Your First Programming Language Isn’t As Important As You Think

When a beginner sets out to learn programming, their first question is almost always, “Which programming language should I learn first?” It’s not hard to understand why. There are dozens of popular languages, hundreds of frameworks, libraries and tools, and endless amounts of advice about how to get started.

It’s no wonder new programmers often feel intimidated by the sheer vastness of options they have to choose from. Our advice to programmers at this stage is simple: don’t worry – just have fun with it! The more you focus on the amount of choices you have, the more you will be distracted from what truly matters: almost any programming language will teach you the fundamentals you need for success. You just need to get out there and get started!

All Programming Languages Use The Same Coding Constructs

It’s easy to say, “don’t worry,” knowing this isn’t great advice. So, let’s take a few minutes to go through and understand the associated costs and benefits to different approaches. Programming languages, like spoken languages, share many of the same core principles.

Spoken languages have verbs, nouns, adjectives, and a means of tying them all together. Similarly, programming languages have data types, variables, control flow, and functions. In other words, no matter what language you choose, you will learn the core principles needed to apply to all languages (ultimately, making the task of learning future languages much easier.) With that said, just like spoken languages, some programming languages will also be more difficult for beginners.

Learn The Differences Between Programming Languages

What makes a programming language best-suited to a beginner? All languages have their quirks, but so-called “lower-level” languages have layers of complexity that make it harder for newcomers to focus on the basics. For example, some languages, like C, have “static typing,” meaning that a given variable may only be assigned to a certain type of value. Moreover, C requires developers to actively allocate and deallocate memory for individual variables.

Meanwhile, languages like JavaScript have dynamic typing and allot memory for you. Which of these two is better for beginners is up for debate. Some argue that you should start with the hardest languages so that you can develop solid foundational roots in important concepts like memory management, however, this isn’t entirely true. You should eventually learn these skills, but it’s better to first focus on fundamental concepts and not get bogged down with such minuscule concerns.

To Learn Programming, Try a Real World Example

Imagine that you wanted to learn photography. If your first exposure to photography was using a complex SLR camera that requires you to carefully adjust aperture, shutter speed, lenses, and focus, all while simultaneously learning about framing and composition, then you will most likely get frustrated and decide photography is not for you.
But what if your first exposure to photography was using a simple point-and-shoot to learn the basics, eventually working your way up to a more complicated camera? Likewise, it’s beneficial for a new programmer to have the freedom to explore and discover the joy of coding before worrying about the immense complexity that lies beneath (even though, you should definitely go back later and dive into these more challenging concepts).

Learn Programming With Higher-Level Languages

If “lower-level” languages like C aren’t at the top of the list for new programmers to learn, what is? A lot! From here, the next step to take is to think about your particular goals. Software programming is a vast field and there are many different routes you can take with your coding knowledge. Although it’s true that any language will teach you the basics, some are better suited to certain tasks than others.

For example, if your interest is in web development, then JavaScript is the top choice due to its functionality in virtually every web page or app you encounter. For business analytics, Python is a good choice for its various statistical packages. For statistics, R would be your best bet. If you’re not sure what you want to do but want an easy-to-understand language with both power and flexibility, Ruby and Python are two great options.

Selecting Your First Programming Language Might Not Be Up To You

In some cases, the language you start with won’t be up to you – and that’s ok! If you decide to take a class at a local university or an online course, your instructors will most likely choose a language for you. If you find a particularly high-quality book or teacher, the same will hold true. It’s perfectly fine to let an expert choose your first language, as they typically have good reasons to do so. Remember, the most important thing for you to do is to focus on the fundamentals; let someone guide you along the way and you’ll be just fine.

The Key to Learning Programming Is to Just Dive In

You really can’t go wrong when choosing your first programming language. Ruby, Python, and JavaScript are all excellent choices! If you decide you want to start out with a more general language, like C, and enjoy the idea of digging into the details from the very beginning – this also works.

What’s important is to get started, enjoy the ride, and not let indecision hold you back. Over the course of your programming journey, you will learn many different types of languages, eventually picking up something new and interesting with each of them. Choose whichever language you like and start coding!

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