Programming for Parents: What is Programming?

Programming for Parents is a series of blog posts that can be read in 5 minutes or less and explain computing terms for non-technical parents who are trying to help their children with STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Art, and Math) topics.

What is Programming?

Programming is, quite simply, the art of giving instructions.

A recipe for macaroni and cheese is a program. It defines the things you’ll need to complete the program (the ingredients and kitchen tools), then how to put them together to create the finished product. The sheet music for a song can also be considered a program as it lays out the notes you’ll need to play in a specific order and tempo. By following the recipe or playing the song, you’ve run the program.

So why do people consider computer programming to be hard? It isn’t hard if you’re providing a simple recipe or a simple song. Writing your first computer program is easier than learning how to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” And that’s why it’s easy to get children started with it.

But imagine you’re no longer providing a recipe for macaroni and cheese. Imagine you’re writing the maintenance manual for a 1966 Mustang. The more complex the systems and tasks a program has to manage, the harder it is to write it. This is why professional programmers are valuable in today’s job market.

Just like being a good cook who can write complex recipes takes practice, or how being a good musician who can write complex songs takes practice, being a good programmer who can write complex programs takes practice. All of them have science underlying them: cooking is chemistry, music is physics, and programming is applied logic and math. Yet all of them also have an element of artistry.

That’s why programming is, quite simply, the art of giving instructions.

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