For most of us the only interaction we have with the mysterious languages of computers are when they flash unexpectedly onto our screens, usually accompanied by a blue background and the sound of gnashing teeth. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and the touchscreen revolution have done an excellent job of making our relationships with machines more intuitive, while devices such as the ubiquitous iPad seem to be ushering in an age of elegant consumption rather than creation.
But what if you want to do more than just experience what others have made? What if you want to build something? Maybe it’s time to peak behind the curtain and learn a little coding.
Running a program you wrote yourself and seeing the results play out as you hoped they would is a truly satisfying experience. Who hasn’t, when presented with the now rare sight of a command line prompt, wanted to type 10 Print “Hello World”, 20 Goto 10? It’s almost compulsory. Global salutations aside, though, there are more practical applications to coding.
For the DIY types there are other exciting possibilities. The recent release of the Raspberry Pi, a £25 basic computer built to encourage people to learn how to code, caused havoc as the initial 10,000 units were sold out within minutes, nearly melting the company’s servers in the process. Those lucky enough to get one were planning on creating media centres, classic games devices, and even radio controlled cars. All held together by a little code and some big imagination.
Get started with Codeacademy
1. Go to Codeacademy's website and set up an account to keep track of your progress. You can either use an email address or link to your Facebook account, which in turn will post your achievements for all your friends to see.
2. To begin your coding adventures simply follow the instructions in the lefthand window. After a few basic tasks such as inputting your name and doing simple mathematics you’re awarded your first badge and can now move to the first real exercise.
NEXT PAGE: Create a dialog box and more
3. The action switches to the pane on the right side of the screen. The instructions tell you to create a basic dialog box. The command is fully explained, then with one short line of code it’s done. Easy!
4. After a couple more lessons you reach Editor and Arrays, which features two panes. The top one is where you write the code and the lower one is where it is executed. Hints are available all the time if you get stuck.
5. Now it’s time to start experimenting with ‘If’ and ‘Else’ commands. These allow you to set parameters and different outcomes depending on what the user types in. Sounds tricky but the examples given are straightforward and understandable.
6 One of the last introductory exercises is a task which, if you code it incorrectly, can create an ‘infinite loop’, which would normally crash the computer. The sandbox nature of the site means only a browser tab is affected.
7 Clicking the Courses tab on the top menu brings you to the main page for your profile. This shows you how far you’ve progressed through the various lessons, displays the badges you have accumulated, and links to projects you can attempt.
8 The projects are more advanced tasks, such as building a number game. The goals are made clear, as are the tools you should use to achieve them. A helpful addition is error messages which show where any coding problems might be.
9 Each project also has its own forum where you can post questions if you get stuck or help others if you’re on top of the game. It’s another indicator of how Codecademy want to make it as easy as possible to learn.