How to explain programming to your Mum

by Dean on August 18, 2010

How to explain programming to your Mum

Computers, as powerful as they are when it comes to crunching numbers and whatnot, aren't that suited to jumping to any conclusions or making any decisions, in fact, they're altogether unable to. That means that computers have to be told in advance how to deal with every single scenario that may come up in the course of going about their data processing. Programming, essentially, is all about giving computers very comprehensive, very meticulous instructions.

Most computers process something called machine code that tells them how to deal with data - where to save it, where to fetch it, where to send it, and when. Machine code is really long, really confusing sets of ones and zeros that tell the computer how to go about its business. People, even programmers, aren't really suited to working with huge lists of zeros and ones, so we arrive at somewhat of a disconnect.

Luckily for everyone, there are a variety of programming languages that interpret readable, logical statements, often written in a mix of simple English and math, into those long cumbersome strings of ones and zeros that computers love so much. These languages are called interpreted languages, and that's where programmers come in - reading and writing interpreted programming languages.

Interpreted languages are a huge relief compared to machine code, but to the untrained eye they can look just about as daunting as a page full of numbers. That's normal when you're looking at a new language of any kind though; it takes quite a bit of time and effort to become fluent in an interpreted programming language and feel really confident that you can get computers to behave exactly how you want.

So what's attractive about programming? Well, for one thing there's a pretty good job market for it. Also, programming requires some serious problem solving skills; like most other skilled trades, doing it well can be really fun and satisfying.

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