Learning computer language

Today, students are familiar with technology gadgets such as smart-phones, laptops, and video games devices. Many are interested in learning about computer or pursue a degree in information technology. Unfortunately when they go to college, many found that computer science or software engineering classes are more difficult than they thought so many drop out or change to another field of study.

A computer professor told me: “I have been teaching computer science for fifteen years. My observation is that most students come to college excited about pursuing a computer career, full of illusions and misconceptions about what they can achieve. As soon as they find out that it is not all about videogames, or download movies but a lot of hard work, then they drop out. In my opinion, it is all about how they are taught in high school. They seem to think that if something is difficult, teachers should “make it easy” for them. It does not matter how they study, everybody should pass the exams. That is why it is hard to change them by the time they go to college. That is why so many students quit school”


According to a new research, many college students do not know how to study computer sciences. They study it just like they do in other classes: They read long paragraphs in text books and try to memorize them. Many take a lot of notes in classes, build outlines, and rely on their memory when work on their programming skills. That is why many found these classes are so difficult. Study computer science should not be about memorizing books but you learn by doing it. The study was built upon two experiments. In the first, students were allowed to study from text books just like they did in other classes. In the second, students were given short instructions to build a program one step at a time, they only read an short online text about the concept but must implement what they learn immediately. After a week, both group were asked to write a short program. The second group scored higher on completion and less defects than the first group. It proved that the “learning by doing” is much more effective in teaching computer science than the traditional training method.

From this study, I believe that it is not the students that could not learn computer skills but it is the training method, the way we teach students could make the difference. The best way to learn how to program is to write short instruction, one step at a time. Students learn by doing it in several small steps.

Students should start with a programming language such as C. I think C is a basic language to teach you how the programs run and interact with the hardware. After that, students can move to C++ where they will learn more about object- oriented. It is also possible to start with a general purpose language such as Python, a relative easy to learn language then move to Java. Students should focus on construction first before move into abstract concepts like “Object oriented”, “Concurrent” or “Dynamic” because they will not be able to understand them well until they actually have some programming experience.

Today there are many websites provide tutorials on programming languages. As long as you are willing and determine, you can learn the basic programming in few days. Sometime, online tutorials can be frustrating if you cannot get answers to specific questions. In that case, go to a computer forum to post questions or find someone who already knows how to program to help. Remember that you are learning one step at a time, so do not hurry. You cannot write a few thousand lines of code in few weeks so practicing writing your code in small program (10 to 50 lines of code) to test your skills. No one can run before they can walk, give yourself a few weeks to master the basic language.

Computer programming is the skills that can only be built with time. It takes many hours of practicing problem-solving skills on different types of problems before you can really be good at it. When you have all the basic skills, you may want to start to learn about algorithms and flowcharts. Everybody who study computer can tell you that it can be frustrating, but completing a program can also be very satisfying. Do not give up if you do not understand a concept. Programming can be a abstract thing to learn. When working on a particularly complex problem, take time to let your brain relax. Do not force yourself too hard. When you master one language, learning the second language is easier. Eventually you will know several programming languages and find out that it is not too difficult at all.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University