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How do you get started in programming?

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I recently received the email below from someone asking how he might get started in programming. I think this is a popular topic, especially given the current economic situation in the US (unemployment is high, but not in the tech industry). For that reason, I figured I'd post my response here and allow others to chime in with their advice.

I read about you on LinkedIn, forgive my intrusion. Since you seem like an expert in the field of designing websites I wanted to know your thoughts on switching into this field late in life. I am 41 and looking to make the move from an unrelated field (finance) to programming. So far I have learned HTML, CSS and some Javascript. I have taken classes on C and Java. I have made some basic Android phone apps.

What languages do you think I should focus on? What is the fastest way to get up to speed to make a career of it? Classes? Take a entry level job? Study on my own?

Thanks for any insights….

My reply:

It's interesting that you're switching from finance to programming. I did the same thing early on in my career, but I was fortunate enough to do it in college (I have degrees in Russian, International Business and Finance) and therefore able to audit some CS classes before I graduated.

I think the most valuable skills these days are front-end skills (HTML, CSS and JavaScript). If you can combine those skills with the ability to design websites, you'll go along way. I've taken a different approach where I have excellent front-end skills, but also know a lot about the backend.

While it helps to have a Java background these days, the real sweat spot is the JVM and the containers that run on it like Tomcat and Jetty. A lot of Java developers are learning Groovy and Scala, but unfortunately a lot of their documentation/books are targeted towards Java developers.

The fastest way to get up-to-speed on it is to start your own project (if you can't get a company to hire you to do it). I'd suggest creating a webapp that solves a problem that you have, makes your life easier, etc. If you open source it and build a community around it, that's just as good as working for a company as far as experience goes. Combine this with studying on your own and you can likely come up to speed very quickly.

As a programmer, what advice do you have for someone looking to switch careers, or get into our industry fresh out of college?

 

From http://raibledesigns.com/rd/entry/how_do_you_get_started

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