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11 Must-Knows for Programming Students

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Whether you’re a college noob or a soon-to-be pro, these tips are sure to help you in your journey to becoming a programming ninja and stand out from the crowd.
Whether you’re a college noob or a soon-to-be  pro, these tips are sure to help you in your journey to becoming a programming ninja and stand out from the crowd.
 
  1. Interview for summer internships early and often. Technical interviews can be difficult if you’re not used to them, often spanning multiple sessions with involved coding puzzles. It is not uncommon to go through several of these before being offered a position, so getting used to them early on will be helpful for the rest of your academic career and beyond.
     
  2. Choose projects that you are interested in. Many courses have final culminating projects whose scope and subject matter are up to the student with a few course-specific requirements. Focus on a real world problem in the context of what you’re learning in the form of a project that you wouldn’t mind working on even in your free time. It’s not uncommon for students to revisit and improve upon previously completed projects repeatedly over their entire academic career.
     
  3. Visit your professor’s office hours often, especially if they have a concentration you’re interested in. Professors will often be involved in school projects outside of coursework that you may be interested in contributing to and can offer advice on getting more deeply involved in your field of choice. 
     
  4. Find out where everyone goes to program and spend time working there. Lasting relationships between peers are often forged over common frustrations over programming assignments and projects. Programming-oriented majors involve many group based projects; you’ll be much better off if you can form groups with friends with whom you have good rapport. 
     
  5. Learn how to use a source version control system such as GIT or SVN, even if it isn’t required by one of your courses. Source control will allow you to more easily revert mistakes, recover lost data, and put your hard work on display. Be careful though, many classes consider sharing source code to be a form of cheating, but many project hosting sites will allow students a few free private repositories to use as private storage. 
     
  6. Learn how to use the vi editor. Graphical text editing software is nice, but vi is ubiquitous among unix based machines like the ones you will probably be using provided by your school and runs within the terminal. You’ll often find yourself logging into remote machines and wanting to make changes with no graphic interface available which is a use case vi fills perfectly. 
     
  7. If you’re in the market for a laptop, get one with a unix based operating system such as Ubuntu or Mac OSX. The further in your school career you get, the more you’ll find yourself dependent on free libraries from others which will often be much more difficult to use on windows based operating systems.  
     
  8. Don’t overload yourself with core programming classes. A common mistake made by new computer science and software engineering students is to take two to three difficult programming courses at the same time. Not only is this difficult to pull off with decent grades, you’ll learn less and risk frustrating group members with your lack of availability. Ask around to see which courses are the difficult ones and take them one at a time in tandem with general education courses. 
     
  9. Get some sleep! Programming students often think that they have to pull all-nighters regularly which is a common misconception. Fatigue will make your code sloppy and more error prone and you may find you worked on a project much longer over the course of a few all-nighters than if you were to work on it incrementally over more days. When the projects start to get bigger and more difficult, you’ll find that this strategy no longer works at all. 
     
  10. Have other hobbies besides programming. Focusing on any one thing for too long will cause burn out, especially when that one thing is programming. Having some outside hobbies will make it easier to find friends, relax and reset your mind, and will make you a more well-rounded person. 
     
  11. Find a support site. When your professor isn’t available and your peers don’t know, asking a question online is often the next best thing. Eventually, you can even begin helping others to hone your skills and earn some points.
     
Programming will seem difficult at first so remain persistent and confident. The road to Programming Ninja requires hard work and time, but we’re here to help! Do you have other tips or tricks for newbie programmers? Share them in the comments here.


Contributing author: James Bilous
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Expert Comment

by:JCincy
Ask around and seek out professors with REAL WORLD experience. Too many profs can only teach what is in the book.

Also, many community colleges and tech schools have top notch programming classes taught by real programmers. And they can be significantly more affordable than a 4 year university. Sometimes these profs work in the community schools to link up with up and coming programming talent.

Avoid classes that rely on "programs" to grade your coding. These can be incredibly frustrating when you are losing points not for poor logic, but because the program wants certain words capitalized or variables spelled a peculiar way.
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