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ICT/Computer Science LibGuide (6th Form): Programming Languages

Programming Languages

Having made the decision to learn how to code, one of the biggest steps to take next is deciding which language to study coding in. The number of programming languages available is vast, each with their own pros and cons. They range from visual programming languages like Scratch and ToonTalk which help younger learners grasp concepts more easily, to hardware description languages like ABEL which are used to program the structure and operation of circuits, or even assembly language, which is specific to the particular computer architecture it is being used to instruct.

Even the more familiar high level programming languages that we come across on a more regular basis such as Java, C++, Python and Ruby fall into different categories. They can be object oriented, or procedural, or embeddable, or may be a combination of various programming paradigms.

There is no one best programming language. Choosing the right one for you depends a lot on your personal preferences, as well as what you intend to achieve with your coding skills once you have learned them. Reassuringly, no matter what language you choose to start with, the fundamentals of programming will allow you to quickly and easily pick up other languages in the future.

Java

Oracle's Java programming language is a class-based, object-oriented programming language that is designed to be portable and work on as many platforms as possible. Due to this designed flexibility, Java has enjoyed a sustained popularity and is used in a vast variety of applications,be it on the web, in operating systems, and across various devices. This makes it an excellent choice when deciding what language to pick up coding in. Its structure forces you to learn how to think like a programmer, in the sense that you need to figure out how to best frame your ideas so that the computer can recognize your commands and translate and carry them out accordingly.

These same features do however make it a bit more of a complex language than say, Python, which has more abstraction. Coding efficiently in Java is not easy, but it does force you to learn the fundamentals which will be a huge help when you move on to other programming languages, even if they subscribe to different programming paradigms.

Javascript

Despite its name, do not confuse JavaScript with Java, the two are completely separate. JavaScript is a scripting language and while a majority of its functions are on websites, plenty of use can be found for the language offline as well. The dynamic nature of the language means you can use it in the manner which best suits you, be it in an object-oriented style or functional, or imperative. 

If you're learning coding with the goal of coding for web in mind, JavaScript should definitely be on your radar. It is based on the same fundamentals as languages such as C++ and Java, and proficiency in this scripting language is in high demand in the industry.

Ruby

Ruby is an open source object-oriented programming language that was developed in the 90s, making it one of the youngest languages that is widely used in the industry. It was specifically designed to have a 'friendlier' syntax that is easier for people to read and write, being closer to natural language than most programming languages. 

Apart from being able to more easily understand existing source code (knowing how existing programs work can be a huge help when learning how to code) lots of effort has been put into ensuring that documentation is thorough and effective. There is also a very active community of Ruby developers, both online and offline, which means finding help is relatively easy, be it via online documentation, tutorials or forums, or from meet-ups and groups near you.

Python

Python is an open source scripting language that supports multiple programming styles including object-oriented, procedural, and functional. Developed in the 1980s, its flexibility has led to it being one of the most widely used high-level programming languages today.

Like Ruby, Python code is easily readable, however the same level of abstraction which makes it easy to use also means it doesn't necessarily equip you with the programming basics a first time coder might be looking for. While you can pick up things like naming conventions and modularity from a plethora of online resources, if you really want to know the technical basics, this may not be the right choice for you. On the other hand, if you've already got a bit of background in coding, prepare to be pleasantly surprised by how clean and flexible Python is, and how easy it is to pick up.

C/C++

C and C++ are two of the most foundational programming languages, off of which many of the other high level languages which are commonly in use today are based. Learning C/C++ to learn programming has often been compared to learning how to assemble a car in order to drive - while it can be quite intimidating at first, there's no better way to get a strong, thorough grounding in programming foundations. 

Once you've learned either of these languages, picking up others is going to be a breeze. The structured programming form of C gives you a great stepping stone for moving forward in the world of coding, whether you choose to do low-level languages to program microcontrollers or move on high level languages like Java or Python. Even scripting, HTML, CSS, or Javascript will be easier to pick up if you already have an understanding of C/C++.