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Ask Slashdot: How Does an IT Generalist Get Back Into Programming? 224

CanadianSchism writes "I've been in the public sector for the past 6 years. I started off doing my work study in web design and a bit of support, eventually going through the interview process to fill in a data processing technician post, and getting the job. The first four years of my work life were spent in various schools, fixing computers, implementing new hardware, rolling out updates/ghosting labs, troubleshooting basic network and printer problems, etc. I was eventually asked to work on the administrative information systems with an analyst, which I've been doing for the past 2 years. That's consisted of program support, installing updates to the pay/financial/purchasing/tax/energy systems, taking backups on SQL servers, etc. I've never had the opportunity to take time for myself, and jump back into my first love: programming. I've picked up Powershell books (have two here at the office), but haven't gotten anything down yet, as there are always other projects that come up and whittle my attention to learning a language down to zilch. This new year will see a change in that, however. I'll be setting aside an hour every day to devote to learning a new language, in the eventual hope that I can leave this company (take a sabbatical) and hop into the private sector for a few years. My question to you all is, what language should I start with, to learn and get back into the principles of programming, that will help me build a personal portfolio, but will also lend to learning other languages? At this point, I'm not sure if I'd like to make/maintain custom applications, or if back-end web programming would be more interesting, or any of the other niches out there."
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Ask Slashdot: How Does an IT Generalist Get Back Into Programming?

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  • Python (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HaZardman27 ( 1521119 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @04:54PM (#42330031)
    It's easy, it's fun, and it's versatile. It would be useful to all of the field you mentioned and would also be useful for scripting if you do end up going back to IT.
  • Python... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MarcoPon ( 689115 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @05:04PM (#42330163) Homepage
    Take a look at this Google Python Class video: it will get you immediately up & running: []
  • by NewWorldDan ( 899800 ) <> on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @05:23PM (#42330387) Homepage Journal

    It's been my experiance that good programmers always have a project in the works. It's almost a disease. I can't go 2 weeks without writing something. So if you've gone 6 years without writing anything, I've got to wonder if it's really your thing.

    That said, the next question is where to start. Pick something with high demand where it's relatively easy to get your foot in the door. The biggest problem you'll encounter is that everyone wants 5 years of experiance. If you can work programming into your current job, great. That's how I switch from systems administration to programming. I'd recommend learning C# and MVC. The tools are excellent and there's huge demand for it right now. The HTML and Javascript side of it will translate over to anything else you want to do.

  • by johnwbyrd ( 251699 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @05:34PM (#42330545) Homepage

    Instead of following the pattern on here of recommending this programming language or that, I'll suggest a different course.

    First, choose a very specific field of work. Video games, insurance, pinnipeds, ASIC design... something.

    Second, look at the development technologies and tools that exist in that field and are used frequently and common. Games use C++ and assembly, ASICs use Verilog, pinniped databases are written in .NET.

    Third, focus on learning the technologies that are used in your particular field of interest.

    This will permit you to have a marketable skill in precisely the area of programming you want to accomplish.

    I am aware that many programmers consider themselves "generalists" -- and heck, I do too. But the field of programming is now sufficiently wide that ALL programmers must, to an extent, specialize. Of course you can always apply your generalist knowledge to solving one-off problems. Instead, I suggest you focus on a particular area of expertise related to your dream job.

    Best of luck.

  • Re:Python... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ios and web coder ( 2552484 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @05:38PM (#42330589) Journal

    I guess you never used Pascal, eh?

    Over the years, I've programmed Pascal, FORTRAN, BASIC, PL/I, C, C++, Ruby, Python, Machine Code, ASM, PHP, JavaScript, HTML, XSLT, etc.

    My longest-term language was C++ (over 20 years), but I now mostly do PHP (Server-side) and JavaScript and Objective-C (client-side).

    ObjC was weird to learn (not as weird as XSLT, though), after C++, but I've got the hang of it.

    Language (to me) is almost irrelevant. I can learn a new language to a useful level in a couple of weeks.

    However, what takes the time, is the framework/SDK/API. That can take years to master.

    Scripting languages (like PHP and Python) rely on enormous libraries. These can take a long time to learn, and learn well. They also tend to be moving targets.

  • by kwerle ( 39371 ) <> on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @05:46PM (#42330673) Homepage Journal

    By and large, languages don't matter. It's the frameworks that do. Nobody* is looking for a ruby programmer - they're looking for a ruby on rails programmer. Nobody is looking for an Objective-C programmer - they're looking for iOS (and/or MacApps) programmers.

    * yes, there probably are 3 ruby jobs, but you don't qualify and they are not near you/flexible enough/whatever.

    I don't happen to like Java. I found python annoying when I last tried it (which was long ago). I think I'd like it more, now. php was meh. I really enjoy ruby and I liked Obj-C 15 years ago. Find out what you like to work with.

    Check out the Seven Languages book. It's fun to take a few languages for a spin. If it's not fun for you, maybe you should stick with IT :-)

    But you're really asking about finding a job.

    By and large, jobs don't matter. Yes, you need/want to make enough to live comfortably, but it's amazing what you can be comfortable with. What really matters is what you work on, who you work with, and what you work with. Find a job in a field that interests you, working for/with folks that you get along with. Once you're there, fix the kinds of problems you enjoy fixing. Do some of the ones that need fixing, too. You do both software and IT - it should not be hard to find a great place to work and make it work for you.

  • by LodCrappo ( 705968 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @06:04PM (#42330875) Homepage

    It seems like you are missing the OP's point. Good programmers code all the time *regardless* of whether the nature of their job lends time to it. They *do* jump into it in their off-time.

    The fact that you haven't is a strong indicator that programming is not for you.

  • by PRMan ( 959735 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @06:04PM (#42330881)
    What he's saying is that most great programmers would be programmers whether there was a paying job or not. If they were factory workers, they would be writing code on nights and weekends for fun.

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