Despite their incredible power and potential, computers are very simple devices at heart. Even the most well-specified or expensive computer will fail to operate at all without software telling it what to do. This might take the form of an operating system that governs start-up and day-to-day functions, or it might be a dedicated piece of software that enables the computing device in question to play games, perform tasks, assist in the workplace or communicate with the wider world.
Each of these duties requires software, or programs, which pass instructions onto the computer. In turn, each program needs a team of programmers to create and define those instructions, and this is the basis of the computer programming industry. It’s a sector that has mushroomed in recent years, in tandem with the explosion in tablets, smartphones and mobile gaming devices. Consequences of this have included high demand for talented programmers, and almost limitless opportunities for creativity and imagination to be rewarded.
Why would I want to be a computer programmer?
To look at this question another way, why wouldn’t you? While most of us simply use software packages on a daily basis, a select few get to decide how those packages look and operate. For every hundred teenagers locked in their bedrooms playing computer games, one lucky programmer will have been responsible for deciding what weaponry to incorporate, or how a racing car should handle at high speed, or how much swerve can be applied to a penalty kick.
Quite apart from the ability to create games or programs that millions of people might use and enjoy, computer programmers are also very well-paid for their efforts. Now that computers have truly entered the mainstream, programming is no longer the niche industry it used to be, and the title of being a computer programmer carries real cachet and prestige – historic caricatures of programmers as nerdy and introverted have long since died away. Furthermore, programmers are crucial in deciding how technology develops in future, so they play an active role in the creation of tomorrow’s gaming devices and office equipment.
Changing the program
Computer programming is a broad church nowadays, from devising basic smartphone applications (known in the industry as apps) through to programming lunar rovers in readiness for space exploration. This is reflected in the sheer diversity of computer programming courses, which come in all forms, including self-taught distance learning schemes and postgraduate qualifications in specific areas or languages. There’s something for everyone, but there are some topics and programming languages that are well worth undertaking a computer programming course in…
You’re speaking my language
Computer languages evolve and sometimes die out over time, but a few have remained enduringly popular. As a result, these are among the best subjects to consider when selecting a computer programming course:
1. C++. Despite its rather oblique name, C++ is one of the most popular, widespread and enduring programming languages in existence. During its 30-year lifespan, it has seen off various challengers like Pascal to become a staple method of coding, for application software, games and device drivers alike. An in-depth C++ course can often precede a lucrative and successful career in computer programming.
2. Java. Java is ten years younger than C++, but it is arguably even more influential in the current age. A key characteristic is its portability – Java should work exactly the same regardless of the computer or operating system it is being used by – while the actual coding process is broadly similar to the one used by C++. That means a student on a Java course could easily progress onto a C++ course, and vice versa.
3. HTML. An abbreviation of Hyper Text Markup Language, this is the foundation of website pages. Each set of HTML instructions tells a computer how each web page should look and what happens when data is input. An HTML course is highly valuable because almost every page on the Internet requires HTML to function, and its long-term future is assured, so this knowledge will remain useful for many years.
A career in computer programming
Unlike some professions, computer programming jobs can be found in towns and cities all over the country, rather than being massed in one specific location. Each job is unique, and because software and programs are constantly being updated and revised, there is plenty of scope for developing a niche in a specialist area.
Computer programming is a huge (and growing) employment sector, and the massive increase in the popularity of mobile devices is likely to further accelerate this in future. There is also real satisfaction to be gained in witnessing a length of code becoming a working program, and this is an industry where original thinking and creativity are actively encouraged, rather than grudgingly tolerated.
By Neil Cumins