Original question from Quora:

What programs should I make as a beginner?

I already know some C#, and have done many language exercises and puzzles. But never an actual program.

It doesn’t need to be complex, but I’d like for it to have a real use in real life.

My Answer:

So, when I was a beginner I started to do something interesting that carried into my programming career and served as the foundation to how I learn new tools and such. For whatever reason I don’t find too many other people doing this, so it can be your advantage if you use it yourself.

Back in 1995 when I first got super interested in computers, the world was a very different place. The internet was primarily text and chat rooms and email. If you wanted to learn something, you went to the library or bookstore and got a book on the topic.

There was no Quora to ask questions to…

For reasons I don’t really understand, I decided I wanted to write software “when I grow up” and so I got a book on C programming and read it.

It was like a 600 page book called Teach Yourself C in 21 days. I read it in 7th grade and taught myself how to code.

It was the most basic kinds of programs I built. Things like, hello world, but maybe with my name inserted in there. Or I probably built a basic calculator of some kind.

There was no GUI. There was text input/output.

Eventually I got interested in making my own video games, so I got more books and got to work.

Along the way of trying to make my own version of pong, I got really low level by accident and started learning about some very fundamental, old-school graphics primitives and such.

That was a misadventure that eventually led to a game programming library called Allegro. I believe it still exists.

Anyway, over time I found myself in this endless loop of wanting to make something or solve a problem, then going out and figuring out how to do that.

That habit of not knowing what I need to know, and having a desire to build something interesting anyway forced me to learn more and go further than anything else in my career.

Now if I’m going to learn a new technology, pattern, or technique, I give myself a project I want to build where I could use it.

Or better yet…

I decide I want to build something, then I blindly figure out what I need to do to make it real.

It doesn’t matter of my projects are particularly interesting or useful to anyone but me because what I learn along the way is so darned valuable.

So, go out and build something that is interesting to you and along the way learn what you have to learn to make it real.

And if you don’t have a good idea, go make your own version of Pong. You’ll learn a lot along the way.


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