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This chapter is from the book

How to Write a Program

Now you have a definition of programming. Unfortunately, however, this doesn't tell you how to write a program. The process of solving a problem by programming in C++ follows these steps:

  1. Problem: After discussions between the user and the programmer, the programmer defines the problem precisely.

  2. Algorithms: The programmer finds and/or creates algorithms that will solve the problem.

  3. C++: The programmer implements these algorithms as source code in C++.

  4. Executable: The programmer runs the C++ compiler, which must already be present on the programmer's machine, to translate the source code into an executable program.

  5. Hardware: The user runs the resulting executable program on a computer.

These steps advance from the most abstract to the most concrete, which is perfectly appropriate for an experienced C++ programmer. However, if you're using this book to learn how to program in C++, obviously you're not an experienced C++ programmer, so before you can follow this path to solving a problem you're going to need a fairly thorough grounding in all of these steps.

This description is actually a bit oversimplified, as we'll see in the discussion of linking in Chapter 5, "Functional Literacy". For now, let's see what Susan thinks about this issue.

Susan: With all the new concepts and all the new language and terms, it is so hard to know what one thing has to do with the other and where things are supposed to fit into the big picture. Anyway, you have to understand; for someone like me, this is an enormous amount of new material to be introduced to all at once. When you are bombarded with so many new terms and so many abstract concepts, it is a little hard to sort out what is what. Will you have guidelines for each of the steps? Since I know a little about this already, the more I look at the steps, I just know that what is coming is going to be a big deal. For example, take step 1; you have to give the ingredients for properly defining a problem. If something is left out, then everything that follows won't work.

Steve: I hope you won't find it that frustrating, because I explain all of the steps carefully as I do them. Of course, it's possible that I haven't been careful enough, but in that case you can let me know and I'll explain it further.

Unfortunately, it's not possible for me to provide a thorough guide to all of those steps, as that would be a series of books in itself. However, there's a wonderful small book called How to Solve It, by G. Polya, that you should be able to get at your local library. It was written to help students solve geometry problems, but the techniques are applicable in areas other than geometry. I'm going to recommend that readers of my book read it if they have any trouble with general problem solving.

The steps for solving a problem via programming might sound reasonable in the abstract, but that doesn't mean that you can follow them easily without practice. Assuming that you already have a pretty good idea of what the problem is that you're trying to solve, the algorithms step is likely to be the biggest stumbling block. Therefore, it might be very helpful to go into that step in a bit more detail.

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