How Did We Get IDE's and Do I Need One? - Montana Webmaster

How Did We Get IDE’s and Do I Need One?

An IDE is an Integrated Development Environment, which, if you are unfamiliar with IDE’s, probably doesn’t provide much more information than you had before. So, maybe a story about what isn’t an IDE would help explain what it actually is.

Starting with a Black Screen and a Compiler

I started on C code, as an administrative assistant, doing little, repetitious tasks the developers didn’t want to do or have time to do. They didn’t explain the tools. Only the code was important, so it was a “monkey-see; monkey do” learning environment. So, I took a C class to help me understand what I was doing. The class wasn’t much better. The instructor started out assuming we understood how computer memory works. So, we were supposed to learn things we didn’t know from other things we didn’t know. More “monkey-see; monkey do”.

Screenshot of Windows Command Line
Windows CLI (Command Line Interface)

The little black screen we typed code in was familiar, though. I had used it briefly to open software with DOS. And, I used telnet at work to do the coding tasks. What I didn’t know was that both at work and in class, we were using a piece of software called a text editor. If someone has just said, “This is called a text editor. It’s like Notepad with a black background, instead of a white background.” it would have helped orient my brain.

I’m not sure which text editor we used in class. I believe that we used vi accessed through Telnet at work. At work, compiling was done by the “real” developer. In class, we compiled with some software than came on the CD in the textbook. The point is that there was no discussion about the tools. They were just there.

Windows in a Linux World

In my move to being a full time student, I decided to do a CS minor to go with my Business Administration major. There was still no discussion of tools or context, just a whole lot of Java and CS theory. In the labs, we had access to Linux tools, with no mention of what to do if your home computer was Windows. It was like being back in Drivers Ed as the only student with no experience in driving a car (in my family only the boys were involved in cars.)

A fellow student told me I needed to install TextPad. The cool thing about TextPad is that you could use it for free! He even showed me where to find the compiler in the menus. I no longer needed to use CLI (command line interface) to write or compile code. It had line numbers and other very helpful features, but it is still considered a Text Editor, not an IDE. Notepad ++ is also a Text Editor, not an IDE.

Coding with NotePad and a Browser

When I moved further into the world of HTML and CSS, I found out that I could actually develop web pages with NotePad and a browser. It wasn’t efficient, but it had a couple of benefits that I still use today when teaching teens how to code HTML and CSS. First, it clearly illustrates that where you write code is different from where you run code. Second, it shows you that the code doesn’t live in the tool; the tool accesses the code. These are very important concepts for more complicated situations.

Moral of this story: never underestimate what that administrative assistant can do.

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