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YES! You can learn computer programming!

Programming computers, at it's most basic level, is not very difficult if you have the right basic tools. People from all walks of life, regardless of age, gender, and culture, are learning to program computers. Now that the new millenium is upon us, it is becoming more and more clear that having some computer programming skills will be essential to remaining competitive in the workforce.

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You don't have to make a career out of it -- but you CAN!

I know many professional programmers who started out looking to learn to program computers as a hobby, but found that the salaries that they could draw as programmers were so good that they turned their hobby into their profession.

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The first step is starting...

Regardless, of just how you decide to use the skill, the first step is to start. And so we have included here our introduction to programming concepts for you to browse. If you like what you read here, you can purchase our in-depth training course and continue your lessons!

How can you turn your computer into more than just an expensive typewriter?

Computers are very powerful indeed. Today you can buy all sorts of business software that can perform the most complex calculations in a fraction of a second. And with this software, your computer can give you more power than any typewriter, calculator, or video game that ever existed! However, if you don't know how to properly utilize your computer... how to take it to the next level... that's all you have - a $2,000 calculator, typewriter, and video game rolled into one!
But computers have the potential to do much more than that. People wrote the programs that you use already, and people write programs to make computers do incredible things that you may never have even thought of. Computers are already used to do things like
  • Automatically count and catalog each person who logs onto your web page
  • Automatically collect information (from the internet or from other sources) and put it in your database
  • Automatically convert data from raw form into a fancy, easy-to-read report with summaries and statistics
  • Automatically put data into a database for later manipulation
  • Automatically generate reports and statistics from a database.
  • Automatically control lights, alarms, pagers, Electronic Signs, switches, machines, and more.
  • Automatically read mailing labels and sort mail based on what it sees - even if it is handwritten!
  • Automatically process credit cards, manage inventory, print labels and manifests, plan truck routes, or anything else that can be performed based on input, rules, and output!
Now you may not need to make your computer control a machine. And you may not ever become a strong enough programmer to make that happen anyway. But by learning the basic programming concepts, you might be able to program an Excel macro to automate one of your tasks for you. Or you might be able to write a perl program to parse and summarize your data so that you can generate a report every month automatically. Or maybe you will be able to modify your on-line shopping cart software to work just the way you want. You will benefit so much from learning a few simple programming concepts because it will give you the ability to free your time to focus on the tasks that you do best!

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Computers Handle Routine Tasks Very Well

Computers have the ability to collect information (data), sort it, filter it, use it to make decisions and generate output to you very quickly so that you can benefit from its work. Of course, computers cannot replace humans altogether – some decisions can't be made by a computer! This is because a computer is only as smart as the input that's put into it. It doesn't have gut feelings, new ideas, dreams, or intuition. That's what separates us humans from not only computers, but also from animals. But, as a human with ideas and dreams, imagine being able to replace some routine task that takes you an hour every morning with a computer program that takes 10 seconds to execute! Wouldn't that save you time? Or imagine being able to write a computer program to collect information automatically, even when you're not around or awake! This is what computer programming is all about. This is why computer programming can benefit you.

Of course, you already have some understanding of computers, because if you didn't, you wouldn't be able to log on to the internet and see this page. You may already be using computers at work (perhaps you're at work right now! That's OK – if the boss comes by and asks you what you are doing, tell him you're about to learn something that will make you much more efficient, and you'll be asking for a raise in a few weeks!). Maybe you have a PC in your home, too. Well computers can be used to automate tasks both at work and in the home, and after you have learned the basics, you will find many uses for your computers that you never thought of before!

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You don't need to learn Techo-Babble to do it...

The thought of writing a computer program might be scary to you. But that is only because you've probably never done it before. And if you have read about it, or heard about it, you've been scared off by confusing acronyms, techno-babble, and undefined terms that you've never heard before. Every industry adopts acronyms, made-up words, and jargon to confuse and scare strangers, and Computer Programming is no different. But the good news is that with our Introductory Programming Course, you will be able get past the technical jargon, and really understand how to write a computer program. And in today's high-tech world, you will really be a step ahead by having this understanding. It won't just amaze your friends and peers, it will also give you an edge.

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Computer Programs are written in "Easy to read" languages

Learning to write a computer program is not very difficult. What the professionals don't tell you is that one of the goals of a computer program is to be easy to read, easy to maintain, fix, update, and enhance. The easier a computer programming language is to use, the more people will be able to use it, the more successful that language will become. At the lowest level, all computers execute programs in "Bits" or teeny, tiny switches that are either on or off. These switches are like microscopic light switches – when the switch is on, power can get past. When the switch is off, power cannot get past. Believe it or not, there are still some computer languages used in the industrial world that look like electrical schematics with on/off switches. But if normal people like you and I had to write programs in that manner, no one would ever want to become a programmer! You’d be better off becoming a Mathematician or an Actuary! (If you are already an Actuary, you may have an edge in computer programming!) Popular programming languages like Visual Basic, C, and Java are all readily available and are relatively easy to read and use once you've learned the basic fundamentals of computer programming.

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There are many languages, but they all follow the same basic principles.

Regardless of the language you are using, it almost certainly follows the same basic principles as any other popular language today. Even at the lowest level, in the "bits and bytes" level, the basic principles are almost the same. The higher level languages, sometimes called 3-GLs (for 3rd Generation Languages) simply give us easy-to-read and easy-to-use shortcuts to the bits-and-bytes functions found in the electronics of the chip. These basic concepts are very simple indeed. The hardest part about writing a computer program is deciding what function you want your program to perform. Your computer program might be a full-scale, Enterprise Resource Management system with interfaces to every single part of your company. Or it might be a simple utility to automatically download your stock portfolio into an Excel Spreadsheet. Regardless of how simple or complex your program will be, the first thing that has to be very clear to you before you start is the purpose of the program.

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First Design your Program.

Do you already have a program in mind? A task that you want to automate? A job that you want your computer to do for you? Well, once you have decided on the purpose of your program, you will break down the program into the individual tasks, or functions, that your program will perform. You can give these functions names, and write them on a piece of paper, or better yet, open up a Word Processor (like Notepad) and write the function names in a new document, one function on each line. For example, if you are building a program to copy a file for you, you might break up the program into a function called Read that reads the file from the source location, and another function called Write that writes the file to the destination location.

This is called Designing your program. If your program is very small, you may be able to skip this step. After all, there is not much thought that has to go into designing a program that only performs one or two tasks. But as you gain experience, you will find that the "optional" design step is often useful even for simple programs, because all tasks can usually be broken down into sub-tasks, and it gives you a chance to think your program through before you even start writing a single line of code.

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Writing the program is just a matter of "Filling in the Blanks!"

Once you have written down the function names, you’ve actually started the programming process! Typically, programs are written by entering function names and commands into a file that will then be executed by the computer later on. This file is typically called the Source file, and the commands that you write inside of it are typically called Source Code, or Code for short. Ultimately, this source file will be converted into a program that you can double-click on the desktop and execute those instructions. But as you probably already guessed, if you are writing the program in your word processor, then it won’t execute anything but your word processor when you double-click it!
So how do we get from a Word Processor Document that opens up when you double click it to a program that executes when you double click it?

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Convert the program to Machine Language

Well, as we already said, the computer chips don't speak English, or C, or Basic. The computer speaks in terms of those bits and bytes that we talked about – often referred to as Machine Language. So in order to make your computer execute your program instructions, instead of just displaying them on the screen in your word processor, we must convert the Source Code that you wrote in English into the Machine Language that the computer can understand. There are two ways to do this – Compilers and Interpreters.
If your program uses a Compiler, it reads your source code file, translates it into the equivalent Bits and Bytes that the computer uses to execute your commands, and writes the Machine Language commands into a new, executable file. If your program uses an Interpreter, the interpreter executes, reads the commands from your file, translates those commands to machine language, and runs them immediately as it starts processing the next set of commands. It never writes an executable file – you never really execute your program, the interpreter does that for you.
There are some subtle differences between a compiled and interpreted language. Mostly it has to do with speed and performance. Since an interpreter translates your source file to machine language every time you run it, it typically runs slower than a compiled program, which is translated only once, and then run from the already-translated executable file. However, if it takes several minutes to compile your program, it may take longer to develop and debug a compiled program, since every time you make a change, you must recompile it and wait several minutes before you can test it. With an interpreter, you simply make your change and run the program and you can see the results instantly.
Some languages have both a compiler and an interpreter, so that you can test and debug your programs with an interpreter, and then compile a version to distribute. Other programs have only a compiler or only an interpreter. Yet others have a compiler that quickly compiles the code to a new source file in language that's closer to Machine Language, but isn't, and then interprets that code quickly to machine language using a Run Time file. This way, you get better performance on both ends – compiling is faster so it's less of a burden, and execution speed is only slightly slower than a completely compiled version.

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Make your first program...

Believe it or not, you already know more than the average person about programming a computer. In fact, you already know more than some professional programmers that I know! Now, all that's left is to learn some of the basic constructs that we spoke about earlier, and you'll be ready to start writing your first computer program!

Continuing your lessons...

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