I am a programmer.
I probably have a ismilar background to quite a few guys in this thread- C/C++, Perl (and Perl OO), SQL, most of the big databases...worked on many big systems (e.g. the one you slide you Visa card through; C++, BTW).
I tried my hand at DSP development quite a few years ago, but realised that I didn't have the math background to be a creative as I'd like to be. In addition, I didn't want to be coding all the time, simply put. Sometimes, I wish I stuck with it; most of the time, I don't.
Synthedit is still appealing to me, as I'd love to use that for a wrapper for some sample-based ideas that I've been carrying around.
IMHO, I'd get a compiler that contains a good debugger. Learn how to work with the debugger, so you can work backwards. In other words, when something gets flagged, understand what it means in your program, and make the fix. Initially, you'll prolly have a lot of memory-type errors, if working with C/C++. The MS and Delphi compilers are highly recommended. The educational discount for these products is unbelievable! Both are around $100, so check it out. These compilers will take you right to the spot in your code- much better than just getting a message and having to know what it means. Also, these products are very good for creating little test programs that you can use to check your understanding- a huge leg up when learning!
I'd recommend getting a test program that's always able to form a clean build, firstly! This way, you can add all new libs to this first, before adding them to your project. Getting a clean build is a often a daunting task for new-bees and veterans alike, until they get used to working with the components. After awhile, you'll know what to expect. For example, when the new VST SDK comes up (e.g. v2.4), add it to your template program first; get it to build and run; then add it to your project. Getting a good build and understanding compiler options is essential. It's a go/no-go proposition, simply put.
You'll learn to code by looking at a lot of source code- period. All the books and manuals in the world won't make your project go. The source code will. There are a lot of libraries that can save you tons of work. You'll kick yourself later, if you discover them later. FYI: you can use these to create test modules and some of those little programs that I mentioned. Get as many DSP source programs as you can and get it to build firstly! Then start making mods. Once you have a template program that you can modify and refer to for builds and mods, you're on your way. The rest is learning what everything does and how/why.
The O'Reilly books on C/C++ are very useful, and they make the source code available online. FYI: "C++ The Core Language," is essentially for C programmers who are learning classes.
Best of luck!