[OLUG] Learning and classes (was Re: [OLUG] graphical symbolic debugger)

Dave Burchell burchell at inetnebr.com
Mon Feb 14 05:13:57 UTC 2000

Mike Hostetler says:

> I took a C class once, and it sucked.  None of my programs even *compiled* and the prof still
> gave me an A.  Save yourself some time and money - get a book.  I recommend O'Reilly's
> "Practical C Programming" (aka "The Cow Book").  That's what I used when I finally had to
> learn it.
> - mikeh

I second that.  (But make sure you have _The C Programming Language_ by
Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie (K&R) as well as the Cow book.)

Section 1.1 of K&R says "The only way to learn a new programming
language is by writing programs in it."  I think they meant it.

IMHO, if you want to learn a new computer-related thing, you need time
and motivation to learn it (which you'll need to learn _any_ new
thing), and three things:

1) The system/thing you are learning
2) Documentation, in the form of the docs that come with the system,
books/articles by others, or both
3) Access to people who will help you when you get stuck

I've never had a problem learning any system when I've had these three
things and had (and *used*) the time needed to do it.  I've failed
plenty of math classes because I didn't sit down with the book and
learn the material, practice what I was learning, and see the
instructor when I got seriously clueless.  Going to class made little
difference for me one way or the other.  Sometimes I think it actually
confused me further, but that was probably just my fault.  (I see math
as harder than computer systems because you don't really have #1, or if
you do you often have to "operate" it by hand, and if you haven't
figured out how it operates...)

My advice:  if the class is cheap and won't make you rearrange your
life to get there, try it.  If it costs more than three books on the
subject, and you can find the system and a guru or two to help, skip
the class.

As for #3, I challenge you to find a Linux/Unix topic that this list
can't help you with.  Based on what I've seen here so far, if you ask
the tough questions only when you have to, you'll seldom be

What I like about this list is the way many confused (and we all get
confused sometimes) people will do their homework and figure (at least
a few) things out for themselves before asking the group.  Even the
most novice users here seem to want to learn the subject, not just find
the quick and easy answer to all of the questions.

Of course, any online mailing list or newsgroup can give you that.
OLUG is different because we can actually get together and do things
like help with a tough install or give our fellows a talk on packet
filtering.  Ain't it grand?

I'm not saying to give up classes if they work for you; YMMV of
course.  I'm just saying to give that O'Reilly book and some hands-on
independent study a try.  And let us know how it goes.

(I know all about C, of course.  I even wrote a program in it once.
See http://incolor.inetnebr.com/burchell/cross/ and try not to laugh.)

Dave Burchell                                          40.49'N, 96.41'W
Free your mind and your software will follow.              402-467-1619
http://incolor.inetnebr.com/burchell/                  burchell at acm.org     

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