From time to time, I get in a conversation with somebody who is:
- Unemployed, underemployed, or otherwise desirous of having more commercial skills.
- Not a programmer, but desirous of having some technical skills.
- Astute enough to realize s/he will never be a serious techie.
I generally have two models in mind when guiding such a person:
- Analytics/business intelligence/stats.
- Website building.
Those are both useful skill sets for people who aren’t full-time techies, the first perhaps best for those who are more quantitative and big-company-friendly, the second perhaps better for the creative and/or rebellious types.
So what SPECIFICALLY should one guide them to do? My initial thoughts include:
- Learning Java is overkill for most of these people.
- Learning C++ is overkill for ALL of these people. If you’re not out to be a hardcore engineer, the “advantages” of C++ over Java are pointless.
- They all should learn some SQL.
- MySQL is the most accessible DBMS against which to learn SQL. They should download a (free) copy and install it on their PC.
- But I have no idea which books or websites they should go to to learn about SQL.
- While at first blush it sounds like overkill, downloading and installing the free version of Microstrategy 9 is a good way to learn about BI and also the analytic side of SQL.
- The first thing you learn in an app dev tool used to be and probably still is how to do a master-detail form. That would cover the other side of learning SQL. But what would be a good choice of tool? (Preferably free, as building serious OLTP apps is probably not what these people will want to do.)
- One idea I had is that the website-oriented ones should learn how to modify WordPress, by which I really mean modifying WordPress themes. That would involve learning PHP, SQL, and HTML/CSS, which seems like a great place to start.
- But I have no idea which books or websites they should go to to learn about PHP.
- I also have no idea which books or websites they should go to to learn about CSS — or for that matter even basic HTML.
- If they want to take the analytics route, I assume R is the way to go. Thoughts?
- Python isn’t the ideal language for much of anything, but it’s an easily accessible “first language”. Umm, is that a good way to go, or would PHP be a better choice?
- Any other ideas?
For anybody who pitches in — thanks!! I hope to get enough useful answers so as to keep editing this post with people’s ideas.
Edit: Suggestions have started to come in on Twitter. A couple of folks are saying that HTML is a good place to start. Hard to argue with that, although it’s hardly where one should finish. There also was a vote for Yahoo YQL, and of course for a vendor’s own product.
Some great points are in the comments below, including the idea that you should pick an actual, fun, small project to build to get you started. (A site built in WordPress or Mambo would be a pretty obvious choice for such a project, come to think of it.)