Programming is viewed by many as a new literacy. Since our professional and daily lives are inextricably tied to digital technology, being more than a user should open numerous career possibilities in many fields. Therefore, more and more people seek to learn coding – to start a career in development, as an additional skill to improve their hiring prospects, or simply as a hobby.
Yet before you can even begin, there is one big question to answer. Which programming language should you learn first? As annoying as it always is, there is no clear-cut answer. It all depends on your goals. Keep this in mind as we briefly overview the pros and cons of some most popular programming languages.
What is a programming language?
Still, programming languages are pretty abstract and removed from natural language for an ordinary user to understand them without practice. That's why we need programmers – trained mediators between humans and machines.
Although programming languages look very different from one another, they have many standard features and overarching logic behind them. That's why when you learn any of them, you get an idea of how others work. That's why the question "Which programming language to learn first?" isn't as momentous as you think. If you want to learn coding as a skill, choose whichever. You will still be gaining valuable insight and transferable skills.
As a professional coder, you probably will still need to learn more than one language. Of course, everyone has their preferences and favorites. Still, very few developers only have one or two languages in the toolbox. An average programmer is fluent in up to ten. Most experienced programmers "speak" dozens of programming languages. Not that they have to – most often, they just enjoy learning a new one, much like polyglots do with natural languages.
So don't worry about choosing the "wrong" one. Learning any programming language opens the door to the profession and makes learning other languages much easier.
How to choose which coding language is best for you?
Another good idea is to look at what is in demand in the industry at large and in the particular niche you want to work in. If you want to make money doing it, it's a no-brainer to spread your nets wider and improve your hiring chances. Ask around on professional forums if you want some inside info.
If you simply wish to try what coding is like and look for a language to learn for fun, HTML, CSS, or Python are probably among the best choices due to their approachability and connection to natural language.
Now, let's look at some pros and cons of popular programming languages for a newbie like you – in no particular order.
Python is the number one recommendation as an entry point into the programming world. It has a simple syntax, and many commands are intuitive since the language is very high-level and maintains a strong connection to natural language. It is also relatively versatile with the support of object-oriented programming, thus allowing you to solve a wide variety of tasks in different industries: web development, data analysis, machine learning, etc. This translates into high demand in the job market and many learning and career opportunities. The online community constantly creates new libraries and modules, simplifying learning and solving programming problems for a beginner.
However, Python has its downsides. A pet peeve for many beginners in Python is the language's heavy reliance on indentation to indicate code blocks, which causes a lot of confusion at first. It's also one of those languages that are easy to learn but hard to master, with hidden depth. The learning curve starts flat but might grow steeper as you go. Although being high-level makes it easier to acquire, it means limited control over hardware and slow execution compared to other languages. Moreover, Python is dynamically typed, so it has less focus on data types compared to other languages. Python also has limited use in mobile app development, so if you plan to work in this industry, maybe look at other options.
Verdict: for newbies passionate about data analysis and machine learning.
That said, HTML has limited functionality. Being a markup language puts a cap on what HTML can do. Also, some might believe that it's not a "proper computer language" and would prefer a developer with several other languages under their belt. Another downside is frequent updates, so the pressure to stay current can be challenging for a beginner.
Verdict: a great place to start, but it might not prepare you for more complex coding later.
Ruby is also one of the great ways to start your programming journey. It is one of the easiest programming languages to learn, with readable and intuitive syntax. Ruby on Rails framework makes it even easier to build applications. It is pretty versatile and can be used for web development, data analysis, and AI applications. Although the online community might be smaller than other programming languages, it is very active, welcoming, and enthusiastic about helping newcomers. Forums, blogs, and online tutorials offer plenty of resources for a learner.
That said, Ruby has a smaller choice of available third-party libraries, meaning you will have to build certain functionality from scratch. Ruby is also relatively slow and unsuitable for large-scale projects and complex algorithms. All this means limited job opportunities, especially outside web development.
Verdict: Cozy and welcoming for newbie web developers.
Another beginner-friendly language is SQL. It is relatively easy to learn and use, versatile, and fitting for various tasks, including data analysis and reporting. It is standard for database management in the data industry and other business settings. For example, we use it for sorting essay examples free from labels into categories based on their contents. Many of our algorithms, like finding the most fitting free essays writer for urgent orders, also work on SQL. Learning SQL will give you an understanding of how databases are designed and managed – all with support from the developer community and plenty of resources online.
However, despite the ease of learning, mastering SQL will take some time and practice. Some aspects of it can be challenging, mainly working with advanced queries and complex data structures. The biggest downside is that SQL is a very specialized language, so it's of limited use if you don't plan to work with databases. It won't teach you essential programming concepts like object-oriented design or control flow.
Verdict: for data analysts who see programming as an additional tool rather than a career.
C++ is a powerful language primarily known for its use in game development, system programming, and scientific computing. If any of these sound interesting, this might be the sign you were waiting for. Moreover, C++ leads to high-paying and promising careers. It's also a good choice if you want to learn the foundations of object-oriented programming concepts that are widespread in other programming languages.
C++ is a compiled language that allows you to create more efficient and faster code. Another argument in favor of learning this language is a large online community and vast resources available online, so you will definitely find help when you need it.
On the other hand, however, C++ has a steep learning curve with complex syntax and some concepts that beginners might struggle with. For example, its focus on manual memory management is a gateway to bugs and errors that are difficult to pinpoint and fix, which is particularly frustrating for a newbie. Additionally, the strict typing and lack of type interface in C++ make creating clean code more challenging, especially if you are only learning how to code.
Verdict: for aspiring game devs who aren't afraid of a challenge.
This one is easier than C++, mainly because it abstracts away some low-level details you might find puzzling in other languages as a beginner. C# is also a popular language with many online resources and good documentation, so finding answers won't be a problem. It is widely used in the industry for Windows and cross-platform app development, so if you are interested in desktop programming, C# is an obvious choice.
On the flip side, however, if you are more interested in platforms like macOS and Linux, this Windows-centric language will be of limited use to you. Also, it might be relatively easier, but it still requires some understanding of programming concepts. It will take some time and practice to become proficient in C#.
Another downside is that debugging your code might be more challenging compared to other high-level languages. Still, all this might not be enough to prepare you for a deep dive into lower-level programming with languages like C or Assembly.
Verdict: for tenacious Windows aficionados.
Verdict: challenging but versatile.
R is a great choice if you need programming for data analysis and business. It is very popular for statistical computing and data visualization, allowing for the creation of high-quality charts. Thanks to this, R can give you a competitive edge in the job market, regardless of the industry. With simple, intuitive syntax, R is very accessible to people with no programming experience. It is open-source, so you don't need to pay for it and can use it for a variety of applications. Finding resources and support from the community online also won't be a problem.
The downsides of R include slow speed compared to more powerful languages like Python and Java and a narrow focus on data analysis and statistics. Moreover, many R packages have dependencies that need to be installed and managed, which is a challenge for beginners.
Verdict: for data analysts, statisticians, and those who need programming for business.