Archive for the ‘Beginners’ Category

A few weeks ago I interviewed Michael James Williams of AS3 Beginner Tutorial fame.

1. What was the first time you remember using a computer? :

I remember my Dad had this laptop, as thick as a brick with a tiny tiny screen, with Windows 3.1 in black and white. But I have better memories of my own first computer: an Amiga 600. I wrote my first code on that machine, in AMOS which was a feature-rich version of BASIC. I used to edit the code of the sample games that came with it to help me understand how it all fit together. Well, OK, no — it was so that I could get infinite lives on Dithell’s Wonderland.

2. How did you discover you wanted to program? :

My interest was piqued by AMOS, and my Dad taught me a lot to get me started, but I think the point I really got into it was when I was about 11, when a friend and I discovered a version of BASIC on the school’s Acorn computers. The teacher let us mess about with that instead of whatever we were supposed to be doing in class. In retrospect, that was pretty cool of her.

3. What was the first computer language you learned? :

The summer after finding BASIC on the school computers was when I really started getting into programming, and I started with yet another version of BASIC: QBASIC. This was super-cool because (if you had the right version) you could use it to make EXE files, just like real software. How exciting!

People say that if you start with BASIC it’ll cripple you as a programmer for life. Maybe I would have a different coding style today — maybe I’d be a better coder — if I’d started with another language. I don’t know. But BASIC was fun, and I don’t regret starting with it. If I were starting today I’d probably spend hours or days reading a million different forums trying to figure out which was the One True Beginner’s Language to start with, and would likely never get into it.

4. When/Why did you start using Flash? :

My family had a copy of Flash 5 when I was about 12, and I really liked it as a drawing tool. It was nowhere near as powerful as, say, Illustrator or FreeHand, but I didn’t have Illustrator or FreeHand; I had Flash and MS Paint. I used Flash to draw almost every diagram for every piece of schoolwork, right through university.

I played around with the animation tools as well, but didn’t do anything mind-blowing: I put people’s heads on stick figures and made them do silly things, and I made a few of the types of tacky website intros that Flash was infamous for.

Funnily enough I never enjoyed Flash coding (with AS1, as it was at the time). With even the simplest tasks, I could never get Flash to do what I wanted. It’s probably because I learnt to program with BASIC.

5. When/Why did you start technical writing?

When I was studying, I wrote my revision notes in the same way that I now write tutorials, and I would give people a hand by explaining concepts on those “revision help” forums. When I was at university I took a module on scientific writing in different contexts — magazine articles, student factsheets, research papers, and so on — and found that I rather enjoyed it.

I didn’t really get started until I was trying to learn AS3, though. At the time, it was still a fairly new language, and there weren’t many tutorials aimed at my level; everything seemed to be written for either complete programming beginners or long-term AS2 experts. So I thought, heck, I can do better than that.

6. Did you ever imagine that you would be doing this for a living?

Not at first, because it was just a hobby. But once I realised that it was what I wanted to do, yeah, I thought I could make a living from it.

7. With Apple and their stand against flash, do you see any danger of it actually going away?

I don’t believe Flash will disappear, but I do believe that we’ll see a radical change in what it’s used for. We’ll see less Flash banner ads and full-Flash websites, for a start. Personally, I’m not too broken up about that.

8. Do you have any advice for people learning to program?

Stick with it. I knew a guy who wanted to learn to program; he started with Java, because it was multi-platform, but after a few days he switched to C++, because he read that it’s used in most programming industries, and then he moved to Python, because he heard it had a much friendlier syntax for beginners, and then, well, he never got anywhere with it.

Don’t worry about whether you’re learning the best language in the world; there’s no such thing. Don’t worry about whether the first language you learn will be immediately relevant to the industry; once you’ve learnt all the basics, it won’t be difficult to switch if you need to. And definitely don’t decide that your first task should be to assemble a group of artists, designers, and sound engineers so that you can build an amazing MMORPG; start with some entertaining little problems that you could do yourself over a weekend.

9. camelCase or underscore?

Depends. I’ve been doing a series of posts on this, actually 🙂

10. What is one of your favorite things to do in your spare time?

I cook a lot. This is a great hobby to have, because it leads to food. And I do enjoy eating.

11. What is the best movie ever?

It is always a draw between Terminator 2 and Harvey.

12. What is the best programming related blog?*

Definitely yours.

*Please note that I didn’t actually ask him this because toward the end of the interview he was kidnapped from my leather couch by Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Turtles.(But I am sure he agrees with me :))

Downloading and setting up FlashDevelop:

For those learning AS3, the biggest initial thing they need is a IDE (Integrated Development Environment). This will be the program they use to code projects. The general consensus is that a program called FlashDevelop is the best for this. Download the latest version from here and install it. Check the box that gives you the option to install the flex sdk. If all goes well you should now have FD all set up and rearing to go.