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Updated: November 12, 2022 @ 7:36 am
In my last opinion “Issue 9: Some advice for learning how to program,” I gave some tips to people looking to pick up computer science for the first time. There’s a lot of advice to give on the topic and I tend to ramble, so I ran out of words really quickly. This opinion is a continuation of the previous opinion, but can also be read as a stand alone opinion.
Now that you’ve picked a language you want to learn, the next thing you have to think about is the environment in which you will write your code. There are two main environments for writing code: text editors or integrated development environments (IDEs). These two are somewhat different from one another. One could make the case that IDEs are extended text editors as they allow you to edit your code as well as doing other things such as debugging and running the code, but for the sake of this opinion we’ll be looking at them separately and comparing the pros and cons of each.
We’ll start with text editors. Text editors are fairly common. Frankly, all a text editor does is edit text, go figure. However, this is not the same text that I’m writing in this Google Doc right now. A text editor edits plain text, so text without special formatting like different font sizes, colors, highlighting, the works (which is known as rich text). The main benefits for using a text editor over an IDE is that it doesn’t take up much storage space and it’s very simple to use. Even though it’s very basic, many modern text editors for programming have extensions that you can add to them to give you more functionality. One of the biggest downsides to using a text editor is the fact that you’ll have to manually build and/or run your code. If you’re using an interpreted language or scripting language like Python, this isn’t too bad. If you’re using a compiled language like C or C++, this can get a bit tricky, but thankfully there are ways to make it less difficult if you’re doing it manually. For the text editor route, some recommendations (in order of easiest learning curve and installation to hardest) are Sublime, Light Table, GNU Emacs and Vim.
Now, let’s talk about IDEs. IDEs are more than just text editors. All of them come with text editors, but their main selling point is that you don’t have to leave the environment in order to debug or run your code like you would have to do if you used just a text editor. Some of the other benefits include plugins that add lots of additional features to your IDE or add support for more programming languages, automatic project setup and code refactoring capabilities. One of the biggest downsides to using an IDE is that they’re typically larger programs that can run slower because of their size. Another drawback is that they can be rather tricky to set up or create new projects due to the sheer number of options they offer. For the IDE route, some recommendations I have are VS Code, any of the Jetbrains IDEs and Spyder (only for Python).
Once you have your environment chosen and set up, all that’s left is to start writing code in your language of choice. I hope these opinions have been helpful and have pushed some of you to pick up programming and computer science, even if you try it and find you don’t like it.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Torch.
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