Technology is changing how we live. We use and rely on web applications and electronic devices daily to complete various tasks. And behind these modern-day software programs are thousands of lines of code.
Coding is one of the most valuable skills to learn today. You can not only build any idea you have and see it come to life, but you can also improve your future.
Knowing how to code increases your chances of getting a higher-paying job.
According to the U.S. Bureau of labor statistics, software engineers earned a median annual salary of $109,020 in 2021.
In addition, the computer programming and software engineering industry is growing fast, and coding jobs are in high demand.
According to the U.S. Bureau of labor statistics, the anticipated change for 2021-2031 is a 25% growth, which is much faster than average.
All the data above sound great, but with hundreds of programming languages available today, choosing the best one to learn can leave you confused, intimidated, or even overwhelmed.
The truth is, there is no one correct answer to the question 'What is the best programming language to learn?'.
The language you choose to learn will depend on many things, such as what you want to build, what projects you want to work on, your individual career goals, the desired path you want to take, or even how much you want to challenge yourself.
In this article, I first explain what programming languages are and go over the differences between programming, scripting, and markup languages.
I also list some of the most popular languages that beginners choose to learn according to the Stack Overflow Developer Survey for 2022.
Here is what we will cover:
- What are programming languages?
- The most popular programming languages to learn
Let's dive in.
Coding involves telling a computer what to do how to do it. You do this by providing it with a sequence of instructions using a language both humans and machines understand.
The machine interprets the instructions and carries them out to achieve a specific result.
Computers do not understand human languages. They only speak binary – a language consisting of
0 represents off, and
1 represents on.
It makes perfect since that binary is the primary language of all machines since electronic devices have thousands of transistors (or tiny switches) inside them. And the switches turn on or off depending on the flow of electricity.
But coding in binary is time-consuming and very error-prone. So, humans invented computer programming languages that are readable, easier to learn and understand, and much more human-friendly.
Computer programming languages fall into one of two groups: low-level and high-level.
Low-level programming languages have little or no abstraction from the machine's instruction set. Essentially, their instructions are close to the machine's processor's instructions.
Binary code (or machine code) and assembly language are considered low-level programming languages.
High-level programming languages are more human-friendly.
They are similar to human languages and look a lot like English. They offer a shorter, more precise, and less verbose way to create instructions that the computer can understand.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that every language fits into a specific category.
There are three categories of languages:
- Programming languages
- Scripting languages
- Markup languages
Programming languages are used for writing logical sets of instructions for computers to execute and solve a problem.
Programming languages are written in a human-readable form but get converted to machine code (binary).
And this conversion happens with the help of a compiler, which fully translates at once all the instructions written in a high-level programming language into something the computer's CPU can easily understand.
Once the instructions are in a machine-readable form, the computer executes them, and they can run on the machine.
Scripting languages go hand in hand with programming languages – you can think of them as a subset or subcategory of programming languages.
The main difference between programming and scripting languages is how each gets compiled.
Scripting languages get intrerpreted rather than compiled.
Scripting languages use an interpreter which translates each instruction, executes it, and then moves on to the next instruction and continues to do the same line by line instead of all at once as a compiler does.
Markup languages are presentational languages and not programming or scripting languages. They are entirely different since they don't involve logical processing.
Markup languages are languages used for defining, describing, and structuring data on a web page. They also lay out and style data on a page.
In the following sections, I list some of the most popular languages that beginners choose to learn. I also list their use cases and some resources for you to get started learning them.
HTML and CSS are not technically programming languages, but according to the Stack Overflow developer survey for 2022, they rank first as the most popular languages for people learning to code.
HTML and CSS are markup languages, and you use them to create static web pages.
HTML (which stands for HyperText Markup Language) defines the structure and content of a web page. So, the paragraphs, headings, lists, forms, and links you see on a page, along with their hierarchies, are all HTML code.
And thanks to the latest version of HTML, HTML5, you can embed images, videos, and audio in web pages eliminating the need to use extra plugins like you had to in the past.
CSS (short for Cascading Style Sheets) styles HTML elements. It is responsible for presenting content in a visually appealing way.
CSS code enables all the different colors and fonts. The sizing of elements and how those elements get displayed on the page. The page layout and how items get arranged next to one another.
To learn HTML and CSS, check out the following resources:
- Learn HTML – Beginner's Course
- Learn CSS in this free 6-hour video course
- Learn HTML and CSS with this free 11 hour course
- Learn HTML and CSS in Spanish – Course for Beginners
- Responsive Web Design Certification
- A map with a user’s current location
- A message shown to a user once they land on the page
- A change on the page based on user input
- An animation when a user clicks a button
- A smooth scroll effect when there is a button to scroll back up to the top of the page.
- Mouseover effects
Python is a general-purpose server-side scripting language. And according to the Stack Overflow Developer Survey for 2022, it is the third most popular language for people learning to code.
Python is a great language for beginners thanks to its readable, intuitive, concise, and beginner-friendly syntax.
It is a popular language when working with large amounts of data, so it's often used for machine learning, data science, data analysis, and data processing.
It is also the language of choice for web scraping. Web scraping is an automated technique that extracts, collects, and processes large amounts of raw data from the web.
You can also use Python for backend web development to create web applications with the help of frameworks such as Django and Flask.
In addition, Python is a popular language for test automation.
Instead of writing all the tests for your programs manually, you can rely on automation tools, Python libraries, and Python scripts to get the job done.
To get started learning Python, check out the following recourses:
- Python For Beginners Courses Ranked from Best to Worst – freeCodeCamp Edition
- How to Code 20 Beginner Python Projects
- Learn Python by Building 12 Projects in This 3-Hour Course
- Backend Web Development with Python - Full Course
SQL is short for Structured Query Language.
You will likely hear it pronounced one of two ways – "S. Q. L." (ess-kew-ell) or "sequel" (like a sequel to a movie).
Either way, SQL is a language used for working with databases and any job that involves storing, managing, accessing, and analyzing data. It is one of the languages of choice for data scientists, data analysts, statisticians, and marketers.
Specifically, with SQL, you can access, query, manipulate and interact with data stored in relational databases.
A database is an electronic storage localization for data. In databases, you can easily retrieve and search through your data.
And a relational database stores data in a structured and tabular format. That is, it stores information in tables (which you can think of as storage containers for the data) organized in columns and rows. All data items stored have pre-defined relationships with each other.
With SQL, you can write database queries to perform any CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) operations on the data.
It is worth mentioning that SQL is not technically a programming language - you cannot build web applications or software tools using it. It is a query language and a tool used for managing relational databases and performing operations on the data stored in them.
And although it ranks fifth as the most popular language for people learning to code according to the Stack Overflow Developer Survey for 2022, it ranks third as the most popular language for professional developers.
So, it is a good idea to learn SQL as you may need to use it in a professional setting.
To learn SQL, check out the following resources:
- Learn SQL – Free Relational Database Courses for Beginners
- SQL Commands Cheat Sheet – How to Learn SQL in 10 Minutes
- Learn SQL with These 5 Easy Recipes
- SQL and Databases - A Full Course for Beginners
- Relational Database Certification
In the early 1980s, Bjarne Stroustrup created a language influenced by the C programming language. It could get close to the machine hardware and do demanding low-level computational tasks, but it also provided a higher level of abstraction without losing the low-level efficiency of C.
So, the language 'C with classes' was created, and in 1984 'C with classes' was renamed C++.
C++ is a superset of C and provides additional capabilities to the C language.
C++ allows the programmer close access to and manipulation of the machine while providing efficiency and high performance for large-scale systems. At the same time, it is higher level with enough abstraction away from the machine.
C++ is both a procedural and an object oriented programming language. OOP divides a program into objects.
Everything gets organized and divided into smaller groups of related parts or objects, which are an instance of a class, following a bottom-up approach.
This programming style creates more readable and usable code that is easier to maintain while providing better data security.
C++ is a popular language for:
- creating game engines
- creating computer graphics
- creating applications
- creating VR applications
- creating web browsers such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari
- creating web browser extensions - the Google Search Engine is built in C++
According to the Stack Overflow Developer Survey for 2022, it ranks sixth as the most popular programming language for people learning to code. And it is a great language if you want to get a software engineering job and develop programs and applications.
To learn C++, check out the following resources:
- How to Learn the C++ Programming Language
- Learn C++ Programming for Beginners – Free 31-Hour Course
- Learn Object Oriented Programming (OOP) in C++ | Full Video Course
Java is an object-oriented, general-purpose programming language whose syntax is based on the C and C++ programming languages.
One of the language's advantages is its portability. Portability in computing means that programs get written once on one machine and can be transferred and run smoothly on another.
The Java Virtual Machine lets Java run on any device and operating system.
Java is used for:
- Building mobile applications for the Android Operating System
- Backend web development
- Game development
- Creating embedded systems
- Building desktop applications
- Building enterprise-level software tools for the banking industry
- Building artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (or IoT) devices
Java uses a combination of a compiler and an interpreter and runs on machines - not in browsers.
According to the Stack Overflow Developer Survey for 2022, Java ranked 4th as the most popular language for people learning to code.
Java coding skills can help you get a job as a software engineer, a web developer, and an android developer.
To start learning Java, check out the following resources:
- Learn Java – Free Java Courses for Beginners
- The Java Handbook – Learn Java Programming for Beginners
- Learn Java Programming (version 17)
- How to Build a Sudoku Game Java Desktop Application – A Free 2-hour Course
Hopefully, this guide was helpful and gave you some insight into some of the best languages to learn as a beginner programmer.
Thank you for reading, and happy coding!