When you’re starting to learn to program, the first question you might ask yourself is, What programming language should I know? There’s no one language that’s best for beginners or is a must-know when you’re first getting started.
At its most basic level, a programming language is a set of rules for giving computers instructions. These instructions can range from simple commands like addition or subtraction to more complex tasks like building a website or creating a video game. And each programming language will have an advantage depending on which of those things you want to do.
So, you see, which language is best for you is difficult to answer because it depends on your goals and experience. This post will discuss the steps you need to take to choose the correct programming language.
How to Choose Your First Programming Language
Consider Your Goals and What You Want to Do
There are many different programming languages, and it can be tough to decide which one to learn first. When choosing a programming language, it’s essential to consider your goals and what you want to do with it.
Take an hour or two and imagine what kind of apps you want to develop, what company you want to work for, what conferences you want to present at, and your goals.
Write them down. Walk away from it and come back later. Are those still the ones you want? If not, update the list. Once you know what you want, then you can move on to choosing a programming language.
For example, if you aim to get a job at a specific company, find out what languages they use and learn those. You can usually find this information on the language’s website. Every language has galleries of apps built with its language. And most of them usually list which big companies use their language.
Do Some Research on Different Languages
Once you’ve considered your goals, you can start looking at specific languages and decide which one is the best fit for you. There are plenty of resources available online, so don’t be afraid to do some research before making your decision.
To get you started, later in this post I’ve described some of the more popular languages and given you a rundown of each one’s uses so that you can start there.
Another research tool is to watch some videos of people programming in these languages. And be sure to take some notes on how each one feels so you can come back to them later.
Ask for Advice From Other Programmers Doing What You Want to Do
One of the best ways to narrow down your choices is to ask for advice from other programmers doing what you want to do. Message boards, communities, and Discord servers are great places to find active participants in these programming communities.
Do you have friends or family who are programmers? Seek out their advice. They may be the best resource as they know you, your interests, and your temperament best.
Try Out a Few Languages to See Which One Feels the Most Comfortable
Once you’ve narrowed the field down to two or three languages, start by reading guides and tutorials, watching videos, and trying out small code samples for each language.
You can find all of these resources online for free. Review the basics. Take notes on how each one feels to you and what people are doing with it.
Don’t get bogged down in details or get discouraged if you don’t understand everything at first. The goal is to find a language that feels comfortable for you and that you can learn quickly.
Decide Which Language Is Right for You
Once you’ve gotten a feel for your shortlist of languages, it’s time to choose. Review your notes and goals and make a decision. However, don’t get too caught up in selecting the “right” language. I’ve learned at least a dozen languages over the years. Your first language won’t be your last.
Find Resources to Help You Learn
The final step is to find resources to help you learn your chosen language. Again, I would recommend starting with an online course or tutorial.
There are plenty of free resources available, as well as paid ones. It’s up to you to decide what works best for you.
Stick With It
I will say that you need to persevere and don’t give up—learning to program is challenging but rewarding. The key is to get a solid understanding of your first language to develop projects with it for your portfolio and learn the basics of programming that will apply to your second, third, and nth language.
Popular Programming Languages to Consider
So, now that you know how to choose a programming language to learn, let’s look at some popular options that you can consider.
Used for: general scripting, web development, data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, scientific computing
Suitable for: people looking for general programming skills, back-end/full stack web developers, data scientists, artificial intelligence specialists, scientists
Python is a robust and adaptable programming language. Python is object-oriented, meaning the code is organized into “objects” (for example you might have “animal,” “dog,” and “cat” objects) that you can reuse in different programs. It also has a specific and concise syntax, making it easy to read and learn. Programmers in web development, scientific computing, data science, and AI use Python.
It’s also the most popular language for teaching introductory programming courses, and there are many different ways to learn Python. Due to its adaptability and simplicity, Python has become one of the most popular programming languages in the world.
Used for: programming dynamic websites, back-end servers
Suitable for: people who want to be front-end web developers and back-end/full stack developers
Used for: mobile apps, corporate projects including finance and banking, back ends of websites
Suitable for: people who want to develop native Android apps or who want reliable work with large companies
If you want to build robust, high-performance applications, Java is a good choice as a flexible and powerful programming language. Java is object oriented, meaning that it uses self-contained components, called objects, and classes to structure code. Its object-oriented nature makes it easy to reuse code and develop large-scale applications.
Java is also platform-independent, meaning that it can run on any computer system making it an ideal choice for developing cross-platform applications. Finally, Java is widely used, making it easy to find support and resources when needed. Overall, Java is an excellent choice.
Used for: extensive software projects, for example, processing petabytes of data
Suitable for: people who want to work on large-scale projects or work at Google
Created by Google in 2009, Go is a compiled, statically typed programming language designed for large-scale software development. The best feature of Go is its focus on simplicity and readability. As a result, it features a small set of keywords and an easy-to-learn syntax.
Additionally, Go promotes code reuse through its support for object-oriented programming.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Go is designed to be efficient. It can be compiled quickly and runs directly on native hardware, making it ideal for large-scale applications (such as processing millions of search queries every minute). In short, Go is a powerful, efficient programming language well suited for modern software development.
Used for: game development, embedded systems programming, high-speed real-time applications (think space shuttle)
Suitable for: people who want to be game developers or want to work on applications that demand very high performance
C is another multifaceted and powerful programming language that enables developers to create various software applications. C++ builds on the foundations of C, providing object-oriented capabilities and additional features that make it an ideal choice for developing sophisticated software systems. It’s particularly well suited for developing high-performance applications.
C++ code compiles into native machine code, which can run extremely quickly. In addition, C++ provides many optimizations that allow developers to wring maximum performance from their code. As a result, C++ is often used for mission-critical applications where speed and reliability are essential.
However, despite its many advantages, C++ can be a challenging language to master. Its syntax can be tricky to understand, and its object-oriented features are confusing for beginners. That being said, if you want to develop desktop games, this is the language to learn. There are many courses and resources on how to learn C++.
Used for: Windows desktop and mobile app development
Suitable for: people who want to develop native Windows applications
C# (pronounced “see sharp”) is a versatile programming language that enables developers to build a wide number and types of applications for the Microsoft .NET platform. C# is simple, powerful, type-safe, and object oriented. It’s an excellent choice for developing desktop, web, and mobile applications. The language syntax is clean and concise, and the software development tools are readily available. C# enables developers to create programs that are reliable and efficient. In addition, C# is interoperable with other programming languages, making it a good choice for software development projects.
Used for: scientific computing, statistics, data science, machine learning
Suitable for: people who want to be data scientists or need to process large amounts of data
R is a statistical programming language widely used in academic and research settings. R is easy to use and flexible, and it has a wide range of built-in functions for data analysis. It’s also open source, which means that anyone can contribute to its development.
One of the most popular features of R is its ability to handle large data sets. R can also be used for machine learning, making it a powerful tool for data scientists. While R is not the only statistical programming language, it’s one of the most popular statistical languages due to its flexibility and ease of use.
Used for: web app development
Suitable for: people who want to develop web applications
Ruby is a versatile programming language used for a wide range of applications. It’s a fully object-oriented language with powerful inheritance and mix-in capabilities. Ruby also supports duck typing, which allows for greater flexibility in coding.
In addition, Ruby’s syntax is relatively simple and concise, making it easy to read and write. As a result, Ruby has become a popular choice for web development, scientific computing, and game development. For a beginner, Ruby is an excellent language to learn. However; it has seen some decline in its popularity recently.
Used for: Android app development
Suitable for: people who want to develop Android apps but don’t want to use Java
Kotlin is a general-purpose, statically typed programming language with type inference. It’s intended to work with Java and is used as an alternative to Java for Android app development. A free and open-source project under the Apache 2.0 license, Kotlin was created by JetBrains, the company behind IntelliJ IDEA, WebStorm, and other popular IDEs.
Kotlin has been gaining popularity in recent years due to its concise syntax, null safety, and support for functional programming. Many Android developers have adopted Kotlin as their primary language, and Google has announced first-class support for Kotlin on Android. Thanks to its interoperability with Java, Kotlin can be used for many applications, making it a versatile language to learn.
Used for: Apple ecosystem desktop and mobile app development.
Suitable for: people who want to develop native Apple applications
Swift is a compiled programming language that runs on macOS, iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and Linux. Easy to learn for beginners and experienced developers alike, Swift is fast and powerful yet still safe and easy to use. It’s the perfect language for building modern app experiences across all Apple platforms.
Moreover, Swift is open source, so anyone can contribute to its development. In addition to being used for developing apps, Swift is also becoming increasingly popular for server-side development and scripting. Thanks to its many features and ease of use, Swift is quickly becoming one of the most popular programming languages in the world.
Used for: web development
Suitable for: people who want to develop plugins for various web hosting platforms (such as WordPress).
PHP is a server-side scripting language often used in web development. PHP code embeds into HTML code, and the resulting page is sent to the user’s browser. As a result, PHP is a versatile, helpful language for form processing, database interaction, and creating dynamic web content. PHP also has many libraries and frameworks used to extend its functionality further. As a result, PHP is a popular choice for web development among both novice and experienced programmers.
Choosing a programming language can be intimidating. It isn’t simple to know where to start or what language is best for your needs and goals if you’re new to coding. However, by following this easy guide, you can make the process easier and more informed. Start by deciding what type of application you want to build. Then, research the different languages best suited for that type of application. Finally, try out a few languages and see which one feels most comfortable for you. With these guidelines in mind, you’re sure to find the perfect programming language for your needs.
I’ve included a selection of the many programming languages available. There are dozens of other languages to choose from, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to do your homework before making a decision. The language you choose will be with you for years, so it’s essential to make a good choice, but you can use a lot of what you learn in your first language to learn other languages. So, if you find you want to try the next big thing, you can. Once you have a thorough grasp of the first language, the rest become easier.
Steven Lohrenz is an IT professional with 25-plus years of experience as a programmer, software engineer, technical team lead, and software and integrations architect. They blog at StevenLohrenz.com about things that interest them.