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This chapter is from the book

What a Computer Program Does

Most people today have some understanding of a computer’s purpose. For example, a computer can help people balance their books or track their inventory. If you want to begin programming, chances are you have probably been using a computer for some time. Nevertheless, as a future programmer, you should review some fundamental computing concepts before mastering the ins and outs of a new computer language.

At its simplest level, a computer processes data. Figure 1.1 shows this as the primary goal of all computer programs. Many businesses call their computer programming departments data processing departments because computers process data into meaningful information. You may not have considered the difference between the words data and information before, but there is a tremendous difference to a computer professional. Raw data consists of facts and figures, such as hundreds of days of stock prices. A program might process that data into meaningful information, such as a line chart that shows the overall trend of the stock prices over time. It is the computer program that tells the computer what to do. Sometimes, a program might simply process data from another program without showing any output for the user. The processed data is still information because the program’s output, stored on the disk, is changed in some way. For example, a program that closes monthly account balances may collect data from various accounting systems in a company and combine, balance, and close that data, resetting the data for the following month.

FIGURE 1.1

FIGURE 1.1 Programs convert raw data into meaningful information.

A program is a list of detailed instructions that the computer carries out. The program is the driving force behind any job that a computer does. The computer cannot do anything without a program. It is the job of the programmer to design and write programs that direct the computer to take raw data and transform that data into meaningful information for the end-user. The end-user (usually just called the user) of the computer is generally the nontechnical, nonprogramming person who needs the results (the information) that the program provides.

You, as the programmer, are responsible for guiding the computer with the programs you write. Learning to program computers takes a while, but it is certainly rewarding. Computer programming offers the advantage of instant feedback, unlike a lot of other jobs you can train for.

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