C Programming Notes

A Short Introduction to Programming

Steve Summit

At its most basic level, programming a computer simply means telling it what to do, and this vapid-sounding definition is not even a joke. There are no other truly fundamental aspects of computer programming; everything else we talk about will simply be the details of a particular, usually artificial, mechanism for telling a computer what to do. Sometimes these mechanisms are chosen because they have been found to be convenient for programmers (people) to use; other times they have been chosen because they're easy for the computer to understand. The first hard thing about programming is to learn, become comfortable with, and accept these artificial mechanisms, whether they make ``sense'' to you or not.

In fact, you shouldn't worry if some (or even many) of the mechanisms used for programming a computer don't make sense. It doesn't make sense that the cold water faucet has to be on the right side and the hot one has to be on the left; that's just the convention we've settled on. Similarly, many computer programming mechanisms are quite arbitrary, and were chosen not because of any theoretical motivation but simply because we needed an unambiguous way to say something to a computer.

In this introduction to programming, we'll talk about several things: skills needed in programming, a simplified programming model, elements of real programming languages, computer representation of numbers, characters and strings, and compiler terminology.

[A German translation of this essay is also available.]

Skills Needed in Programming

Simplified Programming Model

Real Programming Model

Elements of Real Programming Languages

Computer Representation of Numbers

Characters, Strings, and Numbers

Compiler Terminology

Read Sequentially

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