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Ask Slashdot: Beginner To Intermediate Programming Projects?

Soulskill posted about 2 months ago | from the port-quake-3-to-my-microwave dept.

Programming 172

An anonymous reader writes "I've been teaching myself to code recently. I've made good progress so far, and I've written a bunch of little scripts to make my life easier. Here's the problem: most project ideas I come up with now either seem pretty easy or pretty impossible. I'm having trouble thinking of a project that'll stretch my skills without overloading them. I've tried finding open source projects to read through, but I run into the same thing: either it's straight-forward, or it requires reading a half-dozen dependencies, each of which has dependencies of their own. Anyone have suggestions on some intermediate-skill projects to undertake? Or some project files in an online repo that go beyond the basics without getting overwhelming? My language of choice is Python, but other languages are welcome."

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172 comments

Try a microcontroller project. (5, Informative)

wb8nbs (174741) | about 2 months ago | (#46935329)

I would suggest getting an Arduino. There's tons and tons of example code out there at all levels of expertise. And it's fun.

Re:Try a microcontroller project. (4, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 months ago | (#46935705)

I don't know dick about programming, and I've been having fun with my little Arduino.

It brings me back to my callow youth, playing with a breadboard and figuring out how to make LED's flash. Except this Arduino can actually do stuff.

Right now, I'm playing with making a sort of frankenstein controller for an old analog modular synthesizer. A cross between a Theremin and a Kaoss pad and percussion pads.

But it might end up as a cat torture device, if that damn thing doesn't stop chewing on my earbud cables.

Try some of that gay buttsex (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935893)

I like to have gy [sic] buttsex with my code. For programming, of course. Think about the comments. You can put a number or letter of about any shape in the comments after the comment symbol. Say, C for example:
 
// comment here!
 
But you could also do this!
 
// 888ooo000
 
Think about how those characters must feel in your rectum. Nice and smooth. Amen, slashdead.

Re: Try some of that gay buttsex (1)

Anthony Ruffino (2824549) | about 2 months ago | (#46936179)

That was actually funny .. I think. ok it was. But it's starting to not be. ok now it's gone.

Not kidding (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46936781)

Seriously not kidding here:

1) Stick with Python; great language. All kinds of cool stuff in it, and then, in the libraries, standard and otherwise

2) Go after AI. It's the most important problem of our time, you'll learn an astonishing number of things, it'll push you into every corner of Python eventually, which is entirely a good thing. Did I mention it's the most important problem of our time? There are plenty of small things to do on the learning curve. And Python's a great language to probe the idea of associative memory, play with the idea of what *types* of associations, etc.

You'll either not solve AI (you should prepare for this), or you will, in which case... well, you know. But there is no more fun, or tough, or important, problem out there to work on, learn about, or resolve.

After a year or so of this, those problems you think are mid-level problems will have turned into small problems. And you'll have built programming chops you can't even imagine right now. Trust me on this.

why not get some code books? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935331)

The ones I like have examples you can work through and eventually get working locally. A couple dozen dependencies are a common occurrence in most code projects, so we just work through or around them depending on what needs to be done, so just know if you ever want to contribute you'll just have to suck it up, but until then books w code examples and problems are a good stepping stone and if you comprehend what's inside you'll become a top-tier programmer in no time.

Something else? (5, Interesting)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 2 months ago | (#46935335)

Programming isn't an end to itself. Well it can be but, generally we program to do something else - payroll, missile guidance, selling stuff over the internet, etc.

What else do you know? Are you an expert in newt farming? Write an application to automate the tedious aspects of new farming.

Once you have a problem to solve, it becomes attackable. Having to hunting around for the right sized problem suggests you aren't acknowledging the problems you already have.

Re:Something else? (2)

rwa2 (4391) | about 2 months ago | (#46935469)

Now that you're an "intermediate" programmer, find an existing piece of code somewhere and modify it to do something you want. You'll cover a lot of ground, since you're already starting from a fairly capable codebase, and you'll learn a lot about what you like and don't like from trying to read other people's code. Python is a great "glue" language, so the code you're looking at using need not even be in the same language.

Back in the day I hacked up some 3D gnome tetris game in C to output game state to a file that was parsed by a perl script that would build and solve an FEA model of that structure in SLFFEA in near-realtime. It was pretty fun to work with those kinds of building blocks.

Never Mind The Blocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935613)

Block/Tetris pun intended?

Re:Something else? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935525)

If you're up for a maths challenge, try looking at DIY drones - think about making an autopilot. That should keep you busy for awhile.

Re:Something else? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935855)

Programming isn't an end to itself.

That is how I got into it. I used computers to solve problems. Back in the 80s when I got into it, I was an anomaly. It was easy to get work - and it was the only job I could get at the time. I wanted to do something else, but needing a job, I programmed.

For those of you who would condemn me for this, I would say petition for a law where everyone gets paid the same no matter what they do. That would eliminate the folks who go into fields for "just the money". Otherwise, we art people who need to make a living will be among you.

Re:Something else? (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about 2 months ago | (#46936497)

I'm not going to condemn you for this. My own perceptions of what I would be doing with my engineering degree turned out to be so far off target that it's not even funny. I'm not working on the stuff that fascinated me. I'm working on the stuff my boss lets me do. I try to find the "joy of engineering" when and where I can, but it is very difficult to earn a living, raise a family, have the intrinsic qualifications and market demand to pursue one's very specific interests. I suspect that many other readers here would agree.

Not intermediate yet (2)

ranton (36917) | about 2 months ago | (#46936145)

I would move past writing software for yourself. While "intermediate" is obviously subjective, you are very unlikely to be at that skill level if you have never sold software or written software for money. Writing software for yourself is so much easier. You can change your goals based on what is easier or what skills you already have. You don't have to figure out difficult problems just because that is what the customer wants.

Since it can be so hard to find work with no experience, and with no academic credentials, a close second is to write software for free for someone else. I started developing software without a degree by writing CRM/ERP software for small companies (not that I even knew what those initials meant at the time). It taught me not only how to write better software, it taught me how to gather requirements and deal with customers. There will probably still be huge gaps in your abilities because of a lack of mentoring from someone in the industry, but it help you prove yourself enough to get a job in the industry.

Even if you can't find anyone who wants your help with software, a fake web-based CRM/ERP software project is a great way to learn skills that are actually useful in industry. And you will still have something to show employers if they want an example of your work.

Project Euler (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935337)

project Euler [projecteuler.net]

Re:Project Euler (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935475)

Thank you for sharing this. That looks like an awesome site. Great problems on there.

Re:Project Euler (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935619)

yes, project Euler! mathematics - heavy.

Re:Project Euler (1)

vasilevich (2969463) | about 2 months ago | (#46935629)

Most require background on some specific subjects, graph theory, abstract algebra, etc. Overall, the problems are challenging.

Re:Project Euler (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 months ago | (#46935735)

My wife the math professor loves that site. She cops stuff off there all the time that she ends up using.

IIRC, she's talked to the people from that site, to thank them and offer an idea or two. I'll ask her later.

Yes, Project Euler is the goods.

First! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935341)

First!

Pieces of impossible (2)

ddt (14627) | about 2 months ago | (#46935353)

Do a small piece of something impossible in such a way that you might be able to integrate it into the impossible thing later once your kung fu is strong enough. To tip the odds in your favour, do a piece of something that seems impossible but is something you're super passionate about. It'll help you overcome the hurdles more easily.

Re:Pieces of impossible (1)

s_p_oneil (795792) | about 2 months ago | (#46935403)

Seconded. All seemingly impossible projects can be broken down into manageable pieces. Break it down logically and tackle specific pieces that seem doable, then build on top of them.

Re:Pieces of impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46936123)

Yeah, that much is true, but it's not necessarily a given that it's in the ability of the person in question to do the breaking down themselves.

Re:Pieces of impossible (1)

Sentrion (964745) | about 2 months ago | (#46936615)

Yes, but if he tries he will learn a lot about software engineering and project management, skills that go way beyond basic coding; skills that employers are hiring for. Being totally self-driven would just be icing on the cake. I would however suggest a slight modification to the "break it down" strategy. And that is, write modular programs that can work with the other programs you write but could also each function as a stand-alone program. You still need to decide what direction you want to take your programming. If you want to write financial software, you could write several modules that perform specific financial functions and then a top-level program that integrates the individual modules as sub-routines. Or write the firmware for an intelligent battery charger, and keep adding functions, like a USB driver to interface the charger with other devices, and then add a display to the charger and write the code for that, and then write a program to log events, then a program to graphically display the charging history, etc. etc. Just start with a project that is potentially simple enough, like a quick and dirty operating system, and keep expanding on it until it becomes as over bloated as MS Windows has become today.

Re:Pieces of impossible (1)

braden87 (3027453) | about 2 months ago | (#46935543)

This is an excellent response. OP please put great weight on what ddt says. As a professional I can't tell you how many times I've been programming w/rt subject matter I love and been amazed at how little effort seemingly impossible projects take to come together. I've also noticed when I'm not thrilled/interested/excited about a project I tend to view tasks as much more difficult than they end up being.

Re:Pieces of impossible (3, Interesting)

Quirkz (1206400) | about 2 months ago | (#46936799)

I think this is a good answer. Dream big, start small. About a decade ago I decided I'd like to create a web-based computer game. I had some very beginner web, PHP, and MySQL skills. In theory that was enough of a foundation, as long as I continued learning, but it was a daunting task, because I didn't know many of the simplest things, like even how to keep track of values behind the scenes (such as with session variables). I started very small, coding little pieces, figuring out just enough. Some of the really early components were actually gambling mini games, because those have such strictly defined rules. Once I had a rock-paper-scissors game and a craps game, I'd picked up just enough that I felt I could also implement a simple store. After coding a store, I realized I knew almost enough that, with a little more research, I could code an equipment page that added and removed gear, without really paying any attention to the benefits on the gear. From that came the character sheet which displayed gear plus other stats, then some simple noncombat adventures which gave players equipment and money or increased stats ... and so on. Each new thing required some learning, but most of it was incremental enough, and the learning specific enough, that I could bite off one interface/interaction at a time and keep going.

Sure, it took me six months until I thought I had anything worth inviting play-testers, and a year to go into beta testing, plus a couple more of development, but eventually I had a complete game, a sprawling thing of size and complexity I couldn't remotely have imagined at the beginning. It wasn't only fun, but also somewhat profitable, and in retrospect it's one of the greatest creative efforts of my life. That's something which would have sounded silly to say as I was testing out code for those first couple of exercises with RPS and craps, but that's what they led to.

apply to rl situations (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935359)

I have found looking for things in my everyday life that could be made easyier or better with the use of programming such as general computer use and so on.
a good example is i wanted to lower power usage in my general computing so i recycled and old eee to use as a master machine to turn on and off my other computers as i needed them i used python php and shell script.

so i recommend just look at the things you do and try apply programming to it, hope this suggestion helps and lots of luck!!

Pygame? (3, Informative)

Cramit (609487) | about 2 months ago | (#46935361)

You could build a small game in Pygame!
http://www.pygame.org/ [pygame.org]

A basic banner ad type game tutorial.
http://www.pygame.org/docs/tut... [pygame.org]

Re:Pygame? (1)

dmbasso (1052166) | about 2 months ago | (#46935591)

pygame is a good recommendation. Once I found a nice game that was written by a beginner, so I took his code and made some improvements, just to show how it could be done. Perhaps the OP might find interesting the historic of this git repo: https://github.com/dmbasso/ent... [github.com]

Don't overlook the easy (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 months ago | (#46935363)

Don't sneer at the easy/simple/etc... Just because they seem so at first blush doesn't always mean they are so once you get into them. Not to mention, working on the basics never hurts no matter what you're trying to learn.

Re:Don't overlook the easy (1)

nickittynickname (2753061) | about 2 months ago | (#46935549)

I agree. When I started off I did two things wrong that ended costing me a lot of experience. I didn't start off simple enough, and I didn't seek help when I really needed it. You need experience planning your program and going large at all will make planning difficult. If you do a larger project break it out into smaller projects, proof of concept each feature separately. When you feel you have a grasp on the pieces then try to put it together. You will find things you thought were simple take a long time.

Re:Don't overlook the easy (1)

dysmal (3361085) | about 2 months ago | (#46936271)

As mundane as it is doing the routine "easy" projects, keep doing them! Practice. Practice. Practice!!!

During the routine projects you might come up with a more convoluted idea to do the same exact task which will require x5 the work and try to do it just because you can. It's when doing mundane tasks I've had many a brain storm to try a new method. Most of the time my brain storm was Hurricane Katrina (a disaster) but there were a couple of legitimately cool things I accidentally did in the process!

Patterns (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935369)

Many websites offer lists of programming patterns http://rosettacode.org/wiki/Rosetta_Code I like rosetta code but there are many more websites, plus books to peruse. Try to find what fascinates you and see if any new ideas come out of it.

Simple (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935373)

Break up those "impossible" projects into manageable chunks. That's sure to be a helpful skill when you move into even larger projects.

Write a game (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935387)

Games are a classic programming project. Depending on your level of interest, you could go with something fairly simple (like a card game) or an implementation of a classic video game (something like Breakout or Space Invaders). I've had friends who wrote simple role-playing games as well.

"Python Projects" book (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935389)

I'm anxiously waiting to see what Wrox's "Python Projects" book might be like... (Not sure I can post links here, but it's easy enough to find.)

Managing dependencies is a key skill... (3, Informative)

Narcocide (102829) | about 2 months ago | (#46935405)

... and if that is all that stands between you and every single project that isn't "too easy" for you, then THAT is exactly what you should be working on.

However, you can learn SDL and fairly easily use it with C and/or C++ and make simple games and graphical apps with no or at least very few additional dependencies.

Try a totally different programming language (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935407)

and not just a offshoot, like say C to C++ or C#. Just a completely different one.

It may make the impossible seem possible. And a bunch of other new insights.

When all you ever used is a hammer....

Zen (2, Interesting)

mfh (56) | about 2 months ago | (#46935411)

Study Zen. Not from a religious standpoint but from a philosophical one. Once you grasp these concepts, you are ready to become a programmer or anything else you want.

The first lesson is that an object falls into a pond directly. The object splashes directly. The object sinks directly. The sequence out of order is unnatural.

Okay so this idea informs you about security, and about data flow. More lessons await! :)

Re:Zen (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 months ago | (#46936505)

I literally have no idea what you are talking about. Explain please?

Re:Zen (2)

mfh (56) | about 2 months ago | (#46936777)

This is an example of a koan [wikipedia.org] .

What is the Buddha nature of programming? I see this only as to, with heart, effortlessly spawn systems.

The koan of the pebble as it is tossed into a pool is powerful and yet effortless.

From a programming standpoint, the server is the pond. The pebble is the data that will connect to and be placed into the server. The person tossing the pebble is the user. Each activity will take the shortest path, perhaps to the farthest depth. The pond can reject pebbles (frozen). :-)

Systems rely on this koan.

Re:Zen (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 months ago | (#46937033)

The system doesn't exist.

Re:Zen (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about 2 months ago | (#46936549)

The first lesson is that an object falls into a pond directly. The object splashes directly. The object sinks directly. The sequence out of order is unnatural.

Aha! This koan is a warning against multithreading.

checkio and hackerrank (3, Informative)

LetterRip (30937) | about 2 months ago | (#46935433)

The two sites checkio and hackerrank can probably provide you some challenges. They will force you to learn some algorithms (trees, graphs, etc.) which will provide you with tools you need for more complex projects.

Re:checkio and hackerrank (1)

lllz (3643993) | about 2 months ago | (#46935909)

checkio is a really fun game. For me it was the only place I could find to practice coding with real projects

Make it personal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935471)

I wrote a torrent-based DVR in python. It was fun and educational because interest and focus was easy to maintain.

Think of something you want to automate or make easier for you, first.

Games! (1)

paskie (539112) | about 2 months ago | (#46935473)

Make a game. Or contribute to an existing open source game. You can easily set and adjust the scope and depth of the project so that it's fun and challenging. Chances are, you already play some games you like, and chances are you can get inspired for your own game project there. And perhaps others will even find it fun to play.

Somehow, when I get playing a game for any period of time, sooner or later I slowly switch to hacking the codebase as it ends up being even more fun. :-) If you're interested in building a non-trivial game, you may find it interesting to take a look at the code of existing open source games and start hacking them. You will find fun and rewarding low-hanging fruit features lying all around. In strategies - Freeciv, OpenTTD, Wesnoth, Widelands..., arcades like Supertux or Stepmania or even FPS like Xonotic. Or UI or computer player for a board game.

Games are also nice because they are very multi-faceted - you can start by adding simple features, but also work on optimization and better core algorithms, graphics programming, network programming, improve the user interface, porting it to a new platform or have a go at building an AI computer opponent. Hey, try building an AI for OpenTTD, none of them is perfect and they have a nice plugin system. And if you get more involved, imho they look pretty cool on a CV of any programmer.

Re:Games! (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | about 2 months ago | (#46935795)

Yup, simple implementations of games you know. I like cards - dealing a poker hand, determining what hand it is, comparing with other hands, determining winner. Then run it in a loop a few thousand times, recording results to a database, or a csv file, or ...

math programming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935477)

Project Euler is good if you are interested in algorithms.

Relationships (1, Informative)

woboyle (1044168) | about 2 months ago | (#46935481)

Software is all about relationships between different bits of code, structures (classes), and behaviors. There are tools that can take a bunch of code and turn it into graphical models that help understand better how this stuff works together and is related. The modeling language is called UML. One great tool I use is called Enterprise Architect from Sparx Systems (an Australian company). I frequently use it to generate UML models from source code in order to better understand it. It isn't expensive (full professional version for about $200USD), and you can get a full version on a 30-day free evaluation if you want. Go to http://www.sparxsystems.com/ [sparxsystems.com] for more information. They also have less expensive versions, student licenses, etc.

Simulate a microprocessor. (3, Insightful)

crgrace (220738) | about 2 months ago | (#46935499)

When I was in graduate school I had to write a C program to simulate the operation of a small custom microprocessor. It was a truly fascinating experience (and not terribly difficult). You can start with something really simple like a MIPS variant and go from there. I actually had to write several simulators at different levels of abstraction (one only simulated the instruction set, another simulated down to the microcode, etc). Just simulating a small instruction set is a great way to get started.

The cool part of this kind of project is it gets you learning so many different things out of necessity. To run assembly code on my C-based microprocessor simulation I had to learn to write assembly language programs. Then I had to learn how to write an assembler (I did it in C but if I were doing it today I would use Perl or Python) to generate object code for my microprocessor simulation.. Then to debug the microprocessor I needed to write a disassembler and so on.

The microprocessor was microcoded so I also got to learn how to write microcode to verify fine details of the microprocessor. I got some great insight to computer arithmetic and really enjoyed it.

I can't tell you what a cool experience it is to see a simple assembly code you wrote run on a microprocessor simulation you wrote. This can lead to getting involved in emulation but I didn't do that. I'm in the chip design business now so I write simulations and models of all kinds of analog and digital circuits and it is a blast.

Simple web frontend for a database (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935517)

One small project that also gives you a useful tool is building a really simple web front-end for a database. I'm not talking about anything complex like a CRUD layer, just an HTML form with a multi-line input box where you type your query; then when you submit the form, produce an HTML table with the result rows/columns.

To get started, you don't need a database server - you can just use SQLite. You also don't need a web framework - you can just do it as a CGI script initially. Then once you have something working there are many directions you could take it ... allow the user to select CSV output rather than HTML; 'port' it to work with a real DB like Postgres or MySQL; reimplement it using a web framework (say bottle); allow the user to save/recall/edit queries; make the UI 'smarter' by having the backend provide a list of tables/views and columns and use JS to make some sort of query builder.

Enhance your old projects (1)

harperska (1376103) | about 2 months ago | (#46935519)

Try adding new features to your existing simple projects. If for example you are a musician, your beginner project might have been a simple metronome app. You could then hone your UI skills by creating a new interface for easier dialing in a tempo rather than the simple text field widget you used initially. Or you could try enhancing it to accent the downbeat for various time signatures (for which you will also need to come up with more advanced UIs). Then you can enhance the beat generation code even further to play custom rhythms rather than a constant beat. Poke around in the audio APIs a bit to allow a choice of what sound is played for each beat. Before you know it, you have built a beatbox app.

I wouldn't recommend that sort of tinkering on a production app, but for personal projects coming up with new features for existing projects is a great way to hone your skills as you can make each step as big (today I will explore the MIDI APIs) or as little (today I will learn how to use a number spinner widget) as you want.

SICP (2)

jbolden (176878) | about 2 months ago | (#46935561)

I'd go for the classic medium and I want to get better SICP.

Online course: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/ele... [mit.edu]

Online book + problems +... http://mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/ [mit.edu]

This book more than any other will take your programming to a new level.

Intermediate Programming (1)

porsche911 (64841) | about 2 months ago | (#46935565)

If you are really trying to get to an "intermediate" level you could start doing simple data structures and algorithms. Learn the classic sorting routines, linked lists, etc. Once you understand those you can start seeing how they are used in large programs. Look at some of the annotated programs -- the Lion's book on Unix is a good collection of readings to see how an operating system is structured for example. Games are a great way to develop your skills but you may not have enough background yet to get very far. Read the Python source code - you may not understand all of it but you will learn how a language interpreter is put together.

Welcome to a long and twisty path as a programmer. Something new to learn every day.

Re:Intermediate Programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935827)

Read the Python source code - you may not understand all of it but you will learn how a language interpreter is put together.

Allocate a lot of time if you really want to do that. For a newcomer, the Python interpreter source code probably takes months to grasp, if the plan is to learn something from it.

Easy (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | about 2 months ago | (#46935597)

Grab a C compiler like GCC and program a simple game, a torrent defense game us a good challenge, After that grab a micro-controller and write a simple real time operating system.

Learn a framework well (1)

Wrexs0ul (515885) | about 2 months ago | (#46935603)

You'll learn a ton, many of them no longer suck, and it can definitely speed-up the development time of future projects.

On the web I work primarily with PHP and for a long time the frameworks weren't any better than reusing my own class libraries. These days there's some very comprehensive ones that do things faster and simpler than I do already, and have been well worth my time to get better at.

A quick Google search shows there's some mature ones for different use cases of Python as well. Research a few and give them a try. You might just find their automating of the less fun parts of programming to be a huge boost to your development work.

Try TopCoder (1)

JMZero (449047) | about 2 months ago | (#46935611)

Specifically, try doing past algorithm competitions - probably starting with their High School level competitions (that may sound insulting, but there's some very good programmers in that division). Once you've done some TopCoder, the data manipulations and calculations you do in "normal" programming will seem really easy. And they always post good solution explanations (or you can look at other people's solutions) to get you started.

Algorithm work like this isn't the end and and be all of programming, but getting good at it will make you better at everything else you do - and you'll understand algorithms at a much deeper level once you've used them hands on at your own prompting (rather than using Dijkstra at the end of the chapter on Dijkstra). You'll also be directly prepared to implement the algorithms you need for games, physics simulations, efficient data processing, and all sorts of "heavy lifting" programming work that many experienced programmers fail at.

Challenging, but doable projects. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935617)

Find a simple processor and make your own assembler. Understanding assembly is a great way to appreciate what computers do from a technical level, making a language with a context free grammar delves into computer science, and a wide range of simple data structures like lists and trees are used. It may sound technical, but you if you program in C you only need to be familiar with stdio.h and stdlib.h.

Alternatively make a simple graphics program. If you take the time to learn basic linear algebra you can make your own 3d graphics engine. The input could be an ascii file defining geometry, and the output could be to some basic format like PPM. This would help you learn linear algebra (arguably the most important math for science and engineering) and develop an intuition for it. And besides graphics are fun.

Codecs are also fun, be it they for audio or images. They also have the benifit that you can check the functioning of your work by encoding then decoding data and checking if it matches (resembles if lossy) the original.

I know these sounds like a lot of work, but I'd wager with some effort you'd be able to do it learn some cool useful stuff.

Reimplement something useful: *NIX (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935637)

The best learning experience that you can obtain is by re-implementing individual UNIX commands. Start by reading the manual pages of programs like wc, cut, paste and build basic versions, then add some of their more advanced command line options.

sourceforge (1)

vasilevich (2969463) | about 2 months ago | (#46935639)

Go spelunking at sourceforge!

How about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935669)

Game development.

Groovy? (1)

plopez (54068) | about 2 months ago | (#46935683)

Its a good segue into Java, which is marketable, and advanced OO techniques. The name is unfortunate but it is very useful. It is in fact said it should have been named JavaScript, but the name was taken.

What does intermediate mean? I am not sure. But I would first ID what sorts of problems interest me and then start chipping away at simpler sub-problems related to those problems or problem domains. The as time went on take on more challenging problems in the same problem domain.

low level, high level, and object GUI (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 2 months ago | (#46935753)

It's really hard to suggest specific projects because "intermediate" is such an imprecise term. Stay away from anything security sensitive, especially WEB FACING security sensitive applications. Web scripts get attacked several times per day.

Other than that, something that can really teach you a lot in a short time is to become familiar with a low-level language like C (not C++). Even if you don't USE C much, being familiar with it will let you understand your Python code so much better - you'll know WHY sort() is so slow in any language, and how to get the top 10 items much faster, without sorting the entire list. Most languages are themselves written in C, so understanding C will let you understand a bit about how every other language works behind the scenes.

Learn a high-level language like Perl, PHP 5.3, or in your case Python. The Perl programmer can finish writing the software while the C programmer is still declaring her variables.

Learn an object-oriented GUI language and subclas one gui element. Microsoft does a great job in this class of languages. (Not printing html, but actually manipulating GUI objects). When you become familiar with VB.NET or C#, and subclass just one gui element you'll "get it" as far as object-oriented programming goes. Python can do objects, Perl can use objects, etc. but they aren't the best way to LEARN objects. The GUI languages let you see objects and by subclassing one you'll understand the power of object-oriented programming.

To the tune: Let it be (4, Funny)

Adam Colley (3026155) | about 2 months ago | (#46935771)

When I find my code in tons of trouble,
Friends and colleagues come to me,
Speaking words of wisdom:
"Write in C."

As the deadline fast approaches,
And bugs are all that I can see,
Somewhere, someone whispers:
"Write in C."

Write in C, Write in C,
Write in C, oh, Write in C.
LOGO's dead and buried,
Write in C.

I used to write a lot of FORTRAN,
For science it worked flawlessly.
Try using it for graphics!
Write in C.

If you've just spent nearly 30 hours
Debugging some assembly,
Soon you will be glad to
Write in C.

Write in C, Write in C,
Write in C, yeah, Write in C.
Only wimps use BASIC.
Write in C.

Write in C, Write in C
Write in C, oh, Write in C.
Pascal won't quite cut it.
Write in C.

Write in C, Write in C,
Write in C, yeah, Write in C.
Don't even mention COBOL.
Write in C.

Re: To the tune: Let it be (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46936079)

You misspelled Go.

Re: To the tune: Let it be (1)

Adam Colley (3026155) | about 2 months ago | (#46936199)

There is no Go.

Probably just as well, someone might consider it harmful.

Re: To the tune: Let it be (1)

gmhowell (26755) | about 2 months ago | (#46936883)

There is no Go.

Probably just as well, someone might consider it harmful.

Only v2.

Re: To the tune: Let it be (1)

Soft (266615) | about 2 months ago | (#46936929)

You misspelled Go.

You mean Brand X [cowlark.com] ?

Selenium (1)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | about 2 months ago | (#46935783)

Hard to suggest because you don't have a stated goal.

I think you would be challenged by working with selenium and webdriver to control web browsers for developing web tests. This will involve learning xpath which is recommended knowledge if you don't know it. This skillset is marketable, I might add.

Make your own text editor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46935811)

A text editor is a project of substance but not too hard. Advantages:

  • It gives real experience in manipulating complex data structures in the language of choice;
  • The data structures are well known, so you don't need to spend time re-inventing them;
  • You don't need to spend time designing graphics etc;
  • You can add features as skills increase;
  • Its repeatable, allowing a comparison of the ease of development of the same program using different languages;
  • Every programmer needs to have invented his own editor, his own language and his own compiler. Just because.

make your own hex dump (1)

bzipitidoo (647217) | about 2 months ago | (#46936731)

I find a hexadecimal dump utility to be an easy starter project for a new language. You have to learn how that language handles file I/O, the program will be short, probably under 20 lines, and the utility can actually be useful. Can also whip up a program to do the reverse. Occasionally I've worked on bare bones UNIX systems like old versions of HP-UX that didn't have all kinds of handy utility programs, but did at least have a C compiler.

Fix bugs (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about 2 months ago | (#46935819)

A nice way to learn is to fix bugs in software you use. You will get familiar with the software architecture, and if it is well written, you may get good habits.

Why are you teaching yourself to code? (-1, Flamebait)

NemoinSpace (1118137) | about 2 months ago | (#46935843)

You don't *know* anything. Neither do the 100,000 other lame "programmers" who taught themselves to code. If you take a couple of really good courses you have a chance of making pretty good money fixing their crap.

Games and ProjectEuler (3, Interesting)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about 2 months ago | (#46935849)

The two bits of advice that I have given to a zillion beginning and intermediate programmers are games and ProjectEuler. First project euler is great because it will exercise your math abilities and problem solving abilities in any given language. Few CS people realize how powerful properly applied mathematics can be. PU will get you in tune with that ability.

Secondly I recommend making some games. Pacman, space invaders, something 3D. They don't have to be good. But ideally you move onto multi player.

Basically if you can make a multi-player multi-platform pacman in an isometric view in OpenGL driven 3D with a server(SQL/NoSQL) driven leaderboard with a distrubution/installer module for each platform then you are done. There isn't a whole lot of programming that you can't do.

Not to mention your friends will think that you are a whole lot cooler making a game than when you try to explain the challanges of problem 132 in Project Euler.

Many people here are mentioning Arduino (which I love) it is a cool thing to add to your resume but unless you do something fairly strange then it won't expand your programming skills much. Arduino programming is usually fairly straight forward act / react. Although dealing with crappy sensor data and having motors not do exactly what you meant and then having to compensate is both frustrating and oddly satisfying.

Bowling league (1)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 months ago | (#46935869)

When I moderated a programming forum that had a fair number of beginners I was impressed by how many were implementing systems to keep track of their leagues - Bowling, Golf, Football (soccer), whatever. Pick one and write a system to manage the rosters, schedule, stats, etc.

Grit (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 2 months ago | (#46935877)

A really basic and powerful thing to learn: grit! It has helped me tremendously. Continue humbly improving your project, source file after source file, and never give up. Learn to finish a project properly from start to beginning. You will need this skill anyway, when you ultimately delve into the bigger projects, as they tend to get rather complex. But complexity can be managed too, so don't worry about it too much.

Calculator (3, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 2 months ago | (#46935935)

Write a calculator.
Sounds easy right?
Good luck.

Different mindset (3, Insightful)

thatkid_2002 (1529917) | about 2 months ago | (#46935953)

Stop thinking in terms of difficulty levels and programming problems. Go out there and just do stuff, easy or hard, with the objective of making something meaningful happen. Have another look at Open Source - maybe you don't grok open source and the ecosystem yet, but give it a bit more time and start with the simplest bugs rather than feature development.

Something that I have found particularly helpful is having a go at using open source tools and libraries and then when you find something hard to use (and with a lot of swearing, eventually understand it) go and write a tool or a library to make it easier. There's so many rough edges out there that you can smooth out and these problems tend to have a fairly confined complexity in my experience. You've already started this with your scripting so take it to the next level.

Try some classic problems? (1)

rover42 (2606651) | about 2 months ago | (#46936005)

There are a number of problems that are often used as exercises. Textbooks at any level from high school to grad school have examples; here are a few off the top of my head: Games: start with something really easy like tic-tac-toe, then try more interesting games. 8 queens: put 8 queens on a chessboard so that none of them checks any other. The easy version is to just find one solution. It gets a lot harder if you want to do it efficiently and/or find all possible solutions. Doing it in reasonable time for N queens on an N by N board is really hard. Markov chains: Analyze some large sample of text to count how often combinations of words or letters turn up. Then write a program to generate text using those statistics. How long a chain do you need to look at to get more-or-less sensible output?

Camera tracking (1)

digitalhermit (113459) | about 2 months ago | (#46936041)

I'm trying to do a similar thing. I'm pretty decent with Perl (or at least used to be) and know enough C and Java to get myself in trouble. I'm trying to learn Python now.

So... my other hobby is video production. One of the things that's expensive to do is to track a camera so that that it can be replayed to CGI software. This allows almost seamless effects. For example, film an object against a green screen as the camera pans. In normal chromakey, it's quite obvious because the background doesn't track the same way as the camera. You can minimize this by choosing distant backgrounds but this limits you quite a bit. Anyhoo, I'm trying to use the positional sensors in a smartphone to track the movement and later replay it to software such as Blender. It hasn't been easy. In the process I am learning a lot about a lot of things.

What I'm trying to say is that you may learn a lot from complex projects even if you don't succeed in your goal.

Text-scanning programs (1)

rover42 (2606651) | about 2 months ago | (#46936047)

You want to use Python, which is a good language for text manipulation. That suggests various projects based on scanning through text. Take any interesting large piece of open source software. How many switch() statements lack a default: case for error handling? You can get a first approximation with a few lines of shell & grep, but doing it right would need a language like Python and a moderate amount of work. What else would be easy to check? Take text samples from several different news sources. How do their vocabulary choices differ? Does that indicate their political biases? Can you program some of the standard indicators of reading level (see Wikipedia)? Do they get different scores?

Fix other peoples' bugs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46936133)

Find an existing medium-sized project that you use and seems well designed. Look at their bug list. Pick something that seems pretty small, but not completely trivial, then work out how to fix it. This will get your eyeballs on a larger code-base, where you'll see various design patterns in use, and have to work out a clean way to make the fix within that context.

Android root toolkit for Linux? (1)

keith_nt4 (612247) | about 2 months ago | (#46936143)

You didn't say directly which OS you're programming on but I'm going to infer it's Linux (common I think with python/open source types). Since one thing I did recently was root my galaxy nexus with the windows-only Wug's Nexus Root Toolkit [xda-developers.com] I would suggest creating something similar to this for Linux. It always seemed strange to me that so many Android rooting tools were windows-exclusive. Doesn't have to be for a galaxy or nexus device obviously, any/all models of android/I'll leave that up to you. This particular root toolkit seems like it would be relatively straight forward to re-create/I don't think it would even take that long and it is actually needed...

I should mention I'm kind of new to android rooting and I have no idea if the equivalent drivers for the various phones exist for Linux as they do for Windows.

don't be afraid (1)

mrzaph0d (25646) | about 2 months ago | (#46936147)

to start something you're not sure you can finish. i wrote a framework in perl to generate some pdf reports, complete with graphs and automated text. took me quite a while, and a lot of "i'll come back to this part later". i went from the script being used to piece together bash/shell commands, to it doing everything.

but the point is, i kept at it. taking a little part at a time and futzing around with it till it worked a little better.

Field mapping with javascript/xml (1)

mveloso (325617) | about 2 months ago | (#46936175)

If you need an easy problem that quickly turns into a nightmare, try writing a program that allows the user to map one set of database/data structure/XML fields to another set of database/data structure/XML fields.

For bonus points the user can use javascript to do the transform, as well as using a nice GUI.

But what do you want to DO? (2)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 2 months ago | (#46936237)

You're asking the wrong question. Programming isn't an end in itself, it's a means to an end. Ask yourself what practical application you want to accomplish, then teach yourself the appropriate language.

Personally, I always liked website development. I like that I can keep my fingers in a few pies that I enjoy -- graphic design, sometimes photography, the occasional copy writing and the code to put it all together. So, naturally, I gravitated towards PHP, JavaScript, HTML and CSS (OK, those last two aren't really programming). I'll admit, I like the instant feedback and gratification of interpreted languages.

So come up with an end goal that interests you, then do some research to find the best language(s) suited to the task. If it seems too complicated, scale back your ambitions a bit until you find something suitably challenging without being overwhelming, then work your way up. You'll find that many of the skills and principles you learn from one language translate pretty quickly to others.

Into tabletop RPGs? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 2 months ago | (#46936257)

Make some character generators, weather generators, dungeon generators or the like. Slow or involved number crunching for your games that is drudgery on paper but easy with a program. Mass combat resolution using old D&D WarMachine rules and a spellbook generator were my first mid-range projects outside of school projects (which were much more involved).

do the pretty impossible (1)

frovingslosh (582462) | about 2 months ago | (#46936263)

Do the pretty impossible ones. It is a lot more fun and you will learn a lot more.

30 years ago... (1)

funwithBSD (245349) | about 2 months ago | (#46936395)

I would suggest writing a DB app to organize your CDs.

Oh well.

puzzles and games (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46936427)

A few suggestions:

1) program a sudoku solver.
2) program a Mastermind game. The computer poses a problem, the user suggests solutions, the program responds with numbers of correct colors and color+positions.
3) learn Python and tk, and make a graphic interface for #2.

The behavior of the games above are well-defined, and the goal of playing a game you wrote yourself will keep you engaged.

Good game to try (1)

Horshu (2754893) | about 2 months ago | (#46936437)

How about a Core War [wikipedia.org] simulator? It's essentially writing a very, very simple operating system, so it's easier than a full OS or compiler-level project, it's graphical, so it's got visual feedback, is a game, so it's fun, has TONS of "unit tests" in the form of 30 years of programs.

Code? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46936447)

Scripts are usually not referred to as "code".

Jump in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46936477)

A very skilled boss told me once that you can complete any project if you break it into small enough pieces.

The most gain is with the most pain. If a project feels overwhelming, you're about to learn something. Even if you never finish, it's worth every minute trying to figure out how to find a solution. You'll be surprised how much it comes in handy somewhere else.

And honestly, solutions are made for problems. Find problems to solve... And start using python to do it.

And so I don't sound like a douche stargazing, get a github account, a stackoverflow account, download an IntelliJ editor from JetBrains and set a goal.

Do something impossible (1)

Extide (1002782) | about 2 months ago | (#46936507)

When I am learning a new language, I usually try to think of something cool to do, that would be pretty difficult, and then challenge myself to actually do it. Using the many resources available on the web you should be able to figure out any problem you run across. I am personally more into utility type apps, so that's the sort of things I have done, but if you are more into games or whatever you can do that too.

Create a Doubly Linked List (1)

FlyingGuy (989135) | about 2 months ago | (#46936683)

Write all the parts...:

  • Insertion Function
  • Deletion Function
  • Traversal Function
  • Search Function
  • Sort Function
  • Save to Disk Function
  • Load from Disk Function

You can do this in C. C comes with EVERY Linux distribution so no additional parts or bits required. If you can do this, you really can do most anything and further more you will understand some of the more advanced concepts of computer programming, one of the most important is Memory Management. Now I know that with languages like Java you are far removed from those concepts bust just understanding what you have to do to manage your memory footprint will help you in those languages as well since you will have a much clearer understanding of what is going on under the hood. If you push a few boundaries you will understand some of less obvious parts of other languages.

No Itches? Why, Do Something Useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46936913)

You don't seem to have any itches to scratch with coding. So why not check one of the open source projects, check their junior jobs list or their bug tracker?
You ll solve real world problems, get code review and they ll likely help you to improve.
KDE for example is doing their own season of code (besides having a junior jobs list, bug tracker etc), you get a mentor and do something useful. Unlike googles summer of code you are not getting paid - but you are almost certain to get a spot. Good luck and have fun with coding!

Window manager for X11 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46937045)

Excellent fun! (and no, I'm not kidding)

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