How to Choose Your First Programming Language
Janelle Tam | Nov. 20, 2021
You’re staring at your flickering laptop screen, fingers hovering over your keyboard, and your heart is pounding with a mixture of fear and apprehension: This is it. This is the moment.
What is a Programming Language, and Why Does it Matter?
Step One: Figure Out What You Actually Want to Do
There really isn’t a one-for-all language out there, and there likely never will be. Each language has been specifically designed for a task and has its own benefits and drawbacks.
If you’d like an analogy, imagine you’re trying to pick an outfit. Would you wear your casual slightly-stained sweats to your friend’s house? Perhaps… but what about your high-school graduation? Or your cousin’s wedding? Let’s hope not (though it’s a safe environment here, so no judgment on our part if you do). Each programming language, like each outfit, should be chosen purposefully, keeping the circumstances for which it’ll be used in mind.
Okay, so moving onto some tangible actions. The first step you have to take is to figure out what you’d like to create: Does mobile app development pique your interest? Do you want to host your own website? What about working with Arduinos to make those cool flashing-light things? Oh, but learning artificial intelligence would make you seem like a hacker…
Consider writing down all the topics and projects you’d be interested in pursuing and circling your favourite one. (Don’t worry, though, if you eventually change your mind and want to begin something new. As we’ll explain later, your first programming language is only a stepping stone.)
Step Two: Research the Popular Languages in Your Area of Interest
What….? More research? I thought this guide would be enough. Yup, we hate to tell you, but more research is needed.
We recommend going on forums such as Reddit or Stack Overflow to learn about the most popular programming languages for the particular area you’d like to specialize in.
But, as we know this is a daunting task, we’ll give you a tiny glimpse into what you might need if you’re interested in either mobile or web development (feel free to skip this part if you have another topic in mind).
→ Mobile development
If you’re an Android user and you’d like to create your app, we’d recommend starting with Java. Java, the core of most Android applications, will give you a solid foundation into the fundamental concepts of object-oriented programming (something you’re likely to encounter over and over again). And because of its widespread use, you’re guaranteed to find extensive support on community forums for issues you may encounter.
Kotlin is also rising in popularity for Android enthusiasts and is rumoured to be the future. Note, however, that since it’s a relatively new language and lacks some community resources, you might find it a bit difficult to master without prior programming knowledge (but this might change as more developers learn it!).
If you’re a hardcore IOS fanatic, consider learning Swift. It’s a beginner-friendly language and relatively concise, so it’s a viable option for budding programmers.
→ Web development
While not precisely programming languages, HTML and CSS are popular options if you’re interested in building web platforms. They act as the framework for and layout the basic content of a web page. Both are pretty easy to pick up, and we’d recommend going to www.w3schools.com if you’re interested in learning more.
→ General Purpose (Bonus)
Okay, this is a bit of a side note, but it would’ve been irresponsible for us to forgo mentioning one of the most popular programming languages in the world, so here we are. Python is one of the most widely-used languages in 2021 and, according to skillcrush.com, “emphasizes code readability.” It can be used for things ranging from machine learning to Discord bots. Indeed, it’s the go-to choice if you’re feeling overwhelmed and absolutely cannot decide on a language.
Step Three: Begin Learning!
Now that you know what you have to learn and you have a general idea of what you’d like to create, it’s time to work that brilliant mind of yours. We recommend using resources such as Treehouse, YouTube (Programming with Mosh and Academind are good channels) or going to your local library and checking out a guidebook to begin your programming journey.
Regardless of whichever language you’ve chosen to be your first, at the end of the day, you’ll still become an adept programmer. You’ll find, after a while, that programming languages share lots of the same concepts (variables, loops, functions, etc.), so picking up your second, third, or even fourth language will be a breeze. What’s most important is that you learn how to think like a programmer, which every language will teach you.
Christensen, Wade. “How to Choose a Programming Language.” Treehouse Blog, 1 July 2015, https://blog.teamtreehouse.com/choose-programming-language.
“Introduction of Programming Paradigms.” GeeksforGeeks, 12 Oct. 2018, https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/introduction-of-programming-paradigms/.
“Is Kotlin Good as My First ‘Real’ Language?” Kotlin Discussions, 7 Nov. 2018, https://discuss.kotlinlang.org/t/is-kotlin-good-as-my-first-real-language/10210/2.
Mitra, Mikhail. “10 Reasons to Learn Swift Programming Language.” Mantra Labs, 25 Feb. 2016, https://www.mantralabsglobal.com/blog/10-reasons-to-get-started-with-swift-programming-language/.
Paul, Javin. 10 Reasons to Learn Java Programming Language and Why Java Is Best. https://javarevisited.blogspot.com/2018/07/10-reasons-to-learn-java-programming.html. Accessed 5 June 2021.
Warchol, Kit. “What Is Python Used For? 5 Industries That Use It Daily.” Skillcrush, 8 Aug. 2019, https://skillcrush.com/blog/what-is-python-used-for/.
“What Is a Programming Language?” Codecademy, 22 July 2020, https://www.codecademy.com/resources/blog/programming-languages/.