Coding and programming are two terms used to describe the same process. There seem to be a lot of people out there writing very long posts attempting to explain the differences when, quite frankly, there aren’t any. At best, these people are splitting hairs so fine that an electron microscope would have a hard time seeing it.
In this post, I’ll show you why coding and programming are functionally the same. I’ll also highlight a more important distinction to make: that between someone who codes and a professional programmer.
Coding and Programming Defined
Let’s start with the definitions of coding and programming from Oxford Languages via Google search:
- the process of assigning a code to something for classification or identification.
- the process or activity of writing computer programs.
- the process or activity of writing computer programs.
- the action or process of scheduling something, especially radio or television programs.
“The process or activity of writing computer programs” is the most concise and accurate definition of these two terms.
What Does This Mean?
So, what does this mean? It means that when you write code, you are programming. When you program, you are coding. The terms are interchangeable. There’s no difference. Well, at least not any that I can see after 25-plus years of programming.
Some people might try to argue that coding is the process of taking a high-level language and turning it into machine code that a computer can understand. This may be true, but it’s not the job of the average programmer. That’s the job of the compiler. The average programmer writes in a high-level language and lets the compiler do the dirty work.
So, if you’re a programmer or want to be one, don’t worry about the difference between coding and programming. They’re the same thing. Just learn how to write code, and you’ll do just fine.
Common Distinctions and Why They’re Wrong
In my research of how people are trying to divide these two topics, I’ve come across these two definitions:
Coding is the process of transforming written instructions into a form a computer can understand.
Programming is the process of using coding to create useful, functional applications for software.
The main thrust of the difference is that coding is the act of writing the language, while programming is the act of creating a useful application.
While these seem like they could be, in theory, differences, in practice they’re not. I’ve never seen someone trying to create code that doesn’t end up wanting to create useful, functional programs. (This also includes the ubiquitous “Hello World” program, as it’s useful for learning.)
I would never set out to simply write some code that doesn’t have an application (part of stand-alone applications, scripts, or for educational purposes). Nor has anyone I have ever worked with or met.
Even when coding in scripting languages, the end result is always a useful application. Take, for example, a simple script to create a text file. That file may not be the most amazing program in the world, but it’s still a useful application.
The fact is, in order for a program to be useful, it needs to be coded. But you don’t need to produce some code if you don’t have a useful application for that code to be a part of. You can’t have one without the other. Thus, the distinction people are trying to draw is purely semantic.
What Is Programming?
So, now that you know there’s no real distinction between coding and programming, let’s understand what programming is in useful terms.
Computer programming is the process of transforming computer instructions into a form a computer can understand. Programs are written in programming languages, which are designed to make it easy for humans to write complex instructions.
Computer programs can be used to do all sorts of things, from controlling a robot arm to running a business. Programs are stored on computers in files, and they can be run by giving the computer the name of the file.
Programming is an important part of computing, and it’s something that fascinates many people. It can be a challenging and rewarding activity, and it’s a great way to learn about how computers work.
What’s the Difference Between a Programmer and a Professional Programmer?
Now, here’s an interesting question: what’s the difference between someone who programs and someone I would consider a professional programmer?
Programmers write code. This code does something useful. Sometimes, though, the code is hard to read and cannot be maintained easily. Code maintenance is when someone comes back to existing code and changes it to fix a defect or to add or subtract functionality. Some programmers don’t like the idea of others touching their code and have a hard time accepting feedback on their code and resist adhering to any kind of team programming standards.
Professional programmers (also known as software engineers) write code that’s easy to read, easy to follow, well documented, well tested, and adheres to established programming standards. Having all of these qualities means the applications and code they write are easily maintainable.
Additionally, professional programmers typically have a better understanding of software development as a whole. They know different programming languages and how to best use them for the task at hand. They also understand algorithms, data structures, and software design principles.
Professional programmers understand how software applications are developed within teams and contribute to the team’s success by ensuring standards are met, accepting feedback, and contributing suggestions to improve team cohesion and delivery speed and quality.
All of this knowledge allows them to produce high-quality code in a shorter amount of time.
If you want to be useful to a company, open-source projects, clients, or just the programming world in general, learn to be a professional programmer.
What’s the Difference Between a Programmer and a Software Architect?
Here’s another interesting difference. A programmer creates code, and a software architect lays out the plans for how the code is structured. A programmer might be more hands-on and focused on the details, while an architect is more likely to have a higher-level view of the system and its design. Architects also often work with customers or other stakeholders to understand their needs and create a plan for meeting them. So, if you’re interested in eventually becoming a software architect, it’s important to have strong programming skills and have worked your way up from a professional programmer or software engineer position.
So, there you have it. In my opinion, programming and coding are one and the same. There’s no real distinction between the two—they’re both ways of telling a computer what to do. Of course, there are different programming languages. Some are more complex than others, and some have different ways of thinking about solving problems. But, at the end of the day, they all do the same thing: tell a computer to do something.
If you’re just starting out, please keep your eye on the horizon of learning to be a professional programmer. The world needs more of these and already has too many run of the mill programmers.
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.