Saturday, November 15, 2008


I use computers all the time. I often find myself struggling to learn the fundamentals of a new programming language (last year I picked up a working knowledge of Java, and at the moment, I am beginning the same process with Python). The internet has made this progressively easier, because there is a dizzying array of information and tutorial material available, much of it free, or nearly so.

Both Java and Python are free. I can get anything I need to write programs in these languages for free. This alone is remarkable, but the power that these languages have, especially their friendliness and built in support for web programming, makes the head smacking that goes along with learning anything complicated well worth the dents in my forehead.

I am not a professional programmer by any means- I am a chemist (and fiercely proud of it!) If I want to learn something new in chemistry, I have the background and experience to pick up the greater fraction of what I need to know from reading. The last 15 to 20 percent, however, is best learned by talking to another chemist skilled in the technique or area, and even better, watching them set up a reaction or do a measurement. If you have a huge Karmic bank account, and they will watch you do it, and offer critique, then you are as close to heaven as you can get and not have wings.

I don't have easy access to professional programmers, even though I work in the same building with a bunch. They are busy, and we do not necessarily cross paths. I can't readily ask them things without disturbing their work, and watching someone program is boring and largely unhelpful. And probably pretty creepy for the person being watched.

I discovered a very cool website called ShowMeDo that contains all sorts of tutorial screencasts about various programming topics. They are done very well, as far as I have seen. Much of the material can be accessed free of charge, but for a modest subscription ($60/yr) you can get access to much more, as well as having your feedback considered in new rounds of content creation.

A tool like this is invaluable- $60 is very reasonable, less than the average I would pay for a programming book at the local bookseller or on Amazon. Certainly, the books are more comprehensive, and as I learn what I am doing, just like with Chemistry, I can look up most of what I need to know. But "Monkey See, Monkey Do" is still the most powerful way I know to learn things in a hurry.


Post a Comment

<< Home