Upon diving into the world of computer programming, one of the first of many challenges you will face will be deciding where to start.
With something like programming, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Firstly, what is a programming language? A (computer) programming language can simply be explained as a set of instructions that direct a computer to perform a task. Modern programming languages are either compiled or interpreted into a simple form called machine code that a computer can understand, and then executed. In other words, if a person (computer) only understands Swahili (machine code), then instructions in Italian (C++) must first be translated by an interpreter (compiler) before the person (computer) can understand and process them.
With so many programming languages to choose from, the choice comes down to more than what sounds or looks cool. Python, for example is touted as a great language for beginners and is very popular, and not just for its name.
The reality is that it depends on many factors such as your goals, the learning curve, and the community size and popularity of the language.
Your dream might be to become a rockstar game developer, a web development wizard, or an AI engineer capable of building a real-life terminator. Whatever your ambitions or time you have available there’ll be some programming languages better suited to your purpose than others.
Having said all that, let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used programming languages and briefly talk about what they are used for.
C++ is considered a superset of C, providing all of the features of C, plus more, hence its name. Most notably C++ provides object-oriented features, which allow the creation of more structured programs. Most applications or systems requiring high performance and optimisation of resources have an argument to be written in C++. Think operating systems, video game engines, 3D animations, image processing, database access and web browsers. C++ is a truly general-purpose programming language, although it has a steep learning curve compared to most other popular languages.
Other languages worth a mention include Java, most notably used for enterprise software and Android mobile development, Swift and Objective C for iOS development, and Rust and Go emerging as challengers to C++ for low-level system programming. The list goes on.
But it’s not only new programmers that struggle for choice, but organisations face the same headache when deciding which programming language and related technologies to use in building their product. For organisations, there's even more to consider, like budget, security, timescale and potentially upskilling their staff. Here at Upgrade Pack, we've built mobile and web applications backed by web services and cloud functions.
As you can see, developers are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting languages and other technologies to use for their next project. For some, it’s a headache, but it can also be a source of excitement if you enjoy learning, which you most likely do if you’re a keen developer; you have no choice.
Here are a few tips for budding learners that will save you a lot of time:
- Research your options and their ecosystem of libraries, frameworks and templates so you don’t feel overwhelmed
- Dive deep into code snippets as you’ll find yourself reading a lot of documentation and code examples, which make a lot more sense once you replicate them yourself
- Learn to read errors and debug – a large part of coding involves reading errors and solving problems and fixing existing code
- Before running your code, think about what you expect it to do, rather than just running it and hoping for the best
- Get involved in online communities like stack overflow. It’s likely that someone has already asked the same questions you have
- Build your own projects. Like the old saying goes, 'practice makes perfect.'