How to succeed in a programming course

Spent most of the day marking first year practical work. By gum, some of our students can program. And some should have sought help before submitting. Most people have done enough to pass, which is nice, but they could have done some much better if they had come to see me (or even posted on the forum) when they hit problems.

I can see stuff of real potential, bogged down by little problems. "I would have finished this bit but I couldn't figure out how to do the ......". Some things you don't have to figure out. You are allowed to ask.

If you want to succeed in your programming practicals here are a few good ground rules from someone who's been around the block a few times.


  1. Read other folks code. You can learn a lot from it. And it is not copying (unless you use cut and paste of course)
  2. Think about it before you write it. Just whacking some code in and debugging it into life is a mugs game. Instead, map it out on paper, write a sequence of steps in english which would work for you. Then convert this into your chosen language.
  3. Design for test. Figure out how you are going to prove it works (or doesn't) as you create your solution, not at the end.
  4. Explain your problems to other people. They might not know the answer, but the act of explaining the problem often solves it.
  5. Don't be afraid to seek help. You will not appear stupid. Everyone who can program has been there at some point. And generally programmers like helping each other.
  6. Never give up. Persistance is a recurring theme with good programmers. Having said that, don't be afraid to walk away from the problem for a while. If you've not solved it after 30 minutes it is unlikely that you'll solve it in two hours. Instead take a time out and go and do something else. Nine times out of ten the answer will pop into your head as soon as you stop thinking about the question.

Now, if only I could get the splash screen on my Smartphone app. to work properly.....