How to get started in Programming
by Robert Altena
The question gets asked every now and then when I do development work for one of my
clients. I love it when they ask the question: It means my clients are able to see the
value of the work done for them. It means my clients are interested in what is being done
for them. And it means they are seeing me enjoying working for them. All of this is great,
and this is the right reason to start programming: Programming computers is fun.
The answer to the how to get started question is not that easy though. "Programming" used
to be very straightforward and a little boring. Those days are long gone. Computers are
used for more than calculations these days. In fact it is safe to say that most people use
their PC for anything but calculations. The PC is used to communicate, produce documents,
collect information, monitor information. The PC is used for a very large number of tasks.
With the large number of problems we solve using our PC comes a vast array of programming
languages and tools to do these tasks. Although you can do almost anything with a basic
text editor such as Notepad or VI (this will make me some friends), you really would like
to use something a little more advanced. In this article I will try to give you one
suggestion to get started. It is not the only way to get started on your programming
First a disclaimer: My specialty is to build applications on the Windows platform. This
article is aimed at people with a Windows machine who have one of the Microsoft Office
applications installed. I am using Word 2000 and Excel 2000. If you use a different
version, some of the menus may be located in a different place and the keyboard shortcuts
may have been re-assigned.
You already have a development tool
on your PC!
If you are using any of the Microsoft Office applications, then you should have access to
a decent development environment: the VBA editor that comes with each office application.
Each article on programming should start with a "Hello World" application. In this article
we will have two of those, just to be different. First, bring up your VBA editor. Start up
Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Word. Then press the ALT and F11 keys. If you fail to press
the keys, try Tools > Macro > Visual Basic Editor from the menu.
That will bring up your editor. Now all we need is a place to write our code, so we will
add a module. You can choose (In the Visual Basic Editor) Insert > Module. Now you are
all ready to have the PC do exactly what you want it to do! It may try to fight back, but
you have won half the battle just by getting here. Now before we start playing around with
real code: close all important documents that you may have open. We are not doing anything
fancy, but it is a good idea to really make sure you are unable to do any damage to your
own documents. When I write Excel or Word macros I never ever have any documents open
other than the ones needed for the current project.
We are in business and ready to code. If you are using MS-Word, type the following:
Selection.TypeText "Hello World!"
You can run your own code in a number of ways: In the Visual Basic Editor, place the
cursor on your code and press the F5 key. From your MS Word window choose Tools à Macro à
Macros. Select HelloWorld from the list and press the Run button. Pretty cool for a first
shot at writing code, isn't it?
Here is the code for Excel:
Range("B2").Value = "Hello World!"
You should be a little surprised as to how little code you needed to get where you are
now. In fact, we could have done with even less code: The first line in each sample could
have been omitted. ("Documents.Add" for the word sample and "Workbooks.Add" for the excel
sample.) Go ahead, try it and see what happens.
What is Next?
Congratulations: You now have started programming. In the next articles in this series we
will look at the Visual Basic Editor in more detail. We will do samples that are a lot
more exciting than this article. If you want me to visit a particular topic in this
series: please send me e-mail at
Try to keep your requests as general as possible though: we want this series to be useful
to as many people as possible.
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September , 2002
The Newsletter of the
Tokyo PC Users Group
Tokyo PC Users Group,
Post Office Box 103,
Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN