Can you guess how many programming languages are there?
It is quite difficult to put a number on it because the number varies from one source to another. For example, it is almost 9000 according to the Online Historical Encyclopaedia of Programming Languages. But Wikipedia lists about 700, GitHub reports 370 and TIOBE indexes 150.
Anyways, the number is not that important because there are about 50 languages that are popular in use.
But which one should you learn? The one that the ad said because it will make you the next Elon Musk, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg?
Before you start learning any language, make sure that you have selected the right one for you. Because there are different types of programming languages and they are used for different purposes.
In this article, we will tell about the various types of programming languages, which and how you should choose one to learn, how to get started as a beginner and the things you should know beforehand.
So, sit in a comfy chair and have some snacks next to you because this is going to be a long ride.
What is Programming?
Let’s start with the basics. What is programming?
Programming is the process of designing and writing a computer program that can be executed. The person who writes a program is a programmer.
Then what is a program?
A program is nothing but a set of instructions or commands that tells the computer what to do. But the computer doesn’t understand English or any other human language. It understands just 0s and 1s. Can you imagine talking to the computer like that?
That is why you need a programming language. It is a lengthy process but in short, you write a program using a programming language and run it. Then some series of internal processes take place after which the computer does exactly what you told it to do.
The above image shows how a C program looks. The 6 lines are what you call the code. When you run it, it just prints the words Hello, World!
Programming is a broad topic that involves understanding a problem, coming up with logic and solution to solve it, writing code, compiling (more on it later), testing and running.
Why learn programming?
Everything in the digital world takes place because one or more programs are running in the background.
Every app and software on your mobile phone, PC, laptop and tablet is created by programming. In fact, the operating system your electronic device runs on – Android, iOS, Windows, Linux, Apple OS – all are created by programming.
Ok, then why should you learn programming?
- Programming is fun. Once you have mastered a programming language, you can create your own games, apps, platforms, software and even operating systems!
- Right from your digital clock to Google, every industry requires programmers to build tech to suit their requirements. Anyone with good programming skills will always have a job opportunity.
- It is quite a well-known fact that programming pays you a good salary. Of course, you need to be good at it. But like any other skill, you can develop this one too.
How does a program work?
A program can be anything – as small as a simple calculator to as big as an Operating System. Such programs are written in programming languages that are usually English-like. But the computer understands only machine language – 0s and 1s. What to do?
Just like you need a translator to talk to someone who doesn’t speak your language, a special type of software called compiler is used to convert the program to 0s and 1s. This process is called compiling.
Once your program is compiled, you can run (use) it as many times as you want. This is a brief explanation of how a program works but behind the scene, it involves a lot of processes.
Different types of Programming Languages
Programming languages are categorised into different paradigms based on their features, execution method, sequence of operations and so on. The main two types are:
Image source: watelectronics
Imperative programming is an approach where you give step by step instructions to the computer. In such a language, you need to write a sequence of commands for the computer to execute at the end of which you get the intended results.
There are further three types: Procedural, Object-Oriented and Parallel programming.
Declarative programming is an approach where you are more concerned with the results than the method to obtain them. You basically tell the computer what you want – the final result and the compiler takes care of the steps.
There are three types: Logic, Functional and Database programming.
Types of Programming Languages
Let’s talk about the main four types of programming languages that are popular and widely used.
Procedural Programming Languages
Procedural programming is also known as top-down language because the instructions are followed in a sequence from top to bottom by the compiler. It follows an approach where the instructions are grouped into procedures and you need to tell the compiler to follow a certain procedure.
Think of a morning routine where you perform some activities in order and each activity has a subroutine. Examples: C, COBOL, Pascal, BASIC
Object-oriented Programming Languages
Object-oriented programming is an approach where the code is divided into objects. Each object will have properties and a set of instructions to perform. As every entity is treated as an object, it is easier to scale, keep them secure and private when needed.
Think of this as a cricket game where to play the game (run the program) you need different players (objects). Each player based on their roles like a batsman, bowler, wicket-keeper, fielder and so on will have their own set of functions and characteristics (properties).
Examples: C++, C#, Java, Python, Ruby.
Database Programming Languages
Database programming focuses on the data and its usage. Also known as data-driven programming, the instructions tell the computer what to do with a piece of information (data). It involves adding data to a database, removing data, viewing, updating and so on.
Whenever you search for a name from your contacts, you see contacts with similar names. You can add an extra number, delete it, send it to your friend – all of these actions are performed by a database program in the background.
A scripting language is another type of programming language where you write scripts – a set of instructions to be carried out. Unlike other languages, you don’t need to compile these but directly run them.
Scripting languages are mainly used in web development. As they are not compiled, some don’t consider them to be full-fledged programming languages. They usually work in collaboration with other object-oriented programming languages.
Which programming language you should choose?
Now that you know about the different types of languages, you might be wondering which one to learn. There are hundreds out there. Some might recommend one or the other because it has a scope or is an easy one. But that’s not how you should go about it.
Image source: watelectronics
Why do you want to learn programming and what do you want to do with it?
Before you decide on a language to learn first ask yourself the questions: Why do you want to learn programming and what do you want to do once you learn? What do you want to build or create?
You learnt about the different types of programming languages based on their features and styles. But to perform a certain task, you will need more than one style and more than one programming language.
So, think about what you want to do. Web development, game development, app development, mobile development, robotics, artificial intelligence and so on.
Can you imagine your life without the internet? From entertainment to learning to businesses, almost everything happens on the internet today. In a world where people have personal websites, web developers are always in need to build and maintain websites.
In web development, there are two areas where developers work and based on this, you will have to decide which one to learn. Front end or back end languages. While the front-end handles the client-side, the back-end is for the server-side of the website.
Front end programming languages
Front-end developers take care of the user side of the websites and applications. Whenever you click on a button on a web page, game or any application, there will be a series of actions taking place behind. And no, these are not just limited to designing the buttons, icons and themes.
Some of the prominent languages you should know to be a front-end web are:
- HTML and HTML5
You can either take up paid courses or try W3schools tutorials for free. Once you are done with the basics, you can learn frameworks like AngujarJS, React.js, jQuery, and others.
Back end programming languages
Back-end programming languages deal with storing and managing all the data and resources to run the website. You build the part of the website or application that doesn’t interact with the users directly.
Some of the prominent languages you should know to be a front-end web are:
You can either take up free or paid courses but don’t forget to read the reviews before enrolling yourself in one. Once you are done with the basics, you can learn back-end frameworks to upskill.
For any task you want your computer to do, there will always be an application or software that you need to run. And these are created and developed by programmers.
If you want to go into a tech career, you can learn languages like C, C++, C#, Java and Python. But depending on what type of software you build, you will have to specialize and learn the respective frameworks.
Image source: Successful Student
App and mobile development
Did you ever have an idea for a good mobile app but didn’t know how to make one? With app and mobile development, you need to focus on one platform. If you want to build apps for iOS and Apple devices, you need to learn languages like C, Objective-C and Swift. For Android, you need to learn Java or Kotlin and the respective frameworks.
AI and robotics
If you want to get into robotics and develop artificial intelligence, then you need to learn languages like Python, Lisp, Java, C++, R, and so on.
Want to hear another interesting name? “Hollywood”. We will leave you to google and know about it.
How to learn programming for beginners?
Okay. Now that you have an idea about the different programming languages and how to choose one, you are probably wondering how to actually get started with it? Just join an online course and be done with it? Nah. We will give you some step by step methods to follow.
Step 1: Decide on a language to learn
Yes. First, decide on a programming language to learn. This should be based on what you want to do after learning. This might be web development, app development, game development or any other field. You can go through the previous section again for clarification.
Step 2: Understand the basics
Programming or not, without understanding the basics it will become very difficult as you learn advanced concepts. While learning, don’t hurry and skim through the basics like variables, conditions, functions, loops, and other problem-solving techniques.
Also, understand the core concepts of programming like algorithm, pseudocode, data structures and other concepts that are common across all programming languages. This will not only help you to learn advanced concepts but easily learn other languages too.
Step 3: Read books and Join online courses
Of course, there are plenty of free youtube videos out there. But if you are serious about learning programming, you need to take to step-by-step learning of concepts. Start with a good book and join online courses. Before joining, don’t forget to check out the reviews to make sure the course is as good as it claims.
Here are some good websites to learn programming:
Step 4: Develop logic and reasoning
To be a good programmer, you should have logic and reasoning skills. You can develop these skills by solving logical puzzles – like the ones you find in the IQ tests.
While solving programming problems, first try to think of the solution logically – with algorithms and flowcharts. Try to visually represent the solution on paper and pen. Once you are clear with the solution and the steps to follow, start typing the program in the compiler. If you are not able to figure out the error messages, google it.
Step 5: Practice, Practice and practice
How to become good at programming? By practice. Solve as many as problems you can. You can search for programming puzzles and problems on Google. There are tons online. Or go the old fashioned way and refer to a book.
You might feel at first clueless when you read a problem. But as you solve more and more, you gradually develop intuition and become well-versed in various techniques.
Step 6: Start with a personal project
With programming exercises, you learn to solve small and specific problems and scenarios. But you won’t have enough knowledge and experience to solve real-world problems. So, start with a small project.
For example, if you are learning game development or app development, start building a small mobile app.
Step 7: Join Bootcamps and communities
Learning is more fun when you have friends or others who share the same enthusiasm as you. Join online communities when you start learning itself. You get a lot of help and you might find mentors too.
You can also join coding boot camps. These are intensive training programs that teach you to solve real-world problems rather than textbook problems. It is better to join after you have some basic knowledge about programming and not when you are a total beginner.
Prerequisites for programming
Many have the misconception that you need to be an expert at complex mathematics, be a nerd and a geek, wear glasses to learn programming. These are just the side effects of movies and their portrayal of stereotypes.
We will tell you about the things you should know and the things you don’t need to know before you start with programming.
Image source: Dev.to
Things you should know before you learn programming
These are some of the things that you should know before you start learning programming.
Yes. Basic mathematics is a must. Knowledge of high school mathematics like arithmetics, basic geometry, linear and quadratic equations are far sufficient. But that doesn’t mean you need to know things like calculus, differentiation and integration. Although, knowledge of these will help you a great deal if you are going in the field of machine learning or computer graphics.
Understanding of boolean algebra
One of the first things that you learn in any programming knowledge is the variables and constants. If you have zero idea about algebra, you might find it a little difficult to grasp these concepts and how they are used to solve problems.
Also, have some understanding of binary numbers and boolean algebra. This will help you to better understand the operators and how they are used with logical values.
Don’t worry. It’s not rocket science. You can learn them easily by watching some video tutorials.
Know how to operate computers
You don’t need to be an expert but must have the basic knowledge of operating computers, installing softwares, saving and retrieving files etc. is needed. And of course, how to google would help you a lot to search for answers when you are stuck.
You don’t need to be like Shashi Tharoor. Just the basic communication, reading and writing ability is enough. Because most programming languages use English words for the keywords (pre-defined words) and libraries. Also, most of the tutorials, books and other resources are in English.
Patience, goal and motivation
Although many courses supposedly teach you programming in 30 days, it’s not that simple. Maybe you can learn in a month – only the theory. To get better at programming, you need to actually write lines and lines of code. Just mere watching video tutorials or reading books is not enough.
What you need is patience. Because learning programming is not just completing a course. You need to get practical. And without proper goal and motivation, you might just lose interest and stop learning.
What you don’t need before you learn programming
Now, let’s talks about the things that you don’t need to be or have before learning programming.
As we already mentioned before, you don’t need to know advanced mathematics and English.
College degree in Computers
You don’t need a university degree in Computer Science or be an engineer. It is an added advantage though but not a necessity. And even if you are an engineer, you need not be from Computer Science or Information Science branch. You can even be a mechanical or civil engineer!
You don’t need to own an expensive computer. You need to have one though. An average computer with basic specifications is more than enough. Also, many online tutorials have online compilers so you don’t even need to install one in your system. But installing one on your device is recommended. Also, you don’t need to be rich.
Introvert, geek or gamer
Again, this idea comes from the typical stereotypes from the movies and series. You might be a great programmer and not love to play computer games. Also, programming is all about thinking logically. Introvert or extrovert – your personality plays no role in how you write your code.
Be young and a man
You don’t have to learn programming when you are a student or are in your 20s. It’s a skill and if you have the enthusiasm to learn, you can learn at any age.
Also, your gender plays no role in learning programming or being good at it. Even though the industry is male-dominated, there are many female programmers. In fact, the very first computer programmer was a woman – Ada Lovelace. There is even a programming language called ADA, named after her.
- What is the difference between programming and coding?
Programming involves analysing the problem, conceptualization, writing an algorithm, logic, coding, debugging, compiling, testing and implementation. But coding is the part where you write the set of instructions in the compiler. It is the actual translation of the high-level language to machine language (the language of 0s and 1s that the computer understands).
- What is an algorithm?
An algorithm is a set of rules and problem-solving techniques written in simple English that explains the basic logic of a program. It is language-independent and you can convert it into any programming language. It explains what to input, what the computer should do and what will be the output.
- What are some of the easy programming languages?
- Which programming languages are hard to learn?
Programming languages like C++, LISP, Assembly Language, Haskell, Prolog, Malbolge, Cow (Yup, there is one such language), Whitespace, Brainfuck (No, we are not kidding) are harder to learn.
- Is HTML a programming language?
This is a highly debatable question and many programmers don’t consider HTML a programming language. Because it is a markup language and doesn’t involve conditional and logical statements which are the very basic concepts in programming. However, it is still a major and basic language to know for web development and hence we have mentioned it in this article.
So, that was our humble attempt at explaining the basics of programming, different types, how to choose one to learn and how to get started as a beginner. We hope it covered all your doubts, questions and any confusion you had.
Programming is fun to learn. But it will take you some time to become an expert. All you need is patience, practice and dedication towards it and you will excel. And don’t stop at learning just one language. Once you have crossed the beginner level in any language, you can easily learn another one.
So, which one are you going to learn first?