How did you learn to program?

I get asked a few times a week how people can learn to program. I felt like if more people shared their stories it might help people to understand how many different ways people teach themselves to work with code.

Every time I hear someone’s story, I wish it could be shared further with the world. Often, these stories are left untold, and many people would benefit from hearing them!

Programming in the press and movies has encouraged a lot of people to try to learn to program. I’ve encountered a lot of initially enthusiastic individuals that start out with the best of intentions, but sign up for something like Codecademy and then give up after a couple of weeks.

I figured that the best way to help others is to connect them to real stories about what it takes to really learn to develop. I’ve never met a programmer that wasn’t self taught, and I reached out today on Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone might be interested in telling their story. Within minutes I received hundreds of replies on Twitter and over 50 on Facebook. After the response, I created a survey based on the questions I’ve been asking people in person.

If you’ve read books like Programmers At Work you might know about how valuable it is to have a personal story. I’ll be posting the stories on a website kind of like the Usesthis interviews. If there are enough of them, I’d like to turn it into a book. I was guided by Programmers at Work and Founders at Work with Geoloqi, and it helped me to hang on in difficult times. I think there needs to be an updated set of stories!

Remember, a story that might seem uninteresting for you may be extremely interesting for others. All stories will be excitedly read! How about sharing the story of how you learned to program? I’d be happy to do a personal interview with you over Skype. Fill out what you can, and simply mark N/A for what doesn’t match your story. I’ll be in touch within the week to schedule a personal interview!

Not a programmer but know someone who you think might have an interesting story? Send them this link! http://caseorganic.com/how-did-you-learn-to-program

Amber Case is the co-founder of Geoloqi, Inc., a company bringing the future of location to the world. Geoloqi was acquired by Esri in 2012 and she now works as Director of the Esri R&D Center, Portland. She’s spoken at TED and around the world, and has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, WIRED and more. Amber can be found @caseorganic on Twitter or on her personal site.

  1. Dad brought home a “FOCAL” manual for a PDP-8 in 1969. I read it, and figured out I could write instructions in a sequence for it. Never got to run those, but the next few months, I learned HP2000 Time Shared Basic, and hacked that for six years before progressing to smarter things.

  2. This made reaffirmed my desire to have my kids attend a programming camp. Does anything like that exist in PDX? I have five boys under 10 πŸ™‚ , and they all have SERIOUS programming brain πŸ™‚ I would love to get ’em up and at it all summer. Any suggestions? Thanks for posting this.

    M a r y

  3. Learned to program by reading a book on BASIC and writing game programs in a paper notebook because I had no access to a computer. Next stage was another book and a friend’s mom’s work computer that she brought home at night (an Osborne transportable computer with a tiny screen). Then more books and an Apple II+ or III the high school had. Finally took some classes in college on Algorithms, Compilers, & the theory of computation.

    I’d strongly urge anyone who wants to learn to program to grab a book & work through it. Then use the reference material for the language/framework/computer they’re on and pick a project and do it. Even if it’s too large to complete, you’ll learn a ton as you realize this (then pick a smaller project and do it again).

    Given the speed computers & technology are changing, if you can’t teach yourself programming out of books this way, I’m not sure it’s a good field for you because you have to keep retraining yourself as things change over and over (this based on 25+ years in the industry). If you like learning new things and are self-motivated to dig in and learn then programming is a great field.

  4. I got my first computer, a Tandy 1000, when I was in the 6th grade. My older sister, who was a computer science major in college at the time, bought be a BASIC programming book and gave me problems to solve.

  5. Dustin, As a suggestion to “where to start”… In my experience, you will always learn faster IF the example you start with is a real-world example that you are vested in. Start simple, you have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run.

    You don’t need anything more than a web browser. You can start with Javascript there.

  6. Countless hours at the library in Denmark (mid 1980s) reading piles of “Alt om Data” (All about data) magazines and trying the cool tricks at home on my Amstrad 64 (with a tape deck). Didn’t matter that it was a monochrome screen, or clunky keyboard either. I was making updates to the “Frogger” game with “peek” and “poke” commands, and I was sold. Those were the days πŸ™‚

  7. As a guy wanting to learn but feeling lost as where to start, I’m very interested investing these stories. Thank you, I can’t wait!

  8. Following on, the HP calculator allowed me to (easily) determine the XY coordinates for hole centers around various relative bolt pattern centers long before I had access to CAD.

  9. While working as a draftsperson/designer (long ago, in a galaxy far, far away) I was paid hourly – but could work overtime. I could never tell what my paycheck would be from week to week if I worked a certain amount of OT. In those days, every dollar mattered. I figured out how to write a program that would run on an HP programmable calculator that accepted hours worked and my hourly wage. It then determined my take home pay within a penny or two. I was 18 at the time. From there I took a course or two in FORTRAN and COBOL. Learned Apple’s “Applesoft” BASIC and wrote some graphics assembler for the 6502 to do pretty things on my 32k Apple II. The 6502 assembler looked A LOT like the HP programmable calculator code (A LOT).

    I’ve subsequently written code in various high-level languages (LISP, Forth, C) and a number of scripting languages.

    All because as a youngster I wanted to know (to the penny) what next week’s take home pay would be.

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