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Month: November 2013

How much math do you need to know to be a programmer?

If you want to write programs, you may be worried about how much math you need to know. Fortunately, for most programming jobs, it’s very little.

I started programming personal computers about 34 years ago. Back then, we needed to know some math, and be able to write our own routines for the more complex math functions. The languages available were pretty basic (in fact, BASIC was the most popular language for personal computers back then).

Nowadays, languages are much more robust, and have built-in functions for many of the things we used to need to write by hand.

Also, most programming jobs don’t need complex math in them. If you’re going to work with scientific, geographic, or engineering data, or write videogames, you’ll probably need to know more complex math. But most programs out there are just; let the user enter some data, make sure the data is valid, save the data somewhere, and display the data later – almost no math needed.

Here’s the math I’ve needed to know for 90-95% of the programs I’ve written over the last couple of decades.

Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. With division, you may need to know about remainders – 7 divided by 2 equals 3, with a remainder of 1.

Can you calculate the percentage of a value?

Are you able to compare a value to see if it is equal to, less than, less than or equal to, greater than, or greater than or equal to a second value?

If you had a list of numbers, would you be able to recognize the lowest value, the highest value, and the average value (the ‘mean’ average, where you add up all the numbers and divide the total by the amount of numbers in the list)?

Do you know about rounding numbers? If you round up 1.555 to two decimal places, your result is 1.56. If you round it down to two decimal places, your result is 1.55.

Are you aware that the integer part of 123.45 is 123?

That’s about it. For 90% of the programs that businesses hire people to write, you won’t need to know any more than those few bits of math.

Of course, knowing more math is always good. It may come in handy. But if you’re going to look for a programming job to write a program to help real estate agents keep track of their clients, you probably won’t need any more math than being able to total up the number of calls they make per day, and computing their daily average.

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