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JonBMN

What was your path?

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What was your journey to becoming proficient in the languages you know? I know myself I love hearing how people got to be who they are today and the steps they took. Feel free to share here, if not that's fine! I know beginners love to here others' success stories.
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When I was quite young, my dad tried to get me interested in programming using basic on a TRS-80 4P (still sitting in a closet back home). I was too interested in playing in the dirt and taking apart the hardware for a few years, so I didn't focus and learn anything really significant until I was a teenager. In middle and high school, I did my share of HTML and PHP to get web sites and rudimentary forums up, but again distractions (this time it was cars and girls) made programming less than a priority.

When WoW came out, I got into Lua, but didn't branch out of that application. It wasn't until I had my BA in English and working on an MEd that I finally sat down and dedicated time to learning how to seriously program. My parents, who had suggested computer science as a path of study when I was a teenager, gave Stephen Prada's C++ Primer Plus to me for Christmas. After that, I was hooked on not just learning how to program, but how computers work on every level.

After my first semester of teaching high school, I realized that creating software was a passion and not just a hobby. I'm now solidly into a computer science masters program, and learning far more than I ever thought I was capable of. It's a downright cathartic experience. [i]That English degree wasn't totally wasted,[/i] ;)
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[list=1]
[*]5th grade Art teacher taught us how to write a simple BASIC program.
[*]Asked a basic question, teacher didn't know the answer. ( She was an art teacher... )
[*]Bought a book about basic from local bookstore.
[*]Oh my god! programming is cool
[*]Made many cool basic programs.
[*]Made many small games in basic.
[*]Wanted to do more serious stuff --> got a book about C.
[*]Made some games in C
[*]Wanted to do cooler stuff --> Got a book about Assembler
[*]Made a graphics engine using assembler
[*]SOMEONE INVENTED THE INTERNET
[*]OH MY GOD! DON'T NEED BOOKS ANYMORE. CAN LEARN ANY LANGUAGE WITHIN A WEEK.
[*]Found porn on the internet ( No time to program :-) )
[*]Went to college ( No new languages/Technologies here )
[*]Got a Job
[*]Whenever I need to learn a new language, They send me to a crash course. Much easier than reading tutorials. Also much more expensive (But I'm not paying) .
[/list]
My main tip is:
a. Learn through doing (reading is not enough). Think of a small fun project, and make it as you learn. Edited by SillyCow
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[list]
[*]In fourth grade they had a Texas Instruments computer in the classroom. If I finished my classwork early, I could mess around with it. Taught myself Basic.
[*]In Junior High they had a computer class, but after a week I realized they weren't going to cover anything that anyone who had been within 100 yards of a computer before didn't already know. I transferred to wood-shop.
[*]In High school they offered essentially that exact same computer class. But they also offered Advanced Placement Pascal. And a top grade on the advanced placement test would test me out of the entire first year of Computer Science classes in college. That's money in the bank.
[*]In college they didn't really teach languages. They'd say, "Your project this quarter is in Ada. There's a book on it in the book store." When I graduated, I had about ten languages on my résumé - not to claim I was proficient, but to start the conversation in which I pointed out that I had been taught to learn any language.
[*]There was one rogue professor who taught C++ under the guise of an object oriented design class. So I learned C++ much more thoroughly than any other language.
[*]In college, I got a job making networked medical systems, using C++. And I used it in aerospace for a year and a half during and after college.
[*]At my first job in the video games industry, they were on the first generation of games developed in C++. We discovered all the classic pitfalls, such as the all consuming monolithic base class. But I also arrived at the abstract factory pattern independently, while designing a physics system.
[*]Between that and my next job, I developed a functor class which was a precursor the the C++11 std::function and std::bind.
[*]But there were aspects of the language which for various reasons weren't used by any of the studios I was at. There are those who would say that I was never truly proficient with the language until very recently, when I took some time to study those aspects of the language and the new C++11 features as well.
[/list]
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[quote name='JonBMN' timestamp='1345231484' post='4970647']
What was your journey to becoming proficient in the languages you know? I know myself I love hearing how people got to be who they are today and the steps they took. Feel free to share here, if not that's fine! I know beginners love to here others' success stories.
[/quote]
Since most of the previous posters give insight into how they got into programming back in the time when computers and the internet weren't exactly commonplace, here's my story from the point of view of someone that started out in the 21st century with most of the stuff available at a few clicks' reach.
[list]
[*]Started at 10 when my dad introduced me to Object Pascal (with the Delphi IDE), whipped up a few crappy apps/games with the RAD interface
[*]Two months later, I discovered pointers and indirection mechanisms and my world changed that day
[*]For the next six years, honed my skills to become quite proficient in that language and with hardware, but with intermittent 6-month "coding breaks"
[*]Got interested in math only when I was around 15, figured I could use my knowledge of programming to make homework less tedious
[*]Picked up Python when I was 16 and played around with it. Never really got proficient but I love writing short algorithms with it
[*]At 17 I went to my first "programming class" which was available at my high school
[*]Subsequently had to learn Java, did not like it much but survived
[*]Had to learn C# the second year, liked it a lot as a productivity tool and got proficient (with the syntax at least, lol, but checked out a few libraries)
[*]At 18, built my first actual desktop computer with - omg - an actual graphics card
[*]Immediately learnt XNA, but found it too convoluted and used SlimDX/C# instead
[*]Six months later, got bored to tears with computer graphics, learnt OpenCL and crunched numbers big time
[*]Learned some x86 and x64 assembler shortly after (just general knowledge for when I need to inline stuff)
[*]Begun university, have to use Java for computer science courses, which is slowly turning me into a code monkey
[*]Turned 19 and three more years to go before I get those degrees [b]<- I am here[/b]
[*]Looking forward to learn some functional languages, such as F# or Haskell and some database stuff (which I've ignored completely for some reason)
[/list]

Not exactly a "success story" but I feel I'm not doing too bad in terms of picking up new languages and frameworks (it certainly could be better, but I got... hmm... [i]sidetracked[/i] with other things).

My advice is to just "do it" and don't worry about what you learn, it's not like your brain has a limited capacity, and any experience you obtain in one area can often be reused elsewhere, as the whole programming/computer science field is very modular. I can safely say my extensive knowledge of Pascal and all the underlying algorithms/syntax/constructs made performing all of the subsequent bullet points about a thousand times easier (plus, it makes my discrete mathematics and logic course an absolute breeze). Whatever you learn cannot hurt you.

For what it's worth, I have very little knowledge of C++. OK, whip me now!
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[list=1]
[*]Being faced with a random problem (say: writing a simple text adventure)
[*]Looking at the options I have available (I started with BASIC on a Commodore 16)
[*]Learned how to use the tools to achieve my goal
[*]Tried to improve my skills by learning some theory (I started looking at algorithms like bubble sort, insert sort and data structures, etc.)
[*]Bought a lot of shareware- and technical disk magazines (this was way before the internet) and looked at other people's code - now it's the internet.
[*]Learned new languages (namely C and later Pascal), because they were used by many people in these disk mags
[*]Added the new languages to my "toolbox" and tried to figure out what they were especially good at
[*]Went back to Step 1 and repeated this cycle ever since.
[/list]
My current skills include a wide range of languages with varying degrees of current working knowledge (from domain specific ones such as SQL, XPath, XSLT, IDL and regular expressions to general purpose languages such as C++, ARM assembly, C#, Java, F#, Ruby, Pascal/Delphi, Javascript, ...). Lately (for the past 8 or so years, that is) I added a Step 7a to the cycle - acquiring more in-depth knowledge on some language features like implementation details, to better understand how the language works and why.
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I got my first computer when I was five. I broke it and the next day I fixed it. I was sold on how magical the thing was. Later in the same year I got dial-up connection and laptop running win 95. I still have it. With dialup I went surfing the first websites I could find and noticed the view source button, which was my first finding of what software actually is. The funny thing is I still could not read yet, but i was trying out what happens if If i do this or if i do that. After that I have tried out many languages and found what I like and dislike.
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My biggest growth as a C++ programmer happened after 6 months or so at my first job after graduating. I work as a graphics programmer, and upon starting, I had never worked on a large project or with a team. Being around other programmers and tackling large scale projects and problems really made me better. Sharing knowledge with others and getting a lot of practice in making clean code that works has been a huge factor in my growth. I feel more at ease programming and I rarely ever struggle to understand other's code anymore. Practice is key though. As with everything, you need to get out of your comfort zone and practice to expend your knowledge. I've worked with a lot of things I knew nothing about from networking to doing Linux IT work. I feel that these things made me a better programmer as well.
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