Programming: A First Impression


The purpose of this article is to give a basic definition of programming, to explain some terms often used in articles and to explore the goal of programming, which is to write a program.

What Is Programming?

Programming involves everything that lets a computer perform commands. It is actually translating natural human language to computer language. You might have heard before that a computer only understands the language of ones and zeros (binary code). Writing commands in ones and zeros is very inconvenient for human beings. It is very inefficient and mistakes can be made very easily. That is why programming languages have been developed. These make it easier to come up with the ones and zeros needed for a computer to perform a command. So programming is ultimately just putting together ones and zeros.

Some Important Distinctions

This part addresses some terms that might be interesting for someone who is new to programming.

Front/Back End Programming

A distinction that you come across regularly is the distinction between front end and back end programming. Front end programming refers to the part of programming that is most visible to a user or client. Applied to web development, this can mean that a front end programmer develops code to adjust the look of a website. Back end programming is the part of programming not directly visible to the user of the end product. A typical example is the programming of a database behind a website.

High/Low Level Programming Languages

As mentioned before a programming language is needed to express certain commands you want the computer to perform in an efficient way. A distinction can be made between low level and high level programming languages. Simply put, low level languages are closer to the hardware of a computer. More direct and percise commands can be written. High level languages are in contrast closer to human natural language. While they have been designed to feel more intuative for human beings, a lot of technical aspects have been preconfigured. This means that the programmer has less options in terms of controlling hardware.

Syntax and Semantics

A programming language has a syntax and semantics behind it. The syntax is the formal code, the apparent lines of code. While semantics refer to the meaning behind the code. This distinction is similar to every day spoken natural language. To form a correct sentence you have to adhere to certain rules of grammar (syntax) and the sentence has to have a logical meaning (semantics). The same applies to writing sentences or lines of code with a programming language. If one of these two elements is lacking, the overall result will also likely be lacking.

The Purpose of Programming

The purpose of programming is to write a program. Programs can vary from a simple couple of lines of code to very sophisticated applications. Programs are actually written to solve a problem. This can be an attempt to solve a simple individual problem, like writing a program that you can use to plan your daily activities. A more complex problem can lead to a whole package of programs, like managing the processes of a company.

An example of a very simple program is to write text in the console (simple black screen). An example of code written in the C# language to do this, is shown below:

Console.WriteLine("This is a test !");

When the code is executed it looks like this:

As you get more used to the basic concepts of programming, you can try to develop more complex programs.