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Why learn programming

Why would you set off to study the art of computer programming? Programming certainly seems like the most complex way to interface with today’s increasingly complex machines. Programming, much like knitting, isn't for everybody; you have to have a curious mind and not be afraid of getting into the nitty gritty. Learning to program is also not something to rush into, it will take a significant investment of time. But here are my top few reasons when asked:

Programming is fun! As with all creative outlets you experience the sheer joy of making things. You start with nothing but an idea and only your imagination limits what you can create.

Programming is a useful tool! To better be able to analyse raw data, automate boring repetitive tasks, or create interactive websites.

Programming teaches a new way of thinking. The process of creating programs is quite different from most things we humans do. Gaining a skill that changes how you think about other things.

Gain a deeper understanding of technology
it is necessary for people to have an appreciation for what is possible because of science and technology… an abstract understanding of how things work. – Vint Cerf
A program simply describes the tasks we want a computer to perform. A working computer will run programs precisely, following given instructions to the letter - no more and no less. As a consequence, even the simplest of real world programs must be carefully crafted. A small glitch (or bug) in an important program can have catastrophic consequences.

Software engineers learn to organize and structure their programs to minimize the chance of unintended behaviours occurring. Thoughtfully designed programs handle unforeseen problems, hide layers of complexity by isolating small easy-to-modify components, making it much easier to reason about overall system behaviour. When problems do appear, only the affected component needs to be debugged or replaced.
Computation in isolation can certainly be powerful (and even fun), but just wait until your programs start to manipulate data, interact with humans, and communicate with other systems.

Programming languages are how we communicate tasks to a computer. Much like natural language expresses and frames our thoughts, the programming language frames how you describe tasks to a computer. There are low-level programming languages that do not hide hardware nuances - these are difficult to master but extremely powerful. There are programming languages dedicated to particular domains such as the R langugae for Statistical Computing, particular computers (Objective C for iOS, CUDA for GPU programming), and particular styles of programming. There exists a wide range of general purpose programming languages, and like natural languages they often change over time.

The concepts gained when learning to program for the first time apply to almost all programming languages, although it is important to realize that different languages do different things well.


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