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The Basics of Coding and Programming You Should Know

Your computer’s operating system, your phone, this website: they have one thing in common. They all run on a set of instructions to perform their complex tasks.

Those instructions are computer code and, when put together, they become a computer program. There isn’t really a difference between the terms "programming" and "coding"; they both refer to the creation of computer programs.

Programming is a popular and rewarding career path, especially when you get the fundamentals right. Below are the Coding and Programming Basics which every programmer should know:

1. Variables

As the foundation of any computer programming language, variables act as “containers” that “hold” information. These containers then store this information for later use.

For example, imagine you are visiting the homepage of a website. Once you land on this page, a dialog box pops into view with this simple greeting: “Hi! What’s your name?” This dialog box is a variable! In this code, the programmer could name this variable “visitorName.” This means that when you type your name into the form and hit submit, your information would be stored in the “visitorName” variable. The programmer could then reference this variable at any time to access the information it contains.

2. Data Structures

Data structures allow programmers to streamline data collection when a large amount of related information is involved. Let’s go back to our “visitorName” variable from above, but imagine the computer programmer needs to store and reference 10 different visitors’ names rather than just one.

Rather than creating 10 different variables for each new visitor — which would increase the sheer amount of text in the program and make adding or removing new contacts difficult — the programmer could simply use a data structure to contain all related variables. In this case, the data structure would be a List.

With this List data structure, the programmer only needs to create one variable rather than 10, which means the code would be much more flexible to change.

3. Functions

Functions are the heart and soul of programming. In the simplest terms, a function is a chunk of code that performs a specific task. You can use (or "call") a function over and over. Functions are essential to modular programming, which aims to be as reusable and maintainable as possible.

4. Control Structures

A control structure analyzes variables and selects a direction in which to go determined from the given parameters. For example, when a computer program is running, the code is being read by the computer line by line from top to bottom and (for the most part) left to right.

As the code is being read, the computer will reach a point where it needs to make a “decision” (based on strict rules set by the computer programmer). At this point, the code could do things like jump to a different part of the program, re-run a certain piece of code again, or simply skip a block of code altogether.

5. Syntax

Just like in the English language, computer programming follows a syntax or a set of rules that define particular layouts of letters and symbols. Proper syntax ensures the computer reads and interprets code accurately. For example, let’s consider a simple email address and its required syntax.

Email addresses are understood by readers and computers immediately due to their format. Typically, email addresses must consist of a string of letters and numbers, followed by the “@” symbol, and finally a website domain (e.g., This structure is known as the standard email syntax! It’s easy to imagine that if the email address were not syntactically correct (company@.comnamebob_smith), computers would not be able to process it.

6. Tools

In the physical world, tools allow workers to perform tasks that would otherwise be extremely difficult (think of how a hammer helps drive a nail into a piece of wood and what this job would be like without tools). Similarly, a tool in computer programming is a piece of software that helps programmers write code much faster.

a. Text Editor

Text Editors are tools that programmers use for writing code—much like writers use word documents to write articles. Source code is usually plain text, though, not words formatted in bold or italics, with margins and outlines. You can try to write your code in a word processor if you really want. But using the wrong tool for the job can be awkward and frustrating.

b. Compiler

Broadly speaking, the programs you write can either be interpreted or compiled. An interpreted program needs another program to run it: an interpreter. A compiled program is self-contained and ready to run: such programs are sometimes called executables or binaries.

Compilers are programs that convert source code into a finished program, in machine-readable code. Each compiled language typically has an official compiler, but alternatives are usually available.

c. Validator/Debugger

Validators and debuggers are programs that help to check the quality of code. They work a bit like a grammar checker that evaluates the grammatical accuracy of a piece of writing.

Programs may sometimes run into thousands of lines of code, and a few errors such as misplaced punctuation can sometimes throw the entire thing off. Validators and debuggers can catch and highlight errors, suggest fixes, and sometimes fix them automatically.

d. IDE

IDE is short for Integrated Development Environment. These are applications that provide a combination of programming tools, including an editor, debugger, and so on. They create a more complete environment, which many programmers prefer over separate applications.

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