Learning to Program – The Why and the How
In our information society, in which we spend hours each day surrounded by computers, we are constantly interacting with programs and computer code. However, not many people understand programming languages – the native tongue of computers. Without comprehension of the inner workings of software, the many abilities of modern computing devices may seem magical. Learning to program in any programming language can help demystify this hidden world and create and understanding for the digital world. By programming, one can write apps, automate lots of tedious busywork, or control smart home devices. One of the biggest motivations for programming is after all the digital implementation of one’s own creative ideas.
However, programming is not only a fun hobby, but also a valued skill in the professional world. Programming skills are sought after in almost every industry and especially in jobs requiring a higher education. Apart from technical jobs, programming skills are also highly useful in fields like economics, linguistics, and even in the arts, since they enable the programmer to automate the handling of large amounts of data. This article aims to give some hints on where one can learn to program outside of university courses.
Learning to program in courses
Programming is the practice of creating programs, from a draft to the finalized code. Every computer program is written in one of the many available programming languages. Programming languages allow for the translation of human ideas into computer readable code. Visual Basic (VB) and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) are widely used languages that allow for the creation of programs, the analysis of data, and even for the control of other programs like Excel. The center for computer science, the EB school, and the Migros Klubschule offer courses for both VB and VBA.
There are hundreds of different programming languages, and new ones are created on a regular basis. Some are specialized for a specific task, while others serve a general purpose. Before starting to learn a programming language, one should think about intended application, whether it is web development (HTML/CSS/PHP), mobile apps (Java), or game development (C#, Unity). However, understanding one programming language makes it much easier to get a grip on the next one.
Learning to program independently
If you prefer to learn to program on your own, there are numerous online platforms, like the Online Academy by Migros Klubschule or Udacity, offering all kinds of courses. Codecademy, which is among the more popular platforms, offers courses on programming as well as on web development. The courses include step-by-step guidance and the learner can choose his own pace to improve his knowledge. On Udemy, one can find different programming courses which are partly free. Additionally, the courses offer detailed information on the teachers, the duration of the course, and the precise course structure, along with a rating by previous participants. The included code challenges are explained by a video trainer.
The Master 21 Academy offers workshops in the German speaking parts of Switzerland, where programming skills can be learned in intense group projects. Another major event in the programming world are the Informatiktage in June, and the Swiss Digital Day in October, both of which offer a wide variety of workshops and courses in many different areas of programming.
Learning to program at technical colleges and CAS
If you are interested in a more comprehensive education in programming, you can apply for courses at technical colleges or institutions specialized in IT education. You can an overview over the certificates and diplomas offered in programming-related fields in Switzerland on the Schweizer Bildungsportal website. Additionally, you can search the websites of technical colleges like the ZHAW or the FHNW for courses related to programming. New CAS and MAS courses on programming are introduced on a regular basis.
Learning to program with games
On code.org, you can learn new programming skills by making changes to the code of small games. Code Avengers is a platform, where you learn programming skills in small units, which you can test later on in minigames. This online platform offers courses for various programming languages and it also teaches web design.
In addition to the programming skills that are valuable in private and professional aspects of everyone’s life, you also gain new problem-solving skills. Programming teaches you to take large problem complexes and split them up into smaller, more manageable tasks, which is a very useful skill when dealing with any large project, even if it has nothing to do with IT. Steve Jobs went so far as to say: “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”
The importance of at least basic programming knowledge is continuing to grow. Over the next few years, Swiss schools will start to teach programming as a regular school subject, so programming will become a widely known skill that is considered to be of equal importance as languages or math. The new Lehrplan 21 mandates that programming has to be taught in primary schools starting 2019. So for anyone who wants to stay up-to-date, learning to program is essential.