Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting Started in Software Engineering

Since I wrote an essay about how to become a software engineer, people regularly email me for more advice. Here is a reply I wrote this morning:

The great thing about working in software engineering is that you only need three things:

  1. a computer
  2. reliable Internet access
  3. the will to learn and expand your skills every day

The bad news is, #3 cannot be bought, and it cannot be given to you. But, assuming you have those three things taken care of, you get started by choosing a platform, downloading (in some cases, purchasing) your development tools, and seeking out some tutorials.

When I say choose a platform, I mean the kind of system that your software will run on. All the tools you use, tutorials you follow, books you read, and conferences you attend will be relative to the platform. Right now, there are only a handful of real choices: the Web, Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and maybe soon the Palm Pre.

Often, these platforms overlap. For instance, I develop Web applications on a Mac with Java, but the finished software runs on Linux servers.

If you haven't already chosen a platform, and you want to see the quickest results with the least hassle, use Google App Engine. It's a framework for hosting web applications which takes care of all of the infrastructure effortlessly. In other words, you don't have worry about setting up a server or figuring out to get everything online. You just write the code, and Google ensures that it will run on the Web.

And here's a book about it that will come out later this month. Charles Severance is a friend of mine: Using Google App Engine

Before you can begin programming for a career, you need to get some code under your belt. There's no time like the present.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kindle 2, also WTF?!

Amazon just announced the Kindle 2, and I’m pretty sure there’s going to be one in my house at some point. It looks awesome.

On the other hand, feast your eyes on this “Kindle exclusive” Stephen King opus they’re hawking for merely $2.99:

Written exclusively for Kindle, Stephen King reminds us why he’s still the master at the top of his game. In his new novella, UR, King is at his unsettling best as he examines the future of the written word—for better or worse. Following a nasty break-up, lovelorn college English instructor Wesley Smith can’t seem to get his ex-girlfriend’s parting shot out of his head: “Why can’t you just read off the computer like the rest of us?” Egged on by her question and piqued by a student’s suggestion, Wesley places an order for a Kindle. The device that arrives in a box stamped with the smile logo—via one-day delivery that he hadn’t requested—unlocks a literary world that even the most avid of book lovers could never imagine. Get it only on Kindle.

Um, yeah … I’ll get back to you on that one.