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  • Top Ten Things I Learned During My Programming Placement Year

    [05.26.09]
    - Henry Golding
  •  In July 2008 I was fortunate enough to be offered an industry placement year working at Eurocom as a junior programmer on Dead Space: Extraction, the Wii exclusive prequel to Dead Space. Naturally, I accepted!

    I've learned a lot during my time at Eurocom. These are some tips which, I hope, may be of use to others who are either looking for a placement, or already on one.

    Read Effective C++

    A thorough understanding of Effective C++ by Scott Meyers is essential, and will save you a lot of grief. In my case, it was also the basis for my interview questions, so knowing this book will help you secure a placement in the first place. If you don't own a copy already then beg, borrow or steal one as quickly as possible.

    Invest Time in Organizing Your Desktop and Workflow

    Time spent streamlining your workflow is always time well spent. You would never see a craftsman with his (or her) tools lying all over the place; they will be organized, clean and within easy reach. It should be the same with your PC.

    Take advantage of the Windows ‘Links' toolbar, and the ability to create toolbars of your own that can sit on your second screen. You should never have to hunt around in directories for the tools you use on a daily basis. If you use SVN for source control, you can create shortcuts for updates and commits. You can write batch files to load up all your tools, get latest code and data files, and any number of other tasks.

    Automate the admin tasks and you get more time to do your real job.

    Learn Your Tools

    Like a craftsman, you use certain tools. Invest time in learning how to use these tools to their maximum potential. It will save you time in the long run and make you a more productive member of the team. In particular, you should learn to use keyboard shortcuts wherever possible. Visual Studio has a huge range of helpful features, all of which can be accessed via keyboard shortcuts. You can even use chords (e.g. "Ctrl-K, O" is my shortcut for "Create Implementation"). When you take into account the ability to write your own macros, and the use of third party software like Visual Assist X (which I highly recommend, incidentally) it is clear that Visual Studio is an incredibly complex and powerful tool.

    By becoming passionate about the tools you use, and trying to understand how to use them better, you become a better programmer.

    Code Defensively

    When writing any code, always consider the worst case scenario. A call to new may return NULL if the platform has run out of memory, so test the return value before dereferencing it. Clients may pass in unexpected parameters, so use an assert to check for them, or change the type of the parameter to eliminate any values you can't handle. When you use an assert, consider whether your code would still work if an unexpected value was encountered in a release build, where the assert has been compiled out. Always initialize variables to sensible values.

    The onus is on you to ensure that your code behaves well, even when it is used inappropriately.

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