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posted by martyb on Thursday September 03 2015, @09:23AM   Printer-friendly
from the ignorance-is-bliss dept.

Olga Khazan writes in The Atlantic that learning to program involves a lot of Googling, logic, and trial-and-error—but almost nothing beyond fourth-grade arithmetic.

Victoria Fine explains how she taught herself how to code despite hating math. Her secret? Lots and lots of Googling. "Like any good Google query, a successful answer depended on asking the right question. “How do I make a website red” was not nearly as successful a question as “CSS color values HEX red” combined with “CSS background color.” I spent a lot of time learning to Google like a pro. I carefully learned the vocabulary of HTML so I knew what I was talking about when I asked the Internet for answers."

According to Khazan while it’s true that some types of code look a little like equations, you don’t really have to solve them, just know where they go and what they do. "In most cases you can see that the hard maths (the physical and geometry) is either done by a computer or has been done by someone else. While the calculations do happen and are essential to the successful running of the program, the programmer does not need to know how they are done."

Khazan says that in order to figure out what your program should say, you’re going to need some basic logic skills and you’ll need to be skilled at copying and pasting things from online repositories and tweaking them slightly. "But humanities majors, fresh off writing reams of term papers, are probably more talented at that than math majors are."


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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by BasilBrush on Thursday September 03 2015, @11:59AM

    by BasilBrush (3994) on Thursday September 03 2015, @11:59AM (#231684)

    It depends what you are doing. If you're programming something low level, like embedded software direct to the metal, or a creating a fundamental library, then you can do it all out of your head, with perhaps the occasional reference of a manual, a spec or a datasheet. But if you are creating a complete application, then you are dealing with more libraries than you can know - libraries for GUI, graphics, networking, data, io, analytics, video, analytics, logging, security, compression, etc. etc. All of which will have defects, depending on version, and depending on which OS version they are running on.

    When facing something which looks like a defect in someone else's code, trying to het a library to do something unusual, or simply trying to get a library up and running with a deadline looming, the wise programmer spends 10 minutes googling, and often finding a solution on stack-overflow, rather than spending half a day trying to work the problem out all by himself.

    Give me the programmer than knows when to consult stackoverflow any day, rather than the one who's too proud to seek out other people's experience.

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03 2015, @12:02PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 03 2015, @12:02PM (#231685)

    Seeking out other people's experience is fine, but not mindlessly copying and pasting other people's code.

    • (Score: 2) by urza9814 on Friday September 04 2015, @01:22PM

      by urza9814 (3954) on Friday September 04 2015, @01:22PM (#232232) Journal

      I do this a lot actually. But it's never directly copying and pasting someone else's code. If you do that the damn thing won't even compile most likely. You're gonna get five lines from them that need to fit into your thousand line file, so what are the odds that they're using the exact same variable names, the exact behavior you need, the exact error checking, etc? Basically zero. Of course you have to understand how it works, or you can't copy/paste at all!

      On the other hand, Google is replacing reference docs. So I'll go to Google to see if the language has a built-in function to do what I need before I go write my own. And maybe I find that it doesn't -- but here's a function someone else wrote to do what I need. Assuming it's halfway decent code, what kind of idiot *wouldn't* take advantage of that? I wouldn't be a programmer if I wasn't lazy -- the whole point is making the computer work so I don't have to :)

      Also, there's really zero difference between constantly Googling code and using any halfway modern IDE. They all do autocompletion and tooltip function definitions and all that. Personally I don't particularly like IDEs, so I use Notepad and a ton of DuckDuckGo/Google/Yahoo -- I find that more efficient than fighting an editor that thinks it knows what I want better than I do...but of course, YMMV.

  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday September 03 2015, @03:37PM

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday September 03 2015, @03:37PM (#231800) Journal

    Give me the programmer than knows when to consult stackoverflow any day, rather than the one who's too proud to seek out other people's experience.

    True, Stack is great for the odd little things you don't quite find documented clearly, or are non-typical things. Seldom useful for core problems.

    (My last use involved converting an established blocking socket to non-blocking for the duration of a connect, and then converting it back again once the connect completes.)

    Still, hardly your average use case, and nothing to do with mathematics.

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