Maintaining a Strong Foundation of Programming and Software Development

Brian Haugabrook, CIO, Valdosta State University
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Brian Haugabrook, CIO, Valdosta State University

Hello World’-for many programmers this is the introduction to their first programming language.

“Though big data is trending today, but it gives competitive advantages to organizations that leverage information for improving business goals”

For various reasons many students pursue a degree in computer science or a related field. For me, playing video games during childhood piqued my interest in the field. I thought majoring in computer science would allow me to have fun creating computer games while earning a degree. I never even read the course catalog before starting college.

Life as a computer science major came with a laundry list of complex math and science courses. I often wonder what my decision would have been, if I had known all these facts before starting my degree. Nonetheless, learning programming and advanced math was a life-changing experience that I am grateful for.

Being in a career where every day brings on new challenges and opportunities is exciting. One major benefit of programming is the excitement of delivering a new web application. Many information technology roles deal with addressing client issues like networking or PC problems. The role of a programmer is different, as clients are usually excited to see the results of a new web application project that enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of their work.

The journey, from writing my first line of code to developing complex web applications, stems from building a strong foundation in math and problem solving. Problem solving, critical thinking and math- are critical skills that distinguish the good from the great. These skills are needed in any IT profession, but have the greatest impact on programmers and developers. The foundation of these skills, along with the concept of programming, will enable you to tackle any language or problem. As a leader in technology I rely heavily on these skills to ensure my organization is successful.

Web development continues to evolve at a rapid pace. From static pages to personalized content, there is always a high demand for skillful programmers. The fast-changing industry of technology requires continued education and training. If you think you can stop learning and growing, you will eventually get left behind. Senior-level employees and managers who are viewed as great today can be seen as less than average to an organization in a few years. Great websites developed today will quickly be viewed as outdated in a few years if no changes are made. IT professionals often complain about our end users’ unwillingness to change when many of our core processes and philosophies are outdated. This constant evolution creates many opportunities for a career in programming. It also provides a competitive arena for organizations in recruiting talent and ensuring they maximize their use of innovative technologies.

Mastering the foundations of programming and software development will allow you to adapt to new languages and platforms easily. I suggest learning how to navigate and understand the Application Program Interfaces (APIs) before starting on any new technology. Having a broader perspective also enables you to take advantage of the best features of numerous technologies instead of being locked into a few. Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) and Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) are useful for rapid development, but it is important to sometimes practice using a plain text editor. IDEs automate many steps that are essential during the learning process. Programmers who learn through an IDE can take longer to solve problems at times. Errors that occur in the IDE generated code can be complicated to troubleshoot if you do not understand what is being done. Longer turnaround times for solving problems increase the overall cost of projects and ultimately reduce productivity. There will always be the occasional problem that takes many hours to solve, but these should only be occasional.

Having an understanding of databases is important as dynamic personalized content is driving many new innovations. Though big data is trending today, but it gives competitive advantages to organizations that leverage information for improving business goals. The results and insights from big data must become actionable within the user experience on the web application. Improving the user experience requires delivering and collecting more and more information. Develop a good understanding of how information is stored and retrieved in the database.

In addition, you should always have a clear understanding of the objectives and outcomes before you begin on any project. Always stay focused on the organization’s needs and goals and do not waste time developing extra features that only you deem important. I say this because at times, IT professionals suggest solutions based on the latest evolution of a particular technology instead of the actual needs of the organization. Work smarter, not harder on everything you do.

Develop a coding practice that allows you to reuse code on future projects. Establish a library of coding samples that you can quickly leverage. In all of my production java and ASP. NET applications there is a myFunctions class file that I started back in college. This file has many useful algorithms and functions for common tasks such as sorting, string parsing, database connections, arrays, loops, authentication, and authorization. This file has grown over time as I developed new applications throughout my career. It also has helped me perform at more than double the pace of other programmers who may not have adopted this practice.

The technology of today is only prevalent for a short period of time. Being a lifelong learner and working hard will help you excel at any career. Time management and delivering value will help you continue to excel in any programming related field. Master the foundations and principles of developing applications so new technologies easily become just another notch on your tool belt.

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