Nowadays, coding is a highly valued skill. More and more kids are learning to decipher zeros and ones from an early age, even benefiting from smart toys created to educate them.
But one of the most remarkable global initiatives to date is the Hour of Code. To support this event, we thought we’d ask one of our coding gurus for some valuable tips on how to get started.
Cristian has been coding for 23 years (yes, he’s been called a dinosaur), since the early dawn of the Internet as we know it. In 1991, he started to learn the basics, with extremely limited resources, and was forced to re-learn everything a couple of times as the Internet and coding languages progressed.
Here are his words of wisdom for kids and teens interested in learning programming skills:
How did you learn to code?
I learned to code by myself. I mean without any guidance, (very) scarce material and, basically, until 1998, without Internet. The whole process took ages (literally) and plenty of mistakes but, in the end, the method I go by is the tried-and-true one. You need to test things for yourself.
It also helps to read the source code written by the very best programmers. One of the best things I’ve done was to download the forgotten djgpp compiler and build Quake I source code. I’m not sure how much I learned back then, but it was an exciting task, for sure.
To understand how to think like a programmer and then how to actually write code, I also got my hands on some good Win32 and C books.
If you were to start learning to code all over again, what 5 steps would you begin with?
- I would buy my own computer in an instant, connect it to the Internet and install every C and C++ compiler known to man.
- Learn C before C++. Crawl before you walk, right?
- Download Quake and Doom source code. Read the code, the how to’s and why’s, and then make them work.
- Lock myself away from the outside world until I’ve built the first program to be proud of. You can start with a notepad clone written from scratch — it’s good enough.
- Take everything you read with a grain of salt.
Do you think it’s a good idea for kids to start coding at an early age? Why?
Yes and no. If you are serious and passionate about coding, you can start at any time. And the answer really depends on your final objective. Is it a hobby? If it’s something like a sport or reading a book, there’s no harm in trying it. You can bail out later if you don’t understand it or don’t want to hear about it anymore.
I encourage taking programming lessons if you are able to immerse yourself in coding, are curious, and able to handle complex issues in general. That is coding, after all: controlling complexity. I don’t recommend it to people lacking the skills and interest, of course.
Cristian is also a proud contributor at two important projects: the Chromium Embedded Framework – an open source framework for embedding a web browser engine based on the Chromium core – and helps Mozilla Firefox find bugs and improve its security stance.