or a lot of people, the hardest part of programming is getting started—especially in high school, where only a few lucky students can take programming classes. How do you do something when you’ve never learned how to do it, right?
Try this: learn on your own!
It can be hard at times, especially when you’re already going through hours of school every day. But the rewards are great—imagine being able to make money by selling your app on the market—and it doesn’t take as long as you might think.
In fact, if you dedicate just an hour a day (not even counting weekends) you can have your first basic app done in less than two weeks. And you can have something substantial—a real app with some functionality—in just a few months! Here’s how to get started:
- Pick a language and install it. There’s a wide selection of language to choose from, but if you want to make an Android app you ought to install Java. (Before doing so, check if your computer already has it.)
- Download an IDE. To make a program, you need a couple things besides the language: a text editor to write the code (like how you can use notepad or Word to write a paper for school); and a compiler to translate the code you write into “machine code,” the language your computer works in. An “integrated development environment” is something which combines an editor and compiler, and also adds some really handy features to help programmers out. A good IDE can suggest code, help you find bugs (holes in your code that will make a program malfunction), and keep you organized. We recommend using Eclipse because it’s powerful, works well with Java, and is free. Here’s a link to Eclipse’s Java IDE.
Install the Android plugin for Eclipse. Follow the instructions on this page; they’re pretty simple. This plugin gives you a few cool things: first, it adds basic functionality for working with Android apps; second, it has a UI editor, so you can edit the app visually rather than just with code; and third (perhaps coolest) it lets you make a virtual machine. (A virtual machine is just like it sounds: a virtual computer inside your real computer. They’re great for testing programs because they’re conveniently right there on your computer (meaning you don’t even need an actual Android phone!), and no matter how catastrophically your program fails you can clean up the mess by just making a new virtual machine.)
Learn to code as you do it! The best way to learn is by doing, so having a book (or online tutorial) opened while you program is the best way to learn how to program! We recommend these books to get you started: Head First Java to learn how to code in Java; and Hello, Android to learn how to program an Android app. If you can’t find those ones, don’t worry! Just check your local libraries for similar books, and don’t forget to check thrift stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army for used copies as well! Follow the examples in your books, and check out Google’s online classes to make some simple apps for practice.
- Look for an idea for your own program. If programming is your job, you often have a project assigned to you, but having an idea is at the heart of all self-driven programming. Let the question, “What should I program?” simmer in the back of your mind. When you find a problem in your life that could be solved with a simple app—whether it’s the problem of boredom (make a game), or a new handy way to share photos, or whatever—then you’ve got your idea! Take what you’ve learned and start coding!