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5 Steps to Starting your Programming Career (and three ways to become the best)

For those who want to become programmers, it's really easy to get started. It's just a matter of how far do you want to take your programming efforts.

November 14th, 2014 • Develop •
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5 Steps to Starting Your Programming Career (and three ways to become the best)

For those of you just getting into coding, you could not have picked a better time.

Mobile development, web development, Windows/Linux/iOS development. All are ready for you to attack and create your coding empire. Muhahahaha!

Sorry, I digress.

Since there are so many languages and disciplines available in the programming industry, this post is meant to be more of a introduction to a coding career than addressing the existing batch of coders out there.

A Doctor? Nah, I'll Pass

When I started coding at age 11, my parents had grandiose dreams of me becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Nay, Nay, I said. I wanted to code.

At age 16, I decided what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to write code because it was the future. Now, 30 years later, I read two articles earlier this week about why it's better to be a developer instead of a doctor and How becoming a doctor has become the most miserable profession. Sorry, mom and dad. I rest my case.

I had a Commodore VIC-20 and coded in BASIC every chance I got. When the web appeared, I had notepad and the Mosaic Browser to test it. Yes, you read that right, folks...NOTEPAD.

Nowadays, there are web sites to create web sites. You click and drag elements onto a page. Hardly a learning experience for up and coming web developers. There not much thought involved there. GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY WITH CODE!

If you want to get started in the programming industry, it doesn't matter which platform or language you choose.

  1. Pick a programming discipline
    Decide whether you want to develop web technologies (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript), mobile apps (Android,iOS,Windows Mobile), server development (PHP, Node.js, ASP.NET), or write desktop applications (.NET, WinForms, C++, C, WPF).

  2. Select a language related to your discipline
    Pick a language that is related to your discipline and start learning it. For example, you wouldn't learn COBOL when your discipline is web development. Hardly a popular language for web pages.

  3. Research your craft
    Find every blog, article, magazine, video, and podcast dedicated to that language and learn. Just because you are out of school doesn't mean that you stop learning!

  4. Find a mentor
    Even though the Internet is vast and knowledgeable, a mentor can help in two ways: they can assist you in following best practices based on their experience and if they have a network of people, they could refer you to possible future opportunities.

  5. Branch out/Experiment with other languages
    You may run into barriers with one language where it's easier with another language. Once you understand the techniques and semantics of one programming language, applying the ideas to another is trivial. As I've said before, a language is a language is a language.

Now that you've found your ideal language and started coding, how do you become the best?

  1. Become passionate about becoming better
    You should always try to better yourself: personally and professionally. I am always coding and experimenting with new ways to automate/write code (T4 is my favorite right now). People ask me what I do in my spare time as a hobby. I respond "I program." Scary I know, but this has become my life. I always try to code better than my last project.

  2. ALWAYS know at least two Languages/Technologies
    When I was growing up, I had the philosophy that any time in my career, I would always know two languages in case one language or technology faded away. While I understood Delphi, I was learning about the Internet on my own time. You accumulate skills that people sit up and take notice.

  3. Code Personal Projects/Contribute to Open Source
    It's amazing that my personal coding experiences have "bled" into my corporate career. While coding ASP.NET with C#, I heard about ASP.NET MVC and decided to download the alpha version and experiment with it. One company asked me about my ASP.NET WebForms experience and I mentioned projects that I successfully completed in ASP.NET MVC. "Oh, you know how to do that as well? We'll pay you extra for that!" All because I decided to do this on my own time and further my education on my own terms.


Your decision to become a developer is a great step that most people wish they could do. At one point in the future, programming skills will be in demand even for the most simplest careers. Companies are already requiring people in non-technical industries to have front-end skills, such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. While HTML is hardly considered programming, it's an absolute first step in becoming a web developer.

Once you become proficient with development, the world, as they say, is your oyster.

NOTE: This post was originally published on LinkedIn through my account.

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Jonathan Danylko is a freelance web architect and avid programmer who has been programming for over 20 years. He has developed various systems in numerous industries including e-commerce, biotechnology, real estate, health, insurance, and utility companies.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "Programming."

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