How often do you have to look stuff up?

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#1 Atharron   User is offline

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How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 07 March 2015 - 06:17 AM

Having been at this programming thing for a year or so now, I've found that there is a lot to learn. The basics of each language seem to be very similar, and quite simple once you understand how it all works. But there are often loads of other things that help out, like in-built functions that can be difficult to remember. It's kinda like learning a spoken language; you learn the basic grammar which is fairly easy, but the vocabularly can be a nightmare.

So, how often do you experienced coders need to look up something? Or do you have it all memorised?

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#2 Atli   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 07 March 2015 - 06:27 AM

Nobody memorizes everything. It's a complete waste of time, nor do I even think there is anybody out there capable of it. The tools we work with are to varied and big, and they change too often. - You'll obviously remember some of the basics of the languages/tools you work with most, but aside from that we're usually looking things up rather than writing them of the top of our heads.

Being able to find what you need is far more important for a developer than being able to memorize them.
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#3 Atharron   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 07 March 2015 - 06:39 AM

That's a bit of a relief then. Whenever I'm doing something to my website, I'll always have w3Schools open in my browser. It seems to have pretty much everything I need.
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#4 tlhIn`toq   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 07 March 2015 - 06:40 AM

You've been doing it for *a* year. I've been doing it for 10 years. Atli is right: You will be looking things up all the time. It doesn't end. Sometimes its just faster to google "Binding two sources to one ListView" to get a code example. Other times its something you don't do every day. This week for example while working on a 64bit application I am forced to use a 32bit DLL for something. I refuse to roll the application down to 32 bit, so I have to make the 32bit its own process and have it communicate with the main program. That's new to me. There will always be new stuff. If you could magically download all the programming info into your head today (ala Matrix style) you would still be looking up things next week because development is a moving target. There is more being created daily than you can learn daily.

This post has been edited by tlhIn`toq: 09 March 2015 - 04:43 AM

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#5 jon.kiparsky   User is online

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 07 March 2015 - 09:21 AM

Yes, you will always be looking things up. What will change as you move from where you are now to more senior levels is the nature of things you'll be looking up. Right now, you're probably looking up language constructs and built-in functions and basics of the language. As you write code, this stuff will get stuck in your brain, and you'll be looking up more obscure constructs (in python, the progress might be from loops to comprehensions to generators) and higher-level ideas (design patterns, metaprogramming ideas, best practices for unit testing this or that sort of entity) and more general concepts of computation (algorithmic thinking, for example).

One thing that will help you learn these basics is to turn off any automatic assistance that your IDE provides. Don't use auto-completion, correction, formatting, highlighting, or anything that changes the code that you've entered. This seems counter-intuitive, but it's the only way to learn to see the code for yourself.

Later on, when you understand the basics, you can consider using some of this tooling, but if you want to stop having to look things up, you need to force yourself to attend to them. Each time you look it up, you're experiencing a major interrupt: you have to stop programming and start looking up. To get maximum benefit from this, you want to make sure the things you look up get loaded into your brain, so you don't have to look it up the next time.

Also, if you look up a "cookbook" style example, DO NOT COPY AND PASTE IT. Type it in - and take the time to understand it. Your job as a programmer is to understand code, and what you most need to practice now is just this business of understanding code. Don't be in a hurry to finish that assignment - the point is not to finish the assignment, but to understand everything about it.

This will slow you down in the short term, but in the long term you'll be making much faster progress from junior-grade stuff to the good stuff. Later on, you'll want to be moving at a very fast pace. People will be paying you a lot of money to make things work, and you want to give them as much output as you can per unit of time. But the way to move fast later is to move slow now.
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#6 no2pencil   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 08 March 2015 - 07:29 PM

If one is not looking up anything, one is not experiencing anything new, & therefor one is not growing. This is dangerous.
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#7 Spock.   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 12 March 2015 - 06:42 PM

I'm a newbie programmer (only really started programming in September as I am enrolled in Computer Science), but that being said... I have tried to abstain from looking things up as much as possible mainly because I feel guilty if I do. You may be wondering why I feel guilty--well, to put it simply... I feel like I should know everything that I need to in order to complete the task at hand. This is nonsensical, of course... and I am weening my way out of this line of thought merely because somebody took the time to remind me of a quote that I will hold dear to me until the day that I die:

"If I could see further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

The meaning of this quote is open for interpretation, of course... but I perceive it to mean that using code that was created by those who were able to do something will enable me to not only do what they have done, but also enable me to tweak what they have done and make it more efficient.
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#8 kathy025   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 15 March 2015 - 05:55 AM

"Am I a developer or am I just a good Googler?"

Thing is, everyone's doing it, seasoned programmers or not. What's important is you understand the code and if asked to explain/trace it, you know by heart what it does. There are always "cookbook solutions", but the how's and why's are the very essence of learning. Don't just copy-paste, understand.

Looking things up is not a crime, that's why documentations/APIs abound; some even come with examples (like PHP).

It may feel like it hurts your "programmer pride" not knowing stuff and having to Google it (I've been there), but chances are, no one really knows everything and everyone does their share of Googling.

"Do not commit to memory what can be easily found in books."

It's useful to be able to consummate documentation and know where to find information when you need it.
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#9 xclite   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 15 March 2015 - 07:01 AM

I look things up constantly. Most often I'm googling for a library to solve a certain problem or sample usage of an API. I think if our languages and tools improved enough that I didn't have to do the latter, I wouldn't look things up even half as much.
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#10 astonecipher   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 15 March 2015 - 08:07 AM

The other very good reason to look things up, professional developers are usually working on a time crunch. It may take 3 weeks to develop the code for a wheel, but someone has likely done it before, so checking for libraries that include the wheel you need makes your development faster.
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#11 Spock.   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 15 March 2015 - 09:01 AM

View Postastonecipher, on 15 March 2015 - 08:07 AM, said:

The other very good reason to look things up, professional developers are usually working on a time crunch. It may take 3 weeks to develop the code for a wheel, but someone has likely done it before, so checking for libraries that include the wheel you need makes your development faster.

This is a good point.
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#12 Martyr2   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 15 March 2015 - 10:13 AM

View Postjon.kiparsky, on 07 March 2015 - 09:21 AM, said:

One thing that will help you learn these basics is to turn off any automatic assistance that your IDE provides. Don't use auto-completion, correction, formatting, highlighting, or anything that changes the code that you've entered. This seems counter-intuitive, but it's the only way to learn to see the code for yourself.


To add to this, try an experiment. Write some of the code by hand on a piece of paper. Leave the computer out of it. Try your best to write down a complete function or algorithm not worrying about what syntax you are getting right or wrong. Once done, type what you wrote into an IDE and check your work. This process can be quite an experience.

:)
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#13 Spock.   User is offline

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 15 March 2015 - 11:18 AM

View PostMartyr2, on 15 March 2015 - 10:13 AM, said:

View Postjon.kiparsky, on 07 March 2015 - 09:21 AM, said:

One thing that will help you learn these basics is to turn off any automatic assistance that your IDE provides. Don't use auto-completion, correction, formatting, highlighting, or anything that changes the code that you've entered. This seems counter-intuitive, but it's the only way to learn to see the code for yourself.


To add to this, try an experiment. Write some of the code by hand on a piece of paper. Leave the computer out of it. Try your best to write down a complete function or algorithm not worrying about what syntax you are getting right or wrong. Once done, type what you wrote into an IDE and check your work. This process can be quite an experience.

:)/>

I used this method while working on an algorithm for checking the contents of an array list--the goal was to store non-copies in a second array list. I was having a tough time but my mother recommended to me that I should just try to write it down on paper and then test it... and it worked. The time I spent (an hour or so) pulling my hair could have been cut down substantially had I just done this in the beginning.
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#14 andrewsw   User is online

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 15 March 2015 - 12:59 PM

The internet has changed things dramatically. When I was at school (many years ago!) I might be lucky to have a book for a particular language, or just the provided manual/handbook, which was usually quite poor. Apart from waiting until the library opened, I/we had to struggle to understand the content from the (only) book we had: we had little choice. No intellisense or tooltips in DOS!

On the other hand, the languages themselves were quite small/tiny in comparison to more modern ones, so it was possible to learn the language (all of its functions and methods), and even some included libraries, in their entirety.

It is not possible to learn the entire .NET Framework. Why would we want to anyway? We'll probably only ever use 10 or (at a push) 15% of it.

An essential modern programming skill - a required skill - is to be able to find information quickly. Not only to be able to find the information but to be able to assimilate it. Quite often I won't find a single page that covers what I need, but two or three that, together, cover the subject (to my satisfaction/understanding).

Obviously, though, if you are currently doing a lot of work with databases, then you will become familiar with a lot of database methods. If you are doing a lot of work with a PDF library, then you will become familiar with a number of its methods.



  • Work hard to improve your search skills. I aim to search once only, and to find the answer within the first three or four results.
  • If the first set of search results don't look promising, try re-ordering your search terms, or substituting a word or two. (I don't want to start looking through the second page of results; I will only do this if what I'm searching for is really obscure.)
  • Bookmark useful sites. Use tags or categories to keep them organised, and easy to locate, as your list grows.
  • Create your own document to copy, and annotate, useful pieces of code/snippets. Again, use tags, and/or headings and sub-headings, to keep the document organized. The document will grow but you'll still want to be able to find things quickly.

I suppose some people use something like KeyNote or One Note to do this? Or maybe an online resource such as Snipplr or Gist? I've just been using Notepad++, and using tags/keywords to help me find the code I need. Don't use MS Word though!
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#15 jon.kiparsky   User is online

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Re: How often do you have to look stuff up?

Posted 15 March 2015 - 01:22 PM

Another useful tip for looking things up: go breadth-first, not depth-first! Avoid rabbit-hole research. If you are researching something about Foo and you find that there's a dependency that looks relevant, don't dive into it. Instead, add it to the back of your research queue. Your goal is to learn enough to solve your immediate problem, not to become an expert on Foo. And honestly, the way to become an expert on Foo is to implement a lot of stuff with it, and look up the details later, if they ever become specifically relevant.

(As a side note: If you think about it, wikipedia is a truly terrible design for information presentation, precisely because it's designed to encourage rabbit-hole research - each article is designed to prevent you from reading it through to the end)
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