GEOG 485:
GIS Programming and Software Development

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2.2 Troubleshooting and getting help


If you find writing code to be a slow, mystifying, and painstaking process, fraught with all kinds of opportunities to make mistakes, welcome to the world of a programmer! Perhaps to their chagrin, programmers spend the majority of their time hunting down and fixing bugs. Programmers also have to continually expand and adapt their skills to work with new languages and technologies, which requires research, practice, and lots of trial and error.

The best candidates for software engineering jobs are not the ones who list the most languages or acronyms on their resumes. Instead, the most desirable candidates are self-sufficient, meaning they know how to learn new things and find answers to problems on their own. This doesn't mean that they never ask for help; on the contrary, a good programmer knows when to stop banging his or her head against the wall and consult peers or a supervisor for advice. However, most everyday problems can be solved using the help documentation, online code examples, online forums, existing code that works, programming books, and debugging tools in the software.

Suppose you're in a job interview and your prospective employer asks, "What do you do when you run into a 'brick wall' when programming? What sources do you first go to for help?" If you answer, "My supervisor" or "My co-workers," this is a red flag, signifying that you could be a potential time sink to the development team. Although the more difficult problems require group collaboration, a competitive software development team cannot afford to hold an employee's hand through every issue that he or she encounters. From the author's experience, many of the most compelling candidates answer this question, "Google." They know that most programming problems, although vexing, are common and the answer may be at their fingertips in less than 30 seconds through a well-phrased Internet search. With popular online forums such as Stack Exchange providing answers to many common syntax and structuring questions, searching for information online can actually be faster than walking down the hall and asking a co-worker, and it saves everybody time.

In this section of the lesson, you'll learn about places where you can go for help when working with Python and when programming in general. You will have a much easier experience in this course if you remember these resources and use them as you complete your assignments.