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What is programming?

A computer is simply a machine that stores data (eg numbers and pictures), interacts with devices (eg a keyboard) and executes programs. For further information on terms used within programming please refer to the glossary.

Like a good recipe, a computer program clearly tells you the quantities of ingredients needed, how they’re to be combined, the method in which it is made, and how long it has to cook for.

The action of designing and implementing a computer program is called programming. To write a computer game from scratch is a complex task requiring a team of highly-skilled programmers.

Here we’ll not be starting from scratch, but you’ll develop programming skills to modify a code within a computer program. The outcome being a game that can be played on an Android phone or tablet, or even a computer.

Programming languages

Programs are written in various programming languages, such as Java, which you’ll be introduced to in this course.

Some low level programming languages are directly understood by the computer, while high level languages require translation so that the computer can understand the code. Over the years these translation processes have become sophisticated and a single statement in a high-level programming language can achieve a lot, with instructions that look like every day English and simple mathematical operators.

However, getting the correct instructions in the correct order is essential to producing a program that does what it is suppose to. Making a simple syntactical error in writing a program can lead to the translation process failing. A semantic error such as choosing the wrong operator can result in a program that runs incorrectly.

Hundreds of high-level programming languages have been developed, but relatively few have achieved broad acceptance. As with spoken languages, programming languages can be grouped in families with common roots, and with similar rules of syntax and semantics.

Java, along with C++ and C#, are derived from the C programming language. The skills developed by learning to program in one language will help in learning to program in one of the other languages. The key to becoming a good programmer is to think clearly what it is that you want the program to do, then take care in correctly inputting the code that will make it happen.

Note: In programming syntax and semantics have similar meaning to those used in linguistics. The syntax of a programming language is the set of rules that describe how characters can be used together. While the semantics relates to what the program is meant to do.

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This article is from the free online course:

Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game

University of Reading