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What is Programming?

Updated on July 27, 2016

So What is Computer Programming, Anyway?

I'd studied a lot beforehand; I'd had more than a year of prior experience in programming, even. So when the first day of my computer science class rolled around, my professor went over common misconceptions about programming and told me that programming was just explaining a list of instructions to a computer because computers are dumb, I wasn't surprised and I wasn't grappling with the humiliation implied with the question "If computers are dumb, then what am I?" Yeah, people are smarter than computers, the software layer is just less streamlined. Even as small as transistors are today they can't compare to the jumbled mess of neurotransmitters that compose that sack of amino acids that sits in your skull. The brain is powerful and energy efficient, but I digress.

Basically, programming is just listing instructions for a computer to follow like I said. Natural language can't be used for this because it isn't optimized for clear, concise, unambiguousness. A computer can't infer anything unless it's written with a software layer to do the task; the software in question being, of course, the dangerous inevitability of general A.I., which thankfully is hard to develop. Engineers developed special languages that computers could easily digest, and that would only hiccup when the programmer left a hole in the logic. Don't get me wrong, there is no perfect language... All a programming language is a software layer itself, so there are bugs and flaws with the logic, and any language can only be so useful before another language comes along and says "This is my turf. Get off." (I don't think they actually do that, but don't quote me on it.). A computer language has to be simple, for the sake of the user and the machine.

A computer language can only be processed as text unless it has some software to parse it, so of course compilers are also important. For a while I was honestly unsure what the difference between the compiler and the language was, and it's slightly embarrassing to admit now, and (honestly) it's not terribly important unless you're explaining software development, or you've started an argument with a techie. A compiler describes what action the computer should perform based on the code that was written. This results in the creation of a machine-readable executable file. Essentially, the compiler just translates your code into a program.

Keep in mind that not all languages are "compiled", there are interpreted languages too, that work slightly differently. Interpreted languages work by translating the code directly. For instance, if you run a Python file, the Python interpreter will grab the text, and read the instructions to the computer itself without creating an executable file to run. The script is already the program.

Should Everybody Learn to Program?

Steve Jobs said that everybody should learn to program because it teaches you how to think. I'm going to start off by saying the first apple OS was revolutionary, but Steve Jobs didn't build it, and in general Jobs was an "Okay-ish" programmer at best, in my opinion. He was a rocking businessman, though, but I want to spill some real talk here: Steve Jobs was dumb... I mean, he was real dumb. This is why: NO, NOT EVERYBODY IS CUT OUT FOR PROGRAMMING.

I'm not touting the "programmers are the cream of the human race" flag, either. I couldn't be an accountant, or an advertiser, or a stock broker, or a salesman, or a lawyer, or a doctor (definitely the last one.) because I don't have what it takes, my brain doesn't work that way and that's okay.

If you think you'll enjoy smacking keys on a keyboard all day go for it, you'll probably really enjoy programming. The thing that turns most people away from it is how daunting everything seems, because you feel like you have to know all this stuff to even begin to comprehend a computer language. That's not true though. Just stick to something simple and concrete, like making webpages. You don't NEED to know anything but a little HTML to get started, and it can be fun!

Are Markup Languages Programming Languages?

This is an argument of semantics, and even within the languages that are undisputedly labeled as "programming" languages, the argument still persists on which subcategory (there are tons of 'em) the language fits into. Declarative or imperative, compiled or interpreted (or both... I'm looking at you Java.) are all very relevant subcategories, and they're only a handful of the types and subtypes of the languages you will find. The differences between markup languages and programming languages is mainly implementation. A programming language is used to build, restructure or otherwise manipulate data, a markup language is built to display data. There are points in which these two intersect though.


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