Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

How To Code

If “What Is Code?” is not the answer for suffering VPs and SVPs, what should the answer look like? How about “How to”? Or have we forgotten the effectiveness of learning by doing?

People without any programming training can produce acceptable web pages. In fact, the original intent of HTML was to give non-programmers a very forgiving language so that even with many mistakes, any one could create web pages.

Experienced programmers found it too forgiving. Any mistake might slip by—or completely ruin a page. It had no logical syntax. Programmers need structure. Nowhere, in this article’s 38,000 words, does it present any of the following how-to tips.

Along with learning by doing, learning from others is a beginning programmer’s mainstay. The easiest introduction to code is modifying it. Find code somewhat similar to your needs; figure out how it works; change it to solve your problem.

This is really no different from finding an example in a book. But there’s far more code out in the real world than in books. And book examples tend to be overly simplistic.

It’s the same, really, when beginning writers are told to steal from the best. Considering the author is both a programmer and a writer, it’s surprising he doesn’t talk more about the connections between the two.

For example, the creative aspect of programming uses the same parts of the brain as creative writing. Not to mention the goal in prose is the same as in programming: clarity.

Beyond modifying other people’s code, programming requires much basic knowledge from books. One should have a perspective from the abstract Turing Machine to the different levels of abstraction of various languages.

Never limit testing and debugging to your primary computer. Know the higher level languages down to assembler and all the way down to machine code. Spend some time with a disassembler to see what compilers actually do with your code.

Finally, minimize the code that depends on outside programs. First, employ the old adage (it was old when I started in the 60s) Keep It Simple, Stupid or K.I.S.S. Optimizing any code that depends on outside programs is unlikely to last very long.

Optimizing increases maintenance. Upgrades for outside programs (operating systems, browsers, and even PDF readers) require more testing of your code. Outside changes keep increasing, forcing a new versions of your code every few years.

It shouldn’t be too hard to write good code because there are so many examples out there of bad code. Unless you can’t distinguish the good from the bad. If that’s the case, then perhaps you should find another line of work.


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