30 SEP 2019

Top Tips for First-Time Programmers

In their work as instructors with Code First: Girls, a charitable organisation that equips young women with technical training to enable them to succeed in STEM industries, Goldman Sachs engineers Atif, Mery and Grant have developed five pieces of advice for first-time coders:

1) Prepare. Taking the time to read the material in advance and set up your environment at home will help you to get the most out of your course. Aim to create the folders and install the required programmes, such as GitHub, on your computer ahead of the first session in order to maximise your productivity.

2) Learn the lingo. Regardless of experience, all programmers come up against problems that they haven’t encountered before. Knowing the difference between algorithms and APIs, or front-end and back-end development, will help you learn how to research specific issues in order to solve a problem. Online communities like Stack Overflow are fantastic resources for getting to grips with new terminology and seeking out answers to common challenges.

3) Be bold and ask questions. Worrying about making a mistake is natural, especially when learning a new skill, but don’t let it stifle your creativity. Think innovatively and test your ideas. If you know what you’d like to accomplish but aren’t sure about how to get there, ask your classmates or instructors for help – chances are, someone else is trying to achieve the same result. The beauty of coding is that there isn’t a right answer and if you make a mistake, you can always ‘revert’.

4) Solve problems on paper. Problem solving is the key to programming, and one of the best ways to solve a problem is to break it down on paper. Read the question multiple times so that you understand what you need to solve, then work through the problem with sample data sets. By removing the pressure of knowing the exact language-specific syntax and implementation, it will be easier to focus solely on the logic.

5) Practice. Whilst it is important to understand the theory, the best way to learn to code is by actually coding. After each class, spend time going over the materials, identifying the key lessons and completing the follow-up exercises. As you interact with real-life applications, you will feel more confident in your abilities and will solve problems faster. 

As part of Goldman Sachs’ sponsorship of the Code First: Girls 2020 initiative, which aims to teach 20,000 young women to code by the end of next year, our engineers have had the opportunity to teach several of the free coding community courses to our own employees and other industry professionals.  For more on the initiative, click here.