refund? (Score:4, Funny)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:43AM (#17194932) Journal
      Sounds like you should ask your school for a refund.
      Or he could apply to their PhD program :op
    • Did you sleep through your courses on operating systems and computer organization? Because I have no trouble understanding how a console emulator works, even though I don't know the details.
    • Re:Refund? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by The_Wilschon (782534) on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:19AM (#17195490) Homepage
      You DO realize that he got a Computer Science degree, right? Not a programming degree. I realize that the name CS is usually used today to tart up a programming degree and make it sound special, but a Real CS degree is much closer to a degree in Mathematics (and not applied math...) than it is to a degree in programming. It does sound like maybe what he was looking for was a programming degree, but it was his responsibility to figure out before he started whether his school offered CS or programming under the CS name. Asking for a refund would definitely not be appropriate here. Actually, if I went to a school that offered CS, and found I had a programming degree when all was said and done, I might ask for a refund then. But not when they say its CS and it turns out to actually be (gasp!) CS. That's like going for a Physics degree, and complaining when they don't teach you engineering. If my Physics profs tried to teach me engineering all the time, I'd be looking to transfer somewhere with a REAL Physics program. Not that there's anything wrong with engineering, but a) it isn't what I want to do, and b) it isn't Physics.
      • Re:Refund? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:55AM (#17196054) Journal

        A real Computer Science degree should have taught him the principle of Turing-equivalence. It should have had at least some assignments expressing algorithms on Turing Machines, Unlimited Register Machines, Petri Nets, Lambda expressions, etc. The principles of converting between one universal mechanism for computation and another should be deeply ingrained. How do you prove that a model of computation is universal? You implement an emulator for an existing universal model of computation (typically a Turing Machine) in it.

        That covers the basic theory. Then you need to understand how a real computer works. Any half-decent CompSci programme should have explained the basics of a relatively modern architecture. From there, it's just a matter of learning the instruction set, memory layout, devices present and how to communicate with them; anyone who actually gets a CompSci degree should have the ability to read the relevant documentation and understand the architecture.

        Past the theory is implementation. The first bit of that is understanding how to parse an instruction stream. Any CompSci course that doesn't cover the automata theory required for this should be regarded with suspicion. Once you've parsed the instructions, and understand what they are meant to do, it's just a matter of implementing functions that handle them, which is time-consuming, but not conceptually difficult.

        Now, the emulator produced using these steps would be slow. I would estimate between 1% and 0.1% of the native CPU speed. Fortunately, on a modern CPU that is fast enough. If you want to get in to dynamic (JIT) recompilation and caching, it's a little bit harder, but the compilers course (plus some reading of the documentation for the target architecture) should provide the requisite knowledge.

        To me, it sounds like the original poster has sat through a Computer Science degree and managed to gain some of the knowledge but none of the understanding that it was meant to impart.

    • Re:Refund? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lord Ender (156273) on Monday December 11, 2006 @01:07PM (#17197162) Homepage
      I got a recent degree and know exactly how to start writing an emulator.

      At most schools, Computer Science is mostly the study of algorithms. My school, however, had a degree called "Computer Science and Engineering." In this program, students learned not only algorithms, but also digital logic, electronics, and computer architecture. Students had to design an entire computer using basic digital logic components (by first building multiplexers, decoders from and/or/not gates). Then we had to write an emulator for a simple computer. Finally, we wrote a compiler/linker for the emulator.

      FYI, the BSCS&E is a significantly harder program than the B.Arts in CS program. While we were taking extra physics and EE courses, the CS people were taking French, Theatre, and other easy courses that had real, live girls in them. We got the better education, sure, but I'm not sure it was worth it :-)
  • My advice (Score:2, Funny)

    by wayward_son (146338)
    Be sure not to forget the cover sheet on your TPS Reports!

    (They sent a memo, you know.)

    • by CptNerd (455084)
      And always, always keep your red Swingline stapler. Otherwise you'll have to burn the building down.
    • ...cuz otherwise you'd be sweating about those beancounters finding out that you just laundered money (by first looking it up in a dictionary, no less). And those federal POUND-ME-IN-THE-ASS prisons are no white-collar resorts, either.
  • One piece of advice is not to try and learn everything at once. It's easy to see how many possibilities there are regarding programming, and end up confusing yourself with vast amounts of information. You're best off finding one area that you're interested in - such as emulators - and do a lot of research to get a feel for what it entails.

    Find a development community if you don't like working alone, and see what you can contribute, or lurk for a little while until you pick up enough knowledge to feel more c

  • Starting is HARD. (Score:5, Informative)

    by xtal (49134) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:33AM (#17194738)
    An open source project is a good idea as a starting point. Pick away at something that already works.

    Where that isn't an option; I've always turned to O'Reilly books, and online tutorials to learn some new skills. I've written some tutorials for people who are interested in getting started with embedded electronics, for example. It's not hard to do, but you need to know about a half dozen things before you can get started.

    I suspect you're either giving up too easy, or not looking online enough, or in the wrong places. For console emulation, there's a LOT of documentaion in the source code for MAME, and I am sure the others are similar.

    Most of the people who are doing complicated OS programming have 10, 15, or even 20+ years of hacking away. Spending thousands and thousands of hours in front of a computer helps. Unless it's spent playing WoW, maybe. :)
  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:36AM (#17194802) Homepage Journal
    I recently graduated from school with a CS degree, and several of my classes were very theoretical in nature. I remember first time I saw them, I thought console emulators were really cool. I have no idea how someone would begin writing one.

    Yes you do. You just don't know it yet. (Assuming your school wasn't out and out terrible.) There's a huge divide between theory and practice that every new programmer has to overcome. The best way to overcome it is to dive in and learn about the practical designs of today's technologies.

    For example, you want to write an emulator. Many of the early game consoles were based on the 6502 microprocessor. If that scares you, it shouldn't. Read this webpage:

    http://www.obelisk.demon.co.uk/6502/ [demon.co.uk]

    It will introduce you to 6502 assembly. It explains not only the text commands you can use, but also the hex codes that will be output by the assembler. You can get an assembler like DASM [atari2600.org] and try it out for yourself. Try writing a simple program like:

    clc
      lda #2
      adc #2
    Next, run it through the assembler. Open it in a hex editor [handshake.de] and you should be able to see the direct mappings between your code and the program output. If you target a specific platform like the Atari 2600, you can use an existing emulator with a debugger like Stella [sourceforge.net] to watch your code execute line by line.

    Remember, learning doesn't end when you exit school. It just begins. So start digging up everything from reverse engineered documentation to documents put out by standards commities like the IETF's RFCs, the W3C standards, and the ECMA standards. You'll gain a much greater appreciation for how things work after you take them apart and understand them. ;)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by flynt (248848)
      This is a great comment. No one is born knowing these things. It is not surprising that CS undergraduate program did not teach you exactly how to write an emulator. But as parent said, don't be scared of not knowing. None of us knew anything until we sat down, invested serious time and thought, and actually did something about it. You don't learn everything overnight, that's not the point. But if you have a goal, just dive in and see where it takes you. You probably know more than you think, just don
  • by Dystopian Rebel (714995) * on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:37AM (#17194808) Journal
    Congratulations on earning your degree.

    An entire generation of creative software people who had great ideas and deaf employers grew sick of their cubicles and started the open-source software revolution. They wanted to learn stuff and do stuff, just like you do.

    Grab the code, read it, mess with it. Invest in yourself and assume no one else will.

    My experience has been that you MUST teach yourself... especially if you work for the big cubicle farms. Teach yourself so you become better, so you keep your skills current, so you energize your imagination, and so you can go elsewhere when your employer enters the BRED ("Beancounters Rule Every Decision") Stage Of Atrophy.

    BRED means that your employer is unlikely to pay for you to learn anything useful, especially not during the sunny hours when their BMWs and Porsches are in the parking lot. BRED means that good ideas die unless you happen to drink whisky with the CEO once a week.

    Cowardly employees and consitutionally cheerful employees are easier to flog and much less frightening and expensive than people who want their employer to invest in them. People who have the latest skills aren't chained heavily enough. And when the expenses grow and the balance-sheets and Powerpoint slides don't show the Beancounters at the top any benefit ("any chance of getting more stock options"), you can bet that your Red Swingline Stapler is going to Bangalore.
    • by lixee (863589)
      This has got to be one of the most insightful post on this thread. Thank you Dystopian Rebel, you just made my day.
    • by mcrbids (148650) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:28PM (#17196544) Journal
      My experience has been that you MUST teach yourself... especially if you work for the big cubicle farms. Teach yourself so you become better, so you keep your skills current, so you energize your imagination, and so you can go elsewhere when your employer enters the BRED ("Beancounters Rule Every Decision") Stage Of Atrophy.

      I don't know where the big cubicle farm comes into play, here. Working as an independent contractor has led me to the exact same conclusion. Always learn, ALWAYS teach yourself. It's pretty much ALWAYS worth it.

      And don't limit yourself to Comp Sci, either. For example, I'm currently training to be a private pilot. Why? I don't know, and never do. It's fun, I like to fly, and having more skills and experience has always paid me well. One of the best things you can do is to spend a few bux at the local Barnes and Nobles on a subject you know little about. B & N is a goldmine of business plans, technology information, and income opportunities!

      I've attended numerous business courses in salesmanship and capital investment. They've also served me well, and helped me identify a startup with real potential, and gave me the skills to sell my way into partial ownership of the company. (that's now growing by leaps and bounds)

      Another example - I did some research into using PHP as a scripting language for an SMTP daemon. I wanted to do some dynamic proxying that I didn't see elsewhere. I got it to work, using PHP as a script under xinet.d on Linux. Although that original business idea went nowhere, I used that very same software code to build a daemon that today transfers many gigabytes of data in a distributed software database, with about a thousand daily users.

      Having more saleable skills will always pay.
  • by digitalhermit (113459) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:37AM (#17194814) Homepage
    A few years ago I had to learn Perl in a hurry. There were some REXX based apps that needed to be moved and I got tasked with the job. In a few weeks I went from knowing that Perl was a useful scripting language to actually having to teach an introductory Perl course for the other team members. The translation process was extremely helpful. For one, it was doing useful stuff, not just what the textbook author thinks is appropriate. Second, it forced me to use "proper" methods if only because the REXX scripts were fairly mature and I needed equivalent stability.

    Teaching it was also useful because it made me convert awk, korn, bash and sed functionality *and* taught me that Perl wasn't the slowpoke I'd thought an interpreted language would be.
  • It always helps me to have some specific problem or interest to which to apply a new technology I'm interested in. So as others have said already, if you're into console emulators, jump into the code of some well developed one and see how it ticks and muck around with it. I also have a few homegrown applications that I tend to port to whatever new language or platform interests me, sort of what people like to do with Minesweeper. The main thing though, is your heart has to be in it. It's a lot more fun that
  • Yoda advice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:38AM (#17194838)
    No. Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Bacon Bits (926911)

      "There is no try"? We're coding without exception handling?

      I'm pretty sure I've read code written by Yoda, too. Nobody else could write backwards syntax like that which still manages to function. Jedi Master, indeed.

  • by jmagar.com (67146) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:41AM (#17194894) Homepage
    It takes 10 years to gain 10 years of experience. No short cuts.

    You need to write a mountain of code before you reach the level where you can debate the finer points for or against C# / Java / Python / LISP... You will learn the most from your mistakes, so go forth and screw it up. Do it often. And then fix it. Each iteration will make you better, and remember it takes time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bamafan77 (565893)

      It takes 10 years to gain 10 years of experience. No short cuts.

      You need to write a mountain of code before you reach the level where you can debate the finer points for or against C# / Java / Python / LISP... You will learn the most from your mistakes, so go forth and screw it up. Do it often. And then fix it. Each iteration will make you better, and remember it takes time.

      I'm not too crazy about this attitude. You can certainly begin the debate before then. Sure you may be smacked down, but at lea

    • The trick is to avoid 1 year of experience 10 times over.

      To do that you have to always look for a challenge. When you get to saying "I can do this standing on one ear" its time to go do something you don't think you can handle.

      As a beginner though, the big thing to learn is that software experience doesn't scale. Writing a 100 line program does not prepare you to write a 1000 line program which is nothing like writing a 10,000 line program and when you get past about 20,000 lines its totally different b

  • Fear. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:41AM (#17194896)
    " I would have absolutely NO IDEA how to even begin writing it. "

    That's called 'fear' in the world of programming. Instead of digging into an open source project, or just jumping in and seeing what you could do, you turned away, and asked others to make it easy for you. Learn to recognize your fear, and you can master it.

    All programmers feel it, some of the best just mastered it without ever thinking about it. None of us were handed this information on a silver platter. If you spent enough time in college to learn enough programming to be a master, you'd be retired when you were done.

    The fastest way to learn programming is to jump in, not to go to school.
  • by everphilski (877346) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:42AM (#17194908) Journal
    1) Jump right back into school and get your masters. I did it. Zero regrets (Heading to my last final exam in a few hours... I haven't even graduated and the rewards are in plain sight, not to mention the rise in pay next review)

    2) Reading - get books. Educate yourself. Self-starters are valuable.
    3) Writing - don't just read, but practice by coding. It's the only way to learn. The more senses you invoke the more you comprehend.
    4) Arithmatic - (depending on your field, but for 99% of them...) keep up on your math skills. Sharp math skills will make your job easier ..
    I've been employed for a year, so I'm fairly fresh in the field but those are the things I've found and am taking to heart. They seem to work for me.
  • Might seem silly to suggest more school, but in my case a Masters in CS helped me considerably, both in coding and depth of understanding in the field. This is assuming you avoid specializing in the theoretical aspects where it can get even more detatched from the real world than your undergrad CS was. I was able to gain lots of hands-on experience in the fields of AI, Graphics, Networking, Databases, (and others) and finally settled on OS where I spent a year hacking away at the linux kernel while doing re
  • by ColonelPanic (138077) <.pmklausler. .at. .gmail.com.> on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:43AM (#17194930)
    If you want to really learn the craft of programming, here are
    some tips. If you don't like them, stick to what you're doing
    and be happy.

    1) Learn assembly language. Play with it. Think in terms of
          what you can and cannot do with it. Read the -S output of
          your compiler and understand it in terms of your source.
    2) Play with algorithms. Can you code up a heapsort without
          referring to a book? Can you do it in assembly? Read Jon
          Bentley's "Programming Pearls".
    3) Know your platforms' hardware and software. Install a
          from-source Linux distro like Gentoo. Configure, build,
          and install kernels from source. Play with the kernel;
          even a simple thing like adding your name in a printk()
          can be exciting.
    4) Iterate. Keep current on the basics. Do you really know
          your programming language? If you don't know how something
          works, read up on it and read the sources. It's all just
          ones and zeros.
    5) Read "Hacker's Delight". Slowly. Enjoy it.
    6) When low-level stuff gets to not be fun, play with high
          level things. Write some Emacs Lisp. Learn Prolog.
          Play with Squeak. Think about how they're implemented.

    I have been doing this for a long time and I cannot emphasize
    strongly enough the importance of refreshing your basic skills.
    And play. Computers are fun. I have written compilers and
    kernels from scratch, worked on instruction set architectures,
    and a bunch of other stuff, and haven't yet exhausted the fun
    that computers can be.

    But they're not fun for everybody. If all this sounds dull to
    you, it probably will be, and maybe you should pursue some other
    hobby while pounding out C++ to pay the bills.
  • I been going to school part-time for the last five years to learn computer programming. I keep myself sharp by using my website [creimer.ws] as an ongoing programming project. I'm learning Python (which isn't taught at my school) so I can implement some heavy duty admin stuff for the backend. Once your website been up for a while and you have a good amount of programming invested, you start to learn how difficult "legacy" code can be and that maintance/upgrades may involve some painful decisions.
  • After my education, I have no idea how someone would begin writing one.

    A good point to start would be collecting and reading all kinds of datasheets, especially if you're doing something that hardware oriented. You'll need to know how the CPU and peripherals you want to emulate work on a hardware level.

    That goes for many software projects. Once you've read and digested all the information you need, only then you can even think about writing any code. Ideally, you should start with diagrams and pseudocode s


  • Yes, there's lots of "cool" technology that benefits someone somewhere, but how much of it will be useful? Impossible to know, since fads happen in programming just like any other industry: 4GL languages (application/code generators) (see Texas instruments ATI? ATL?), PowerBuilder, etc.

    Your work will be your education. Pay attention to the failures you see and ask lots of questions. Of course, if you're an engineer in mindset, you're doing this already.

    CODE READABILITY SHOULD BE YOUR PRIMARY OBJECTIVE.
  • I don't think that's the proper question to ask. The proper question to ask, IMHO, is what you enjoy doing, and how you want to focus your life. I advice seriouly enjoying what you do at work. If not, change jobs. Specially if you like doing cool things. Because cool things are also (usually) difficult things, that are not so mainstream because most programmers (again in my experience) cannot/won't understand them. So if you like to do cool things you should be payed _more_ for doing them. If you aren't, is
  • If you are strong on comp sci theory but weak on "real world" programming experience, you may want to consider embedded systems development as opposed to the newfangled and rapidly changing world of server apps or windows/mac apps. The reason is you will be working with a smaller code base which is largely of your own writing, and the challenges are more in line with "classic" comp sci problems, as opposed to things like UI, web, etc. If you spend your first couple years getting C and a bit of hardware/a
  • I can say that I often felt the same way you did. I got my BS degree from a very good school, and yes, most of it was theoretical in nature (data structures, algorithms, big-O). While working at my job the last 15 years, I've worked on a wide variety of different projects, all requiring different skills in different areas. For me, this has worked out nicely. I'm glad I had a more general, wide-ranging initial background. I can adapt and learn different things as need be. I feel it makes me more broad
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:46AM (#17194978)

    College teaches you how to learn. Once you realize that, your education truly begins.

  • Do whatever works best for you. Some people swear by reading coding books, improving your math skills (especially if you are interested in graphics programming) - and others tell you to work off other peoples code or take a class or something... I think working with other coders gives me the most benefit... As long as you aren't shy about asking 'why' and doing some legwork in looking things up yourself. When you are surrounded by people who have been coding for 10-20 years not tapping that resource is j
  • I know this sounds harsh, but bear with me here folks...

    From the sounds of it, programming might not be for you. I don't mean to insult your intelligence, but there's more to programming than getting a four year CS degree. As you've found out, there's a lot that school doesn't teach you. In my opinion, the one skill you need to master is learning how to take an abstract concept (e.g., writing a console emulator) and utilizing your concrete understanding of CS concepts, algorithms, data structures, and th
  • by shadowcode (852856) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:48AM (#17195004) Journal
    I know a site with lots of great snippets to learn from [thedailywtf.com]!
  • Hmmmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jerf (17166) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:49AM (#17195024) Journal
    If your education truly focused on theory, you ought to know more about writing an emulator than you think. An emulator is basically just an interpreter/compiler. Emulators often then use a whole bunch of tricks to speed things up, but at their core, all they are doing is taking in the memory image of a program and interpreting it in the context of a software implementation of the hardware. In theory, writing a console emulator starts out the same as writing any other interpreter, and while there may be special graphics or audio tricks you have to use, much of the rest of the optimization issues looks just like an optimizing compiler. Emulators have been doing Just-In-Time compilation for a long time now, for instance.

    There are many details in a real emulator, but then, there are many details in GCC, too. The fundamental structure is still there.

    If you missed compilers in your "theory heavy" education, that could be a problem. (I think compilers ought to still be a required course; the requisite skills form the basis of far, far more programs than just your C compiler. Almost every text to text converter is better written as a compiler than a series of regexes or some other such hack, and with proper tools and the understanding to use them it's usually easier, too.)

    While you may not quite know enough to correlate them, many other programs use fundamental constructs from computer science too.

    What you probably lack is experience, and there's only one way to get that. Fortunately, there's a large body of open source to study. As others have said, grab and interesting program and read it. As I haven't seen others say, after you've poked around for a bit, take the program and make a change to it. Emulators are probably not the best target here because at best you'll probably just degrade the performance, but who knows? Maybe SNES will let you plug in to their resolution upsampling framework easily and you can add your own interpolator or something. You'll find the first change is harder than you think, but this too is a valuable skill you'll use over and over again in real life; you will frequently be called on to make a change to a codebase you don't really understand. (One could argue that that is actually the general case....)
  • I can honestly say that I learnt more in the first six months of working than I did in 4 years of university, but I think the crux of getting a university education is learning how to learn. At my university (RMIT in Melbourne, Australia) we learnt a grand total of 6 languages over the first three years: Ada, C, C++, PERL, Java and LISP. Each student was expected to write a reasonably complex piece of software in each of these languages within 2-3 months of seeing it for the first time, gearing up with hard
  • ... find an open-source project, join the mailing list, and lurk for a month or two. Keep an eye out for easy projects that they need somebody to do--often there are simple things that desperately need doing that get neglected just because nobody has the time. Keep an eye out for technical terms everybody but you seems to know, and google them and/or find a relevant book at your local university library or technical bookstore. Don't expect people to lay out projects for you--the project maintainers are p
  • Follow your dreams. You can meet your goals. I am living proof. Beefcake! BEEFCAKE!
    • by Xemu (50595)
      Follow your dreams. You can meet your goals. I am living proof. Beefcake! BEEFCAKE!

      This is a thread about programming. Are you sure you didn't mean to say 0xDEADBEEF?

  • While I don't have any experience with Emulators I can only guess that the writers applied one of the very simplest principles of "getting anything done" to coding it:
    Divide and Conquer
    Most humans can't deal with a gigantic trainload of work - they get caught up in details and start dropping important bits and pieces as they go along. Instead, partition the task in nice bite-sized chunks and deal with them one at a time - and while you worry about that one chunk, presume that anything farer away then, sa
  • How does one get a 4 year degree in CS and not understand these concepts? This is supposed to be the difference between college graduated, and technical school graduates.

    I would be writing a stern letter to your faculty if I were you, because you just wasted 4 years of your life.
  • The best way to figure out how to do something is to try to do it, fail, figure out how to get around the failure, and proceed to your next failure. Don't be too critical; these 'failures' are just hurdles or roadblocks. It's just like when you were learning to read.

    How do you eat a cow? In bite size pieces. Instead of asking "How do I make an emulator?" ask yourself "What parts make up an emulator?" Keep breaking down the parts into smaller and smaller parts until you have a part that you are able to cr
  • ...and it's been a learning experience ever since. I've been "lucky" enough to actually be able to write software on a platform similar to what we used in college for much of my career, but the languages used and the scale/complexity of development I encountered in the "real world" (in my case writing custom software for a major airline) made me realize right away that college only gave me some basic tools -- the rest was up to me to learn on my own.

    Much of what I've learned over the years has come in a wo
  • CS vs Programming (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grendel's mom (550034) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:52AM (#17195088)
    A few suggestions:

    1. Don't confuse "Computer Science" with commercial programming. They are NOT the same thing.

    2. You will soon realize that coding is a far smaller portion of your job then you expect. The coding portion decreases as you move up the food chain.

    3. Do not ignore the business/finance side of your job. The business side keeps you employed.

    4. As you learn more, you will realize how little you actually know.

    5. Your current position is nothing more than a software assembly line job. All of those "cool" technologies are being developed by more experienced engineers.

    6. "Engineering" software and "programming" are more different than you realize.

    7. Coding is the easy part. You can teach a cat to bang out code. It takes an artist to design good software.

    8. You have one of the best jobs in the world. Your technology base allows *you* the ability to build wondrous applications. Use it!

    9. Have fun coding. Make it a personal challenge. Reallize a job is just for paying the bills. Your much more free than you realize.

    Good luck.
    • by Richard Steiner (1585) <rsteiner@visi.com> on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:30AM (#17195676) Homepage Journal

      1. Don't confuse "Computer Science" with commercial programming. They are NOT the same thing.

      Especially these days. When I received my degree, all IT-related degrees were CS degrees at a fair number of schools, and one simply chose a specialized track (systems, scientific, business) after finishing the CS core, but that's not the approach used at many schools today.

      I liked the mix of practical and theoretical classes I took in the program I went through, though, since I think I've derived a lot of benefit from both types of classes over the years.

      2. You will soon realize that coding is a far smaller portion of your job then you expect. The coding portion decreases as you move up the food chain.

      Yes, unless you're a dedicated code monkey (something I've never personally encountered), you will be expected to do design work, create specifications, do support, talk to customers, help to coordinate tasks on complex projects, etc.

      3. Do not ignore the business/finance side of your job. The business side keeps you employed.

      Probably sound advice. In a large IT shop, you won't necessarily USE that type of knowledge in an overt manner, but it never hurts to be able to understand the business process and how it relates to your current position, and in future positions it could be tremendously helpful.

      4. As you learn more, you will realize how little you actually know.

      There's always someone else out there who's been doing it longer or better than you have. Or both. :-)

      Pay attention to them -- such people are valuable teachers and resources, and I've learned a lot from people like that myself. Some programming tricks might be as old as YOU are. :-)

      5. Your current position is nothing more than a software assembly line job. All of those "cool" technologies are being developed by more experienced engineers.

      In all the shops I've worked in over the years, we NEVER had folks who did software in an assembly-line manner. Even folks like me right out of school were doing (mentored) design work for the live system. Other shops may be different, obviously, but even the folks I've seen who were writing software from a func spec that someone else created had a certain amount of latitude in terms of its actual implementation (even if screens and inputs/outputs were all predefined, the internal structure was often left up to the coder).

      Don't be afraid of trying to create things on your own. I've seen folks right out of school make a huge difference by writing a little utility or by applying something they learned from another platform, and sometimes even something small can make a large difference. Experienced people are often very smart, but their tred-and-true experience (while often relevant) can also blind them to new approaches at times. I'm guilty of that as much as anyone at times. :-(

      6. "Engineering" software and "programming" are more different than you realize.

      Both should involve a formal process (although not all processes which people have in place are constructive or even useful). However, real "engineering" seems to rarely apply to software development. I still haven't decided if that's a good thing or a bad thing overall.

      7. Coding is the easy part. You can teach a cat to bang out code. It takes an artist to design good software.

      Absolutely. The top priority should be readable code that is easy for someone unfamiliar with the gory details to maintain. That means relevant comments in the source and (hopefully) a good set of programmer support documents written in parallel with the software. I've had the privilege to work in two shops where that was done quite well, but that's the exception, not the rule.

      My appro

  • by hey! (33014) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:53AM (#17195098) Homepage Journal
    If you took a course in carpentry, you wouldn't be able to design and build a fine chest of drawers right away, although you could make dovetail joints and the like. You'd work under a master cabinet maker, who would start you off doing very menial things like rough sawing planks. Gradually he'd let you do some of the things you'd learned in school, like cutting mortise and tenon joints. Once you'd perfected these, you'd have absorbed a lot of other things like strategy; and he'd give you fewer tasks and more problems, e.g. affix this mirror to this vanity.

    The reason for this gradual approach is that there are multiple elements of craft: materials, patterns, tools and workplace practices. It takes at least ten years in any reasonably sophisticated craft for all these elements to fall into place.

    You could, right out of your vo-tech class, attempt a piece of fine furniture all on your own. And with enough determination, you would succeed. But you would not succeed fast enough to make a living at it. You'd waste a lot of material with trial and error. You'd waste a lot of time with the wrong tools, or unknowingly fritter it away because of a poorly organized workspace. All of your attention would be consumed by small problems of a single project, where a master craftsman may have several projects in various stages of completion.

    Speed, organization and economy are what set the master craftsman apart from the journeyman. You don't need mastery to do something original; but having it makes originality much more practical.

    Software is a somewhat different animal than carpentry. You may even have an idea that nobody has ever had before, one that is simple, yet original, that with journeyman skills you can bring to fruition. But you still have a decade or more of hard work ahead to achive your full potential.

    So -- separate out the meta problem from the problems at hand. If you have an idea for creating a console emulator -- that's a problem at hand, that even as a beginner you can make some progress upon. If, however, the problem is to become the kind of programmer that can create a console emulator, that's not a problem to be addressed by sitting down and writing one. It's one to be addressed by contributing to an existing project, under the guidance of somebody more experienced.
  • I've been programming C++ for 10 years, 3 of those professionally. These days I do a lot of Java, PHP, and Perl as well.

    Unless your education was very different from the majority of CS programs out there, your education was not designed to help you develop software. To make an analogy, programmers are like writers; they rely on their ability to express their ideas to earn a living. Computer Scientists are like academic scholars; they rely on a broad knowledge of concepts to evaluate the effectiveness of
  • by mveloso (325617) on Monday December 11, 2006 @10:54AM (#17195110)
    Starting to write a piece of software, especially an application used by end users (or, horrors, the public) is incredibly difficult. They don't teach it in school because the number of written-from-scratch applications is small. It's complicated, error-prone, and you don't know if you made the right decisions until weeks, or months, later.

    It's exacerbated by the fact that you actually need to ship your product. You don't have the luxury, usually, of sitting around arguing the finer points of various architecures and algorithms. What toolset should you use? What framework? Libraries? Product dependencies? OS?

    All of those require tradeoffs, and incur costs that may not be known for weeks, months, or years.

    In fact, there are no right answers. There are things that make life easier or harder down the road. Unfortunately, those of us that have written multiple apps from scratch have a hard time explaining what the design choices were or even how to do it. Some things work, some things don't, and depending on your application, budget, and timeline you choose differently. If you're good, you keep up with the various technologies (on at least a passing basis) so you can learn new stuff/ideas/concepts that may help.

    What are some of the factors to consider? Some simple ones are:
    deployment - how do you deploy it?
    Maintenance - how do you maintain the applcation?
    How do you updates?
    Are there enough people who know what you're using to hire? If not, is it easy to learn?
    What features are requested, but not in this release? You can architect today for functionality tomorrow.
    Toolset: are there too many moving parts? How many moving parts is too many?
    Certain technologies, like J2EE, .NET, LAMP lock you in to a way of doing things. Is that OK?
    If you use new stuff, is it stable enough to actually use in real life?

    Then when you start writing your app, what do you start with? Again, it depends. Some people design and write from the inside out (internals to GUI), and some write from the outside in (GUI to internals). A user app should do the latter, since the capabilities of the UI have to be supported by the back-end. Blah blah blah.

    In short, you have to learn by doing, making mistakes, and doing it again. Learn from other programs, etc, by asking: why do they do things that way? You can see design decisions and how they impact the application everywhere.

    Yeah, it's rambling, but it's late for me.
  • I am sorry to sound like a complete ass, but you epitomize what's wrong with Computer Science education in the US today. Students graduate without design skills and software engineering skills. That's the huge gaping hole: lackluster design skills.

    When I was taking a senior-level networks class, we had an assignment to emulate a physical layer, data link layer and the network layer. We had senior CS students who had trouble designing a prorgam to do that! The TAs spent more time explaining how to structure
  • Looking back on 15+ years of industry experience...

    - Find something interesting (hereafter "IT") to do. Just pick something that fascinates YOU, one thing, no matter how odd or far-fetched IT seems.
    - Do IT. Completely. I mean, if it's gonna take 10 years to pull IT off, take a deep breath and start your 10 years. If IT requires a whole new technology, well then develop a whole new technology.
    - Eradicate "can't" from your vocabulary. Lots of stuff exists precisely because someone didn't know it couldn't be d
  • Reminds me of a hallmark graduation card. "Welcome to the real world, it sucks, your gonna love it!"

    Seriously, I am a CS major, graduated 2002. I don't even do dev work, but I work with a bunch of developers and for many of them it worked like this: Manager: I need you to build App X in .NET Developer: But I am a SQL admin. Manager: We need it by July. Developer: Sigh....ok.

    6 months later...

    Developer: Here is your app, had to learn .NET, work a couple hundred hours OT but it works as expected.

    Manager

  • by inviolet (797804) <slashdot@@@ideasmatter...org> on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:29AM (#17195662) Journal

    As quickly as you can, get in a position of supporting your own code when it goes out into the world onto customer machines. This will teach you a profoundly important set of convictions that CS professors -- having never done the aforementioned -- are clueless about:

    • Calls outside your own module (OS APIs, etc.) always fail, and so your code should always expect as much. You can tell a novice programmer's code because it makes SDK calls without checking the return codes.
    • Error messages should be in plain Enlish and contain programmer-level diagnostic information and suggest to the user the most likely cause so that he can maybe fix it himself:
      • bad: "Error: operation failed."
      • bad: "Error 0x8009000b during update!"
      • good: "Error: the mailslot update failed, probably because the mailbox is locked by another process; please contact technical support. (COM synchronize call returned 0x8009000b)"
      Every low-quality error message equals ten calls to tech-support and probably two days of some support programmer's time and remaining hair pigmentation.
    • All of your programs should have a logger facility that can create round-the-clock logfiles for diagnosing those "It happens only at 3am, after it's been running 16 hours straight" problems.

    Most programmers never acquire these convictions, because they never retain ownership of their code long enough to see the patterns that occur during field support. Hopefully you will be different... because honestly, in the long run it's easier to write supportable code than it is to have to check under your car for bombs every morning.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:40AM (#17195848)
    If you absolutely love coding, read coding books to relax after hours, it's the center of your life, then you need to avoid big corporations unless their main business is selling a software product. The bureaucracy will smother out all your happy feelings. The funnest places to work are small.

    If you like coding, then your options are more open. Big companies often give you a shot at expensive training and new technologies.

    Take frequent breaks to save your hands. Get books on carpal tunnel and read them *NOW* before you develop problems.

    If you only "like" it, then learn about project management and when you get tired of programming you can move up instead of out.
  • by Anthony Liguori (820979) on Monday December 11, 2006 @11:59AM (#17196116) Homepage
    Either you didn't pay attention or your school wasn't that good. Sorry.

    A "console emulator" can be a straight forward emulator in which case, you should know enough from just your basic architecture courses. Did you discuss instruction decoding and ISAs?

    Modern console emulators are probably Just In Time compilers. You should have had a compilers class and the prof should have at least mentioned binary translation. Even if they didn't, you should have spent a little time on JITs in an architecture class.

    A college education is not necessarily about knowing how to solve problems, but how to decompose a problem into a series of problems that you can then figure out how to solve. For a console emulator, that may mean that first you know you have to read about the architecture your emulation (what's the ISA, what are the components, etc.). Then you realize you have to parse the actual ROMs (here's where your automata/compiler background kicks in). Then either emulate each instruction (tedious) or do dynamic translation.

    If you wouldn't even know where to start, you didn't get the right education. I'd recommend trying to find a masters program or pick up some text books.
  • by kinglink (195330) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:19PM (#17196418)
    The most important decision to make now is "what do I want to do". It's a hard one, but start by looking into what field you want to go after? Game programming? Any that give you lots of money? IT?

    Next thing you need to do after deciding that is start focusing on it. If you want to be a game programmer, start programming your own game. A company that hires you won't just look at your education, they'll look what else you've done, and a big bonus is "self starting". It doesn't matter if you don't know how to make a finished game or a finished project you can learn how to do the final stuff, and most of the time they don't care. What will matter is that you've designed something and worked towards it. In addition the code can show the employers "I know how to code".

    If you want to go into IT start looking for work now. Anything you do outside of the field isn't going to help you too much in the long run, but be sure to learn as much as you can about networks and hardware for it (routers and so on, not just lan adapters). Try to learn Linux as well for IT, that might not help you but it's good to know it so you can work with networking apps with out dealing with the BS that Microsoft gives developers (dear god, what ever you do don't expect CSocket to be all you need for networking experience).

    If you want to make money start networking. And I mean P2P.. Or rather that's person to person. Talk to people who can help you get jobs in major companies. You want a job in finance to make the most money the fastest.

    Overall it's important to take a direction and start working towards it. The biggest mistake you can make is think your goal is to radical to start working towards it (something I had to learn.. Now I work at a video game company. What I always wanted to do.)

    The second mistake you can make is undervaluing your skills. Don't take a job for 24K, even if they promise a pay raise in 3 monthes (finance, personal experience.) Demand 40K a year at the minimum. Short and simple that's the bare minimum you deserve and that's even low. If you're in a good job, you should be making more.

    Also always be willing to move, that'll give you many more options, and don't be afraid to seek out big name companies to apply to. Nothing is wrong with apply somewhere expecting relocation expense. They should be provided.

    Don't worry if you get into something and don't like it. You're still learning and no one expects you to be a good coder yet, school is to teach you the basics, they'll train you to be the programmer they want (or they arn't worth working for).
  • Plastics. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phliar (87116) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:22PM (#17196470) Homepage

    I assume graduate school is not a consideration right now since you're working.

    Do you like tinkering? That is the essential skill/attitude. Everyone that I know who is happy and successful in software is a tinkerer. A hacker, in the old and honourable sense of the word. When we were kids (before computers, if you can believe that!) we amused ourselves with homebrew "chemistry experiments" and electronics and taking apart household appliances, especially clocks. Now we do the same thing but in software. (Most of us continue to hack in other fields as well, building airplanes and clocks and furniture.)

    The other vital skill is learning. Things keep changing. If you enjoy learning about cool new stuff you'll have no trouble staying employed. If you've written some non-trivial chunks of C/C++ and you have a CS degree from a decent school like Berkeley you'll do fine. Be good at your assigned tasks so you can get it done early and done well. (Try not to get involved in office politics if there is any.) This frees up time to think about cool stuff, whether that's free software or work-related extra credit.

    And don't forget there's life out there beyond software and work.

  • Wrong priorities (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mabu (178417) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:24PM (#17196494)
    A good programmer will start with a "problem" and then design a solution.

    It sounds to me like you are looking for a solution without identifying the problem. Because there are so many programmers like this, ones who feel compelled to create something for the sake of creating something, for their own ego or amusement, in lieu of any real world application, the industry is filled with crappy technology that doesn't serve any significant purpose. So let me be the first to discourage you path before you even start and add another dingleberry to the crop of mediocre technology that's out there that will fail.

    No disrespect, but you're going about it wrong. If you want to program a console emulator, hook up with the teams online involved in that. Oh you want to create your own? This kind of thinking won't get you anywhere. The real cool technology is what you learn from other people through experience both in coding and (most importantly) through an *understanding of the application and the market you're addressing*. So what you need to do before anything else is not whine about how you haven't created the next Halo, and figure out what field, in addition to programming, in which you're an authority, and what void in that field can you develop something that addresses a real need or solves a problem, and then and only then, should you be asking people how to develop such technology.

    The best software in the market will have always been created by people identifying a niche, a need, a problem, and then designing software to address it. Not the other way around.
  • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Monday December 11, 2006 @12:30PM (#17196588)
    Well, I've been programming professionally for over 25 years, so ...

    The real skill in programming is knowing how to break down a complex project into suitable pieces - top down modular design. The skill is not just being able to do this at all for arbitrarily complex projects, but being able to do it well - to select a breakdown that will be easy to develop and maintain, easy to debug, easy to modify and extend.

    I really don't think there's any substitute for experience in learning this, since that's the only way it's really going to sink in and become second nature. The best thing you can do therefore is to practice, and push yourself with new challenges all the time. At work push to get on the most demanding projects, and out of work do hobbyist projects that push yourself too. When you switch jobs, don't shy away from switching industries and into new areas. You'll become a stronger programmer by being a generalist rather than a specialist, as long as there's also plenty of depth (don't skip around *too* fast).

    What you're really learning via experience is a set of design patterns and approaches, so that when you look at new problems they will intuitively fall apart into "obvious" breakdowns. Nowadays it's fashionable to read books on design patterns, and that can maybe help, but I'd tend so suggest a more back to basics approach of just paying attention to the interfaces between your modules... A good modular breakdown is one that results in modules that may have a fair degree of internal complexity (but not too much - break it down further), but have simple/thin external interfaces. An overly complex module interface is often a sign of choosing a sub-optimal modular breakdown (you've drawn the dividing lines in the wrong place). Good modular design will also hide as much internal design as possible to keep things simple and flexible - if you've kept the interface simple and abstract, then you have more flexibility to change the implemenation.
  • One word: Deadlines (Score:3, Informative)

    by unfortunateson (527551) on Monday December 11, 2006 @01:06PM (#17197146) Journal
    You'll never get anything done "for real" until it's important. Whether it's a personal project like the console emulator you mentioned, or a for-hire piece of work, or a chunk of Mozilla you really care about, you'll do it when you have to.

    26 years ago, I did part-time work on a PDP-11-based system as I entered college. I found that in my classes, I'd write a 1000-line program that produced ten lines of code... and at work, I'd have a 1000-line program that produces 10,000 pages of output a month, on a much more constrained system. And my 1000 lines of code were equivalent to 3000-line versions by other students (and yes, I had documentation in my code)

    Constraints make you work better. Read 37Signals' blog [37signals.com] to find out how to work with less.

    Big projects happen in little steps. Take a project management class -- look at the Project Management Institute [pmi.org] to understand "work units" and "earned value" -- understand how to get work done and measure it.

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