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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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  • by ios and web coder ( 2552484 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @04:56PM (#42330059) Journal

    I do it for free; usually for NPOs that can't afford programmers. Helps me to learn.

    I don't particularly care whether or not it ever becomes "famous" (it won't because it addresses a very small, select audience). I just care whether or not it is the best quality I can do.

    The nice thing, is that there is minimal pressure, which is good, as my "day job" gets first dibs on my time.

    I don't watch TV. I don't hunt. I don't tweak cars, and I don't like to spend much time tending a server.

    I just like to code. I also make sure that I don't write stuff that competes with my "day job." I like my company, and they could easily make my life miserable if I did. I also don't spend much of my "day job's" time on my personal stuff. I don't mind spending a bit of it, though, as they DEFINITELY benefit from my extracurricular work.

    That works for me.

  • Python (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cinghiale ( 2269602 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @04:58PM (#42330071) [] Results may vary but yes it is that simple and powerful.
  • by Midnight_Falcon ( 2432802 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @05:05PM (#42330187)
    My opinion here is you've developed skills in IT, but now you're looking to do a bit of a "paradigm shift" and go into Development. However, there's big money these days for Sysadmins who can code well, e.g. python, powershell, ruby, and use it it some type of framework like Puppet or CFEngine etc.

    You can become a rockstar DevOps Sysadmin if you get this down

    I'd suggest Ruby first, then Python...but of course, you'll want to make sure your Linux/unix sysadmin knowledge is top notch too. I'm self taught so I'm not very good at telling people how to learn it besides "eh figure it out", but I'm sure you are industrious enough :)

    In conclusion: Stick with IT. Also add Programming. Collect $$ for being a DevOps specialist.

  • College (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dennis Sheil ( 1706056 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @06:39PM (#42331235)

    Do you have a Bachelor's degree? I began working as a systems administrator before completing my Bachelor's degree. I have always done some amateur programming, but wanted to improve my skills to where I really was a "programmer". So I killed two birds with one stone and started taking one course a semester at a local college. I would go either at night, or on the weekend. Some semesters I took more than one course.

    As I said, I already had written programs. I did not have the deeper understanding to write better, bigger and more complex programs though. The computer science program laid a foundation of calculus, statistics, and discrete mathematics. Then it went deeper into graph theory, and the theory of computation. Then we began learning C++. Then we learned more advanced C++, how algorithms and recursion and so forth worked. Then we learned Java. Then we learned about data structures, and the relationship between data structures and algorithms.

    If you just want to learn a little Perl to write some simple scripts, you don't need to do all of this. It sounds like you want to have a deeper understanding of programming though. So this is necessary. I think it is best done at a college, although theoretically someone can learn much of this on their own.

    I think the idea of learning programming by "I want to learn one language well" is an amateur mistake. Our learning initially was almost purely mathematical. If you read volume I of "The Art of Computer Programming", he doesn't get into (M)MIX programming until pretty far into the book, the beginning is math. The cursory learning of a programming language was just a byway to then teach us about recursion, backtracking and the like. We immediately moved onto Java instead of going deeper into C++, to see that there were different ways of doing programming by different languages. We later learned radically different languages using different paradigms like logical programming (Prolog), functional programming (Lisp) on top of the object-oriented programming (C++, Java) languages we had already learned.

    Eric Raymond once said "Lisp is worth learning for the profound enlightenment experience you will have when you finally get it; that experience will make you a better programmer for the rest of your days, even if you never actually use Lisp itself a lot." Other experienced programmers have agreed with this sentiment. As you said you're still an amateur, it's probably beyond your capacity right now to understand why someone should "waste time" learning a language like Scheme Lisp which they might end up never using. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure though. The opinion of most expert programmers is that understanding the core ideas of computer science and programming is more important than domain expertise in a particular language. You say "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." You should ask yourself if this is enough. Yes, knowing at least one commonly used programming language is important to get a job as a programmer. You will never really understand that language, and its limitations and advantages, until you learn some other languages, and some of the general concepts behind all programming and computer science. You said you were a novice programmer, and I think putting too much emphasis on learning one language well is an amateur mistake. There's a lot of steps you should be doing before deciding to become an expert in one language.

    I'll give a personal example. I do a lot of Android (Java-like) programming. I also need a web API for some of the programs. A server-side Java solution is just too expensive for what I'm doing - sites like Bluehost and Dreamhost don't really support Tomcat and the like for $9 a month. So I use other languages for my web API than Java. Do a Google, or more importantly, a Craigslist job search for "full s

"We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." -- George Bernard Shaw