Tech Talk – Entering the Scary World of Coding

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When students first come to VFS one of their major worries is often: will they be able to handle the coding?  The answer to me is obvious – and it’s almost always a resounding yes!  That is because the curriculum at VFS has been designed to teach everything you need without prior knowledge of coding.

People also ask me a lot – don’t you get bored teaching introductory programming in term 1?  The answer is definitely not.  The more advanced classes are great fun too, but for me my favorite class is week 7 of Programming 1.  Seven weeks earlier, twenty or so students start my class; most with no experience coding.  And seven weeks later they are producing group projects with thousands of lines of code.  Seeing that transformation and their confidence developing never gets old.

Coding is not for everyone though and some students decide in the end it is not a career they want to pursue – so does that mean they can’t make games?  Absolutely not – there are so many different disciplines that go into making games, from art to design, audio to production.  However even if you choose one of these other great avenues, you will benefit from the knowledge you gained about what programmers do and how they work.  That is why it’s a core part of the curriculum that everyone learns in their first term.  If you want to learn more then you can choose to go deeper in later stream choices.

But I’m biased – don’t take my word for it!  Here are the thoughts of three students from last term that have just finished Programming 1:

Juan Carlos Perezcruz Pintos

Before VFS I had no experience with programming at any level. When I was asked at the beginning of term 1 what streams would I choose for term 3, my first answer was Coding and Storytelling. After a few weeks in, I realized coding was not as easy as I thought it would be and started to doubt whether I would choose the programming stream or not. After a few assignments, a LOT of help from Peter in the labs, and some of my experienced classmates I decided to give it a chance and work even harder in order to successfully pick programming for one of the streams.

Having the dice game assignment at the beginning was a huge help because even though it’s not very complicated with hindsight, it is a very complete game in which we get to use every variable and function we learned during the class presentations.  For me, the hardest part was learning to keep the format clean and understandable; learning when to put what type of parenthesis (),{},[] can be very significant!  I guess programming can be easier to understand and create for some people, but definitely if someone is having difficulty with it, there are not only books and internet resources, but a lot of help from students, teachers and TA’s.

 Janel Jolly

Before VFS I had only briefly dabbled in Flash ActionScript 2 and the webpage language HTML. My background was heavily into art. The thought of programming was exciting, but I didn’t know how much I’d enjoy it. It was discouraging for the first few classes when I didn’t grasp the terminology as quickly as I’d like. Despite how friendly the introduction classes were, it just didn’t click for me. Fortunately, I found excellent mentorship in both the instructor and my class peers. After a lot of questions, practice, and patience, I completed my first program (Dice Roller) and let out a triumphant huzzah! It was a GREAT feeling!

The hardest part of Programming 1 was the group project. The assignment criteria wasn’t difficult, but it was a challenge to view other’s code and combine it with mine. It turned out being the best learning experience in the course, and it also boosted my confidence.

I had never considered a career in programming before this class, but I now believe it is an incredibly powerful tool and I would like to specialize in it to make my games better. Programming was a scary experience for me, but I sure learned a lot and now love the stuff. Thanks Peter!

Anna Prein

Before VFS I had done a few tutorials in Flash ActionScript 2 and ActionScript 3, taken an hour’s worth of Python, and poked around in JavaScript, but had never done anything remotely practical or serious. I do know the internet web page markup language HTML4 (and utterly dislike it), but I was very optimistic about “real” coding.

For me the most interesting part of the course was doing the assignments, because I like practical application of skills. The hardest part was I think syntax (like whether things should be a prefix or a suffix) was probably the most troubling. Also, I kept pushing myself to do things way beyond my experience/knowledge and having to scope down or figure out round-about ways to do them.

I was pretty gung-ho about it to begin with – and that just grew more and more as the course went on!

I never wanted to be a straight-up programmer before, but that’s definitely something I’m considering now (though I’ll need much more study before that becomes a reality).  I love love love C#! There are not enough words in the human language to express how comprehensible and fluid C# seems to me, when compared to the few other programming languages I’ve been exposed to.

 

If you are interested in coming to VFS and have any questions about coding or anything else email me anytime at pwalsh@vfs.com.


Peter Walsh teaches Programming and Technical Design at VFS Game Design