Learn to Code (An Intermission): Code.org

The founders of Facebook, Microsoft, Dropbox, Twitter and many more top tech companies have provided their voices and recognisable fizzogs to this latest video from Code.org. Code.org promotes the principle that nobody is born with the ability to code, or play basketball, or drive a racing car: it is a learned skill. The biggest hurdle is that first step overcoming the apprehension of the unknown. That’s something that all of these people have done. From humble beginnings and all that jazz…


Learn to Code: Chapter 2 – Black Tie Function

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She only wants you for your brain…

This is the third part of my Learn to Code series. The previous part is here: Chapter 1 – Meet Bob.


See Bob. See Bob Run. Run Bob, Run!

We last spoke about making Bob run 5 miles. We were going to do that by performing an action – a “function” in programmer parlance – called “run”, and give the number 5 (meaning the miles he is to run) to the function. We do that like this:



The problem is, we haven’t said what “run” actually means or does. Later we’ll use code that already exists but this time it’s all up to us. We’re going to have to write this “run” function ourselves. Again, this is a very easy thing to do once you understand the pattern you use.

function (miles) {


Here we say we want to create a “function” and that the function will take some information in brackets that we can refer to by the name “miles”. You see, when information (such as the number 5) is “passed” into the function, it is important that we can get to it because we can use it to change how the function operates. You can write a function once, but pass different things to it each time and it will behave differently every time. That is the real beauty of programming.

You will notice there aren’t any semi-colons in the bit of code above, this is because we are using a pattern that the computer will understand – those curly brackets (called “braces”) tell the computer when you’re starting and stopping to describe your function. However, when we write code inside those braces, we still must use semi-colons to differentiate one .

The devil is very much in the details when programming. Different programming languages have different requirements for WHERE those curly braces go. Sometimes they should be on the same line as the start of your function, and sometimes they go on the next line down. Like this:

function (miles)


But the language we are learning needs them to be on the same line as the word “function”.

Here’s an example of combining curly braces and semi-colons. Gosh it’s getting complicated… but stick with it, this is as complex as it gets. let’s write some code inside the function that uses that number 5 that was passed in, which we can refer to as “miles”:

function (miles) {
    return miles + miles;


This is now a fully-functioning function. If you’ll pardon the pun. Although… not a particularly useful one. Yet.  Read more

Learn to Code: Chapter 1 – Meet Bob

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You understand that, right?

This is the second part of a series of articles called Learn to Code. Click here to go to Chapter 0, “Wax on, Wax off”.


Learn to Code

Well done. You’re now a World class programmer! And you’ve been given a brief  by your customer who wants you to write some software for them. The following sentence is the first line of their brief to you:

“Bob is a man. He is 30 years old. He can run 5 miles.”

What a peculiar start!! But bear with me. Remember, in order to start programming, we have to fully understand the real-world thing we are transforming into some computer code. Let’s take that sentence apart and write some bullet points about what we know about Bob:

  • Bob is a “something”.  A real thing. A proper object.
  • That thing is categorised as a “man” (whatever that is).
  • Bob has something called an “age”. The value of his “age” thing is “30”.
  • Bob can perform an action known as “running”.
  • Bob can do that action for “5 miles”.


Sorry for all the quotation marks and playing-dumb, but all will become clear as we move through this lesson.

Like pretty much anything in the universe, Bob can be defined by a set of “properties” (like his age, height, inside leg measurement) and the actions that he can perform (like “run”). In proper programming, we call these “properties”, “properties” (hahaha, surprise! I slipped a programming term into your vocabulary!). Slightly more complex, we call the actions he is capable of performing, “methods” or “functions”, depending on which programming “language” you’re using. We’ll use the term “functions” to start with because the first programming language you’ll use demands this terminology.

The programming language we’ll start with also prefers things to start with a lowercase letter. For now, just accept that, we’ll cover why later. Let’s start by creating Bob in code.  Read more

Learn to Code: Chapter 0 – Wax on, Wax off

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Warning! Programming might not make you rich. On a completely different topic, here’s Paul Allen’s private yacht, “Octopus”. (He’s a programmer).

So you want to learn to code? Well this is the right place. I assume no prior knowledge, except knowing how to turn on a computer, open a text editor such as Notepad, and have some idea of the operation of a keyboard. It may not be immediately obvious WHY I’m covering some of the topics in this article, but rest assured that, like Daniel-san painting fences or waxing Myagi’s car, it is all about preparing your state of mind.

Actually, while we’re on the subject of films, before you begin, make sure you watch The Social Network and The Pirates of Silicon Valley. They’re essential viewing for wannabe programmers!


Basic Mathematics

WAIT! Stop! Don’t be afraid, we’re only going to touch the absolute basics. Primary school stuff. Nothing else. That’s all you need!

Really? I hear you ask. Yes!! You don’t need to be a maths whiz to be a great programmer. Leave all that business to the computer!!

If you’ve ever written this:

1 + 1

…you’ve written a “program”. A program is simply a set of “instructions” for the computer to perform. Even if it’s just 1 + 1! Sure, most programs are a lot more complicated than adding 1 to 1, but at its most basic, that’s it. Easy!

Computer programming (also known as “coding”) is usually done to replace human effort with automation. The first step in any coding project is usually to break the real world problem down to its smallest parts. That way you can better understand what it really is that you’re turning into code.  Read more