Thinking like a programmer

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A large goal of this AzatAI Academy programs is to give you practice thinking like a computer programmer. Longtime programmers will often talk about how the programming thought process has helped them in other areas of their life, but what does it mean to “think like a programmer?” In AzatAI Academy learning programs we will focus on five specific ways of thinking that all programmers have to use all the time. We will come back to these ideas repeatedly throughout the any program.

1. Procedural Thinking

1. Procedural Thinking

Procedural thinking involves creating perfectly clear and unambiguous instructions for a computer to follow.

It may be easy to tell a person how to sort a deck of cards, but getting a computer to do that requires more thought. But once you’ve learned to think this way you’ll find that computers can do it much faster.

2. Abstract Thinking

Abstract thinking means finding similarity, or as programmers would say, generality amongst seemingly different things.

In this program you will visit hundreds web pages. It would be impractical for a programmer to specifically program each of these pages individually. The programmers used the power of what’s called abstraction to avoid unnecessary repetition of work.

3. Systems Thinking

Systems thinking happens when you break a big problem down into smaller pieces. Programmers do this when they create a plan (often on paper) for how a program will work. It involves big-picture thinking and decision-making about a problem and how different pieces of a program can work together to solve it.

4. Technological Empathy

“Technological empathy” comes in many forms. For example, computer empathy is the ability to understand what a computer is, how it works, and what it’s good and bad at doing.

A computer is a tool, as are the programs we use and the programming languages used to write them. It’s almost impossible to program anything substantial without a basic understanding of how these tools work.

5. Debugging

Debugging is a systematic process of relentlessly identifying the cause of a computer program that doesn’t work.

When a program doesn’t work, it’s because there is a mistake (also known as a “bug”) somewhere in the computer code. Since these mistakes are an unavoidable part of programming, every good programmer has a system for fixing them and that system usually looks something like this:

  1. Collect evidence (what makes this program fail?)
  2. Generate theories (what may have caused this problem?)
  3. Test those theories (if my theory is correct, how could I find out?)
  4. Fix the problem

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