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用十年学习编程

发表于2004/7/9 18:48:00  1055人阅读

分类: 程序人生

用十年学习编程

Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years

为什么每个人都急不可耐?

走进任何一家书店,你会看见《Teach Yourself Java in 7 Days》(7天Java无师自通)的旁边是一长排看不到尽头

的类似书籍,它们要教会你Visual Basic、Windows、Internet等等,而只需要几天甚至几小时。我在Amazon.com上进行了如下搜索:
    pubdate: after 1992 and title: days and (title: learn or title: teach yourself)
    (出版日期:1992年后 and 书名:天 and (书名:学会 or 书名:无师自通))
我一共得到了248个搜索结果。前面的78个是计算机书籍(第79个是《Learn Bengali in 30 days》,30天学会孟加拉语)。我把关键词“days”换成“hours”,得到了非常相似的结果:这次有253本书,头77本是计算机书籍,第78本是《Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours》(24小时学会文法和文体)。头200本书中,有96%是计算机书籍。
结论是,要么是人们非常急于学会计算机,要么就是不知道为什么计算机惊人地简单,比任何东西都容易学会。没有一本书是要在几天里教会人们欣赏贝多芬或者量子物理学,甚至怎样给狗打扮。
让我们来分析一下像《Learn Pascal in Three Days》(3天学会Pascal)这样的题目到底是什么意思:
学会:在3天时间里,你不够时间写一些有意义的程序,并从它们的失败与成功中学习。你不够时间跟一些有经验的程序员一起工作,你不会知道在那样的环境中是什么滋味。简而言之,没有足够的时间让你学到很多东西。所以这些书谈论的只是表面上的精通,而非深入的理解。如Alexander Pope(英国诗人、作家,1688-1744)所言,一知半解是危险的(a little learning is a dangerous thing)

Pascal:在3天时间里你可以学会Pascal的语法(如果你已经会一门类似的语言),但你无法学到多少如何运用这些语法。简而言之,如果你是,比如说一个Basic程序员,你可以学会用Pascal语法写出Basic风格的程序,但你学不到Pascal真正的优点(和缺点)。那关键在哪里?Alan Perlis(ACM第一任主席,图灵奖得主,1922-1990)曾经说过:“如果一门语言不能影响你对编程的想法,那它就不值得去学”。另一种观点是,有时候你不得不学一点Pascal(更可能是Visual Basic和javascript之类)的皮毛,因为你需要接触现有的工具,用来完成特定的任务。但此时你不是在学习如何编程,你是在学习如何完成任务。3天:不幸的是,这是不够的,正如下一节所言。


10年编程无师自通

一些研究者(Hayes、Bloom)的研究表明,在许多领域,都需要大约10 年时间才能培养出专业技能,包括国际象棋、

作曲、绘画、钢琴、游泳、网球,以及神经心理学和拓扑学的研究。似乎并不存在真正的捷径:即使是莫扎特,他4

岁就显露出音乐天才,在他写出世界级的音乐之前仍然用了超过13年时间。再看另一种音乐类型的披头士,他们似乎

是在1964年的Ed Sullivan节目中突然冒头的。但其实他们从1957年就开始表演了,即使他们很早就显示出了巨大的吸

引力,他们第一次真正的成功——Sgt. Peppers——也要到1967年才发行。Samuel Johnson(英国诗人)认为10 年还

是不够的:“任何领域的卓越成就都只能通过一生的努力来获得;稍低一点的代价也换不来。”(Excellence in any

department can be attained only by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser

price.) 乔叟(Chaucer,英国诗人,1340-1400)也抱怨说:“生命如此短暂,掌握技艺却要如此长久。”(the

lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.)

下面是我在编程这个行当里获得成功的处方:

对编程感兴趣,因为乐趣而去编程。确定始终都能保持足够的乐趣,以致你能够将10年时间投入其中。

跟其他程序员交谈;阅读其他程序。这比任何书籍或训练课程都更重要。

编程。最好的学习是从实践中学习。用更加技术性的语言来讲,“个体在特定领域最高水平的表现不是作为长期的经

验的结果而自动获得的,但即使是非常富有经验的个体也可以通过刻意的努力而提高其表现水平。”(p. 366),而

且“最有效的学习要求为特定个体制定适当难度的任务,有意义的反馈,以及重复及改正错误的机会。”(p. 20-21

)《Cognition in Practice: Mind, Mathematics, and Culture in Everyday Life》(在实践中认知:心智、数学

和日常生活的文化)是关于这个观点的一本有趣的参考书。

如果你愿意,在大学里花上4年时间(或者再花几年读研究生)。这能让你获得一些工作的入门资格,还能让你对此领

域有更深入的理解,但如果你不喜欢进学校,(作出一点牺牲)你在工作中也同样能获得类似的经验。在任何情况下

,单从书本上学习都是不够的。“计算机科学的教育不会让任何人成为内行的程序员,正如研究画笔和颜料不会让任

何人成为内行的画家”, Eric Raymond,《The New Hacker's Dictionary》(新黑客字典)的作者如是说。我曾经雇

用过的最优秀的程序员之一仅有高中学历;但他创造出了许多伟大的软件,甚至有讨论他本人的新闻组,而且股票期

权让他达到我无法企及的富有程度(译注:指Jamie Zawinski,Xemacs和Netscape的作者)。

跟别的程序员一起完成项目。在一些项目中成为最好的程序员;在其他一些项目中当最差的一个。当你是最好的程序

员时,你要测试自己领导项目的能力,并通过你的洞见鼓舞其他人。当你是最差的时候,你学习高手们在做些什么,

以及他们不喜欢做什么(因为他们让你帮他们做那些事)。

接手别的程序员完成项目。用心理解别人编写的程序。看看在没有最初的程序员在场的时候理解和修改程序需要些什

么。想一想怎样设计你的程序才能让别人接手维护你的程序时更容易一些。

学会至少半打编程语言。包括一门支持类抽象(class

abstraction)的语言(如Java或C++),一门支持函数抽象(functional abstraction)的语言(如Lisp或ML),一

门支持句法抽象(syntactic abstraction)的语言(如Lisp),一门支持说明性规约(declarative specification

)的语言(如Prolog或C++模版),一门支持协程(coroutine)的语言(如Icon或Scheme),以及一门支持并行处理

(parallelism)的语言(如Sisal)。

记住在“计算机科学”这个词组里包含“计算机”这个词。了解你的计算机执行一条指令要多长时间,从内存中取一

个word要多长时间(包括缓存命中和未命中的情况),从磁盘上读取连续的数据要多长时间,定位到磁盘上的新位置

又要多长时间。(答案在这里。)

尝试参与到一项语言标准化工作中。可以是ANSI C++委员会,也可以是决定自己团队的编码风格到底采用2个空格的缩

进还是4个。不论是哪一种,你都可以学到在这门语言中到底人们喜欢些什么,他们有多喜欢,甚至有可能稍微了解为

什么他们会有这样的感觉。

拥有尽快从语言标准化工作中抽身的良好判断力。


抱着这些想法,我很怀疑从书上到底能学到多少东西。在我第一个孩子出生前,我读完了所有“怎样……”的书,却

仍然感到自己是个茫无头绪的新手。30个月后,我第二个孩子出生的时候,我重新拿起那些书来复习了吗?不。相反

,我依靠我自己的经验,结果比专家写的几千页东西更有用更靠得住。
Fred Brooks在他的短文《No Silver Bullets》(没有银弹)中确立了如何发现杰出的软件设计者的三步规划:

 

尽早系统地识别出最好的设计者群体。

指派一个事业上的导师负责有潜质的对象的发展,小心地帮他保持职业生涯的履历。

让成长中的设计师们有机会互相影响,互相激励。


这实际上是假定了有些人本身就具有成为杰出设计师的必要潜质;要做的只是引导他们前进。Alan Perlis说得更简洁

:“每个人都可以被教授如何雕塑;而对米开朗基罗来说,能教给他的倒是怎样能够不去雕塑。杰出的程序员也一样

”。
所以尽管去买那些Java书;你很可能会从中找到些用处。但你的生活,或者你作为程序员的真正的专业技术,并不会

因此在24小时、24天甚至24个月内发生真正的变化。

 

参考文献

Bloom, Benjamin (ed.) Developing Talent in Young People, Ballantine, 1985.
Brooks, Fred, No Silver Bullets, IEEE Computer, vol. 20, no. 4, 1987, p. 10-19.
Hayes, John R., Complete Problem Solver, Lawrence Erlbaum, 1989.
Lave, Jean, Cognition in Practice: Mind, Mathematics, and Culture in Everyday Life, Cambridge

University Press, 1988.

 

答案

各种操作的计时,2001年夏天在一台典型的1GHz PC上完成:
    执行单条指令            1 纳秒 = (1/1,000,000,000) 秒
    从L1缓存中取一个word        2 纳秒
    从主内存中取一个word        10 纳秒
    从连续的磁盘位置中取一个word    200 纳秒
    从新的磁盘位置中取一个word(寻址) 8,000,000纳秒 = 8毫秒

 

脚注

本文的日文译本要感谢Yasushi Murakawa,中文译本要感谢郭晓刚,西班牙文译本要感谢Carlos Rueda,德文译本要

感谢Stefan Ram。
T. Capey指出Amazon上面《Complete Problem Solver》的页面中,《Teach Yourself Bengali in 21

days》和《Teach Yourself Grammar and Style》被列在了“购买此书的顾客还买了以下书籍”栏目里面。我猜其中

一大部分察看这两本书的人都是从我这里过去的。

Peter Norvig (Copyright 2001)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Why is everyone in such a rush?
Walk into any bookstore, and you'll see how to Teach Yourself Java in 7 Days alongside endless

variations offering to teach Visual Basic, Windows, the Internet, and so on in a few days or hours. I

did the following power search at Amazon.com:
pubdate: after 1992 and title: days and
(title: learn or title: teach yourself)
and got back 248 hits. The first 78 were computer books (number 79 was Learn Bengali in 30 days). I

replaced "days" with "hours" and got remarkably similar results: 253 more books, with 77 computer books

followed by Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours at number 78. Out of the top 200 total, 96%

were computer books.
The conclusion is that either people are in a big rush to learn about computers, or that computers are

somehow fabulously easier to learn than anything else. There are no books on how to learn Beethoven, or

Quantum Physics, or even Dog Grooming in a few days.

Let's analyze what a title like Learn Pascal in Three Days could mean:

Learn: In 3 days you won't have time to write several significant programs, and learn from your

successes and failures with them. You won't have time to work with an experienced programmer and

understand what it is like to live in that environment. In short, you won't have time to learn much. So

they can only be talking about a superficial familiarity, not a deep understanding. As Alexander Pope

said, a little learning is a dangerous thing.

Pascal: In 3 days you might be able to learn the syntax of Pascal (if you already knew a similar

language), but you couldn't learn much about how to use the syntax. In short, if you were, say, a Basic

programmer, you could learn to write programs in the style of Basic using Pascal syntax, but you

couldn't learn what Pascal is actually good (and bad) for. So what's the point? Alan Perlis once said:

"A language that doesn't affect the way you think about programming, is not worth knowing". One

possible point is that you have to learn a tiny bit of Pascal (or more likely, something like Visual

Basic or javascript) because you need to interface with an existing tool to accomplish a specific task.

But then you're not learning how to program; you're learning to accomplish that task.

in Three Days: Unfortunately, this is not enough, as the next section shows.
Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years
Researchers (Hayes, Bloom) have shown it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide

variety of areas, including chess playing, music composition, painting, piano playing, swimming,

tennis, and research in neuropsychology and topology. There appear to be no real shortcuts: even

Mozart, who was a musical prodigy at age 4, took 13 more years before he began to produce world-class

music. In another genre, the Beatles seemed to burst onto the scene, appearing on the Ed Sullivan show

in 1964. But they had been playing since 1957, and while they had mass appeal early on, their first

great critical success, Sgt. Peppers, was released in 1967. Samuel Johnson thought it took longer than

ten years: "Excellence in any department can be attained only by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to

be purchased at a lesser price." And Chaucer complained "the lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne."
Here's my recipe for programming success:

Get interested in programming, and do some because it is fun. Make sure that it keeps being enough fun

so that you will be willing to put in ten years.

Talk to other programmers; read other programs. This is more important than any book or training

course.

Program. The best kind of learning is learning by doing. To put it more technically, "the maximal level

of performance for individuals in a given domain is not attained automatically as a function of

extended experience, but the level of performance can be increased even by highly experienced

individuals as a result of deliberate efforts to improve." (p. 366) and "the most effective learning

requires a well-defined task with an appropriate difficulty level for the particular individual,

informative feedback, and opportunities for repetition and corrections of errors." (p. 20-21) The book

Cognition in Practice: Mind, Mathematics, and Culture in Everyday Life is an interesting reference for

this viewpoint.

If you want, put in four years at a college (or more at a graduate school). This will give you access

to some jobs that require credentials, and it will give you a deeper understanding of the field, but if

you don't enjoy school, you can (with some dedication) get similar experience on the job. In any case,

book learning alone won't be enough. "Computer science education cannot make anybody an expert

programmer any more than studying brushes and pigment can make somebody an expert painter" says Eric

Raymond, author of The New Hacker's Dictionary. One of the best programmers I ever hired had only a

High School degree; he's produced a lot of great software, has his own news group, and through stock

options is no doubt much richer than I'll ever be.

Work on projects with other programmers. Be the best programmer on some projects; be the worst on some

others. When you're the best, you get to test your abilities to lead a project, and to inspire others

with your vision. When you're the worst, you learn what the masters do, and you learn what they don't

like to do (because they make you do it for them).

Work on projects after other programmers. Be involved in understanding a program written by someone

else. See what it takes to understand and fix it when the original programmers are not around. Think

about how to design your programs to make it easier for those who will maintain it after you.

Learn at least a half dozen programming languages. Include one language that supports class

abstractions (like Java or C++), one that supports functional abstraction (like Lisp or ML), one that

supports syntactic abstraction (like Lisp), one that supports declarative specifications (like Prolog

or C++ templates), one that supports coroutines (like Icon or Scheme), and one that supports

parallelism (like Sisal).

Remember that there is a "computer" in "computer science". Know how long it takes your computer to

execute an instruction, fetch a word from memory (with and without a cache miss), read consecutive

words from disk, and seek to a new location on disk. (Answers here.)

Get involved in a language standardization effort. It could be the ANSI C++ committee, or it could be

deciding if your local coding style will have 2 or 4 space indentation levels. Either way, you learn

about what other people like in a language, how deeply they feel so, and perhaps even a little about

why they feel so.

Have the good sense to get off the language standardization effort as quickly as possible.
With all that in mind, its questionable how far you can get just by book learning. Before my first

child was born, I read all the How To books, and still felt like a clueless novice. 30 Months later,

when my second child was due, did I go back to the books for a refresher? No. Instead, I relied on my

personal experience, which turned out to be far more useful and reassuring to me than the thousands of

pages written by experts.
Fred Brooks, in his essay No Silver Bullets identified a three-part plan for finding great software

designers:

Systematically identify top designers as early as possible.

Assign a career mentor to be responsible for the development of the prospect and carefully keep a

career file.

Provide opportunities for growing designers to interact and stimulate each other.

This assumes that some people already have the qualities necessary for being a great designer; the job

is to properly coax them along. Alan Perlis put it more succinctly: "Everyone can be taught to sculpt:

Michelangelo would have had to be taught how not to. So it is with the great programmers".
So go ahead and buy that Java book; you'll probably get some use out of it. But you won't change your

life, or your real overall expertise as a programmer in 24 hours, days, or even months.


References
Bloom, Benjamin (ed.) Developing Talent in Young People, Ballantine, 1985.

Brooks, Fred, No Silver Bullets, IEEE Computer, vol. 20, no. 4, 1987, p. 10-19.

Hayes, John R., Complete Problem Solver Lawrence Erlbaum, 1989.

Lave, Jean, Cognition in Practice: Mind, Mathematics, and Culture in Everyday Life, Cambridge

University Press, 1988.
http://www.norvig.com/


Peter Norvig
Google
2400 Bayshore Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043 Email: peter@norvig.com
Phone: 650-623-4248
Fax: 650-618-1499
Web: norvig.com
Note to recruiters: Please don't offer me a job. I already have the best job in the world at the best

company in the world.
Note to engineers, researchers, managers: see why you should apply to help.

Professional Employment (Full-Time)

2001-now Google Director of Search Quality
1998-2001 NASA Ames Research Center Division Chief, Computational Sciences
1996-1998 Junglee Corp. Chief Scientist
1994-1996 Harlequin, Inc. Chief Designer
1991-1994 Sun Microsystems Labs Senior Scientist
1986-1991 University of California, Berkeley Research Faculty Member
1985-1986 University of Southern California Assistant Professor
1978-1980 Higher Order Software, Inc. Member of Technical Staff
1977-1977 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Summer Programming Intern

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