Book Review: Learn to Program with Visual Basic 6

This book was written for the absolute beginner, although I think those of you with some programming experience will also find this book to be a valuable help. The book, along with the included CD-ROM, provides everything you'll need to learn to program Visual Basic 6. In addition to the Visual Basic 6 Working Edition, copies of the code at all stages of development used throughout the book are included on the CD-ROM.


WHO SHOULD READ THIS BOOK
This book was written for the absolute beginner, although I think those of you with some programming experience will also find this book to be a valuable help. The book, along with the included CD-ROM, provides everything you'll need to learn to program Visual Basic 6. In addition to the Visual Basic 6 Working Edition, copies of the code at all stages of development used throughout the book are included on the CD-ROM.

INTRODUCTION
For me, there were two things in particular that made Learn to Program with Visual Basic 6 by author, John Smiley, stand out from other beginner books on the market. One of these things is the classroom format of the book. The other thing is the effort devoted to teaching beginners how to properly design their programs.

The reader is coached from gathering the initial user requirements, all the way to maintaining the finished product. Along with a classroom of others who are also new to Visual Basic programming, you'll be building a real program for a real end-user.

Every chapter ends with a summary of what was learned, and a quiz (remember, you're in a classroom!) to ensure that the reader has grasped the lessons covered in that chapter. The lessons build slowly but surely, as this book assumes the reader has zero programming experience.

LEARN TO PROGRAM METHOD (LTP)
First, in lieu of the standard tutorial fare usually served up in beginner books, the author uses a novel approach aptly titled Learn to Program (LTP). What this means is that the book is written in a format that places you, the reader, in a classroom setting. The premise is that students don't just learn from their teacher, but also from the questions put forth by other students.

I was initially skeptical about this method for a teaching book. Frankly, I thought it would come across as a bit lame or seem contrived, but I was pleasantly mistaken. The reason the Learn to Program method works so well in this book is doubtless due to the author's extensive classroom teaching experience. That, and the fact that the classroom interaction is taken from the actual dialog as Mr. Smiley leads a group of his university students in an actual class on Visual Basic.

The reader is basically a "fly-on-the-wall" in one of Mr. Smiley's fifteen-week introductory programming classes. You, along with your other eighteen classmates will develop an actual real-world program from beginning to finish.

When approached by a client who needed an inexpensive custom program for his small business, the author immediately saw this as the perfect opportunity for his next introductory class. Offering to split the profits with his students, the author and his students set out to design, develop, test, and deliver a real world application, which of course, they accomplish, with the reader in tow and part of the entire process.

This is a practical beginner's book. You're not developing a useless program designed just for a book, but an actual program requested by a real shop owner for his real business.

THE SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT LIFE CYCLE (SDLC)
The other significant difference that marks this book is the attention given to the design phase of software development. Many beginners will complete the simple program in a beginners book and wonder, "where do I go from here?" They have learned the ins-and-outs of controls and methods, but haven't learned anything about how to design an application.

The Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC) was created because many development projects fail to satisfy user requirements. SDLS is a method used to ensure that projects are developed in a logical, step-by-step method.

There are six steps, or phases, involved are:

  1. The Preliminary Investigation Phase
  2. The Analysis Phase
  3. The Design Phase
  4. The Development Phase
  5. The Implementation Phase
  6. The Maintenance Phase

All companies have some version of SDLC that they use. If not, projects would never be developed on time, on budget, or with the proper user requirements in place. When you think about it, more beginner books should concentrate on this essential part of programming, and I commend the author for stressing the importance of logical design.

CONCLUSION
Cons: I have one minor gripe that I'd like to get out of the way. Maybe I'm just picky, but I disliked the publisher's (ActivePath Ltd.) choice for some fonts and styles used in this book. For some reason, the main font and headings were a non-standard larger point size than one would normally expect. Also, an unattractive type similar to the Comic Sans MS font was used in certain instances. This imparted just the slightest home-spun feel to an otherwise excellent book.

Please note that this is strictly a matter of taste, and in no way affects the quality of writing. I'm perhaps more sensitive to design than I should be. On the bright side, the liberal uses of screen shots throughout the book were of excellent quality. Also, the book sticks to using the expected, and desired, Courier style font when displaying blocks of code.

Pros: I think John Smiley does a great job with Learn to Program with Visual Basic 6. Dropping the reader into his classroom is a unique approach, allowing the reader to share the benefit of classroom interaction.

Another pro is the inclusion of the Visual Basic 6 Working Edition with the book. All beginner books should include the working edition for those readers who want to test the waters before buying. When you purchase this book, the beginner has everything they need to enter the world of learning to program with Visual Basic.

Also, teaching the proper way to design a program right from the start is a welcome addition to any beginner's book. Readers leave with the ability to logically and methodically design their own future programs.

The author's original approach, coupled with involving the beginner in building a real application make this a good book for any raw beginner or someone just starting to learn Visual Basic. A recommended read by SearchVB.com.

About the Author: John Smiley [ Return to Article ]
John Smiley is the President of John Smiley and Associates, a computer consulting firm located in South Jersey, serving clients both large and small in the surrounding Philadelphia Metropolitan area. John is also an adjunct professor of computer science at Penn State University in Abington, the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, and Holy Family College, and has been teaching computer programming for nearly 20 years. He also teaches a number of very popular online courses at Ziff Davis University (ZDU).

In addition to these pursuits, John has done technical editing on a number of Wrox and Que titles, and has written a Case Study for Beginning Visual Basic 6 by Wrox Press. He is the author of three ZDU Workbooks.

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