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How Do I Become a Computer Programmer

Duncan Kelly

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Programming a computer has always fascinated me. To be able to type a few lines of english into a machine, and then it does all sorts of things for me, was really exciting. It still is. If I need to do some task, I just write a programme to do it for me and I can take the rest of the week off!

If you are a creative or lateral thinking person, computer programming can be very satisfying; especially if you are doing it for yourself or freelance. I've been programming in various languages since about 1987, and I still enjoy doing it.

So how do you become a programmer? Where do you start?

First off, you need to be able to work a computer. How to use the mouse, keyboard, move files, get around explorer and so on. You also need to have a reasonable ability in math. (Or you can learn it as you go along. )

Then you need to decide what type of programmes you would like to write - financial, games, operating systems, machine controllers, etc - because each type of programming has a particular type of programming language that is particularly suited to it. For instance, Delphi is fine tuned for Databases, C good for operating systems, Visual Basic works well in web applications.

Then you need to select the programming language that you would like to use. eg. Delphi, C , Visual Basic, etc, etc.

You will have to buy yourself a Compiler, the software package that you use to write your programs. (Or use one at your school or library, or borrow a friends computer if he's got it installed. But eventually you will have to buy your own)

Then you need to either go on a course that offers tuition in this language, or start teaching yourself; in which case you will need books to refer to. Courses are available via correspondence, at technikons or at universities. Usually these institutions will provide a low price “student" version of the compiler for you. Then you need a couple of years (part time) to do all this studying. Maybe after a month or two you will be able to turn out programmes that are kinda useful

Programming is a bunch of commands written in a “language" that is normal english words, but a small finite set of them, together with symbols and punctuation that all has a particular function. For example

Procedure WriteSomething


form1. edit1. text := ‘Hi there guys" ;

form1. edit1. visible := true ;

Application. Processmessages ;

end ;

This little bit of programming would put the text “Hi there guys" into a little box on the screen; but note: This is only part of a larger programme, and won't work by itself. If you leave out one of the semi-colons or a full stop, the program won't work

So you have to write this “english" in a particular format, so that the compiler can “interpret" it, and convert it into machine code so that the computer can “understand" it and execute it. A strong>compiler is the software that takes your programme, written in this pseudo english, and converts it into a computer readable and executable form

Delphi version 7.0, in which the little programme above is written, takes up about 500MB of space on the hard drive, and does not use all that much memory, so it will run on a standard, off the shelf entry level computer. Borland South Africa very kindly sponsored my version, for which I am extremely grateful. The latest version of Delphi is fairly expensive, so it requires a bit of capital investment.

Some of the programming language compilers are: Delphi, Turbo Pascal, Object Pascal, Fortran, C , C# , Basic, Visual Basic, Cobol, Lisp, Prolog, SQL, HTML, ModBus, etc. There are many, many others, some for doing web pages and online applications, for cellphone use, for embedded controllers, and so on. Basic is about the easiest to use, but Turbo Pascal is probably the best compromise between easiness and usefulness.

Be prepared to work hard, and do a lot of study, and spend a lot of time learning to programme. It's hard at the beginning, but over time you get familiar with the syntax and thinking behind the languages, and then it becomes a lot easier. So never give up. The light comes on eventually!

Duncan Kelly

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