The range of popular and common programming languages has increased exponentially in the last few decades. Today, a newbie programmer has a variety of options when thinking about what language they should begin to learn. This vast range might feel a bit overwhelming, especially for beginning programmers, who maybe aren’t familiar with what distinguishes different languages.
The good news is that all programming languages tend to have quite a bit in common with one another. Languages will often share very similar patterns and structures with each other — oftentimes, knowledge of one language translates well into another.
A good analogy is to think of the Romance languages that have descended from the Latin alphabet. There are real differences between Italian and French, or Spanish and Portuguese. But, with some effort these languages can become mutually intelligible to an extent. Because of these similarities, a person who learns French will be able to go on to learning Italian with relative ease.
It’s similar for programming languages. No matter what your first programming language is, you’ll be introduced to meaningful concepts and ways of thinking that will help you learn other languages. This is important to remember when considering which programming language to start learning as a newbie.
There isn’t really a wrong decision, because you’re not just learning a programming language. You’re learning how to learn a programming language.
Nonetheless, let’s walk through some of the most popular programming languages in terms of their accessibility, their versatility, and how they fit into certain career paths.
Key Differences Between Programming Languages
There are about 700 programming languages in existence. Many of these are obscure or esoteric languages that aren’t really relevant to beginning programmers. But even when assessing more popular languages, the variety can be overwhelming.
The multiplicity of programming languages serves a purpose. Different programming languages will differ in their applications, and in how they work. There are many ways they can differ from each other, from how simple the syntax is to how they’re debugged.
There are a few major ways that they differ from each other. Programming languages can be interpreted or compiled; they can be object-oriented or procedural; and they can be dynamically typed or statically typed. These categories aren’t extremely rigid, and some languages will have characteristics of both categories. Still, these categories are useful ways of analyzing and comparing programming languages.
Interpreted vs. Compiled
Interpreted programming languages use what’s called an interpreting function. This function runs through the program line by line to execute each command. The benefit of interpreted languages is that they don’t need to be manually compiled every time a change is made.
Compiled programming languages are manually compiled all at once, then converted directly into code that the processor executes. The benefit of these languages is that they tend to be faster and more efficient — though upgrades in interpreting functions means the gap there is shrinking.
Object-Oriented vs. Procedural
Object-oriented programming languages divide programs into small parts called objects. They can be said to follow bottom-up approaches. Their benefit is that it’s easier to add new data to programs.
Procedural programming languages divide programs into small parts called functions. Conversely, they can be said to follow top-down approaches. Their benefit is that they are a lot more simplistic to use, and don’t require as much computer memory.
Dynamically Typed vs. Statically Typed
Dynamically typed programming languages perform type checking at runtime. This means that types don’t need to be specified every time while typing out the program. Their benefit is that they are more flexible, and can save time and space.
Statically typed programming languages perform type checking at compile time. These languages won’t compile until all errors are fixed. Their benefit is that small errors can be caught immediately, making debugging a simpler process.
Introduction to Popular Programming Languages
Python is a programming language that’s interpreted, object-oriented, and dynamically typed. It’s a high-level programming language, with a huge community of programmers and a substantial ecosystem of different libraries and tools. It can work across different platforms and uses Rapid Application Development, meaning that software created with it can be quickly upgraded and is responsive to user feedback.
Java is a programming language that’s compiled, object-oriented, and statically typed. It’s one of the longest-running programming languages, developed back in 1995. Java is platform-independent, meaning that code compiled in Java can run on all platforms which support Java. One of the unique things about this language is that statements in it are executed consecutively rather than sequentially.
Ruby & Ruby on Rails
Ruby is a programming language that’s interpreted, object-oriented, and dynamically typed. Like many other languages, it originates from C, one of the earliest programming languages. Ruby is designed to be an easy to understand, fun, and productive language.
Ruby is frequently discussed alongside Rails, a web application development framework built using Ruby that exponentially enhances it.
What's the Most Useful Programming Language?
When learning your first programming language, you probably will want to learn one that is multi-purpose. It’s useful that your first language be versatile and flexible, so that you can use it in a range of different contexts, for a range of different purposes.
Let’s take a look at what these popular programming languages can be used for.
Python is a truly all-purpose language. It’s frequently used outside the world of software development, and is applicable to fields like automation and machine learning. One of the reasons for its widespread use is that it’s simplistic to write Python scripts that automate repetitive tasks. There’s a wide variety of different professionals that use Python, from network engineers and mathematicians to accountants and data analysts.
Java is typically used to run things like games, audio/visual applications, and social media applications. You can find Java being used in banking for transaction management, in the stock market to write investment algorithms, and within the scientific and research community.
Java is useful for building large applications, but may be less useful for performing small tasks. It takes a lot of time and resources to start writing a script in Java.
Ruby & Ruby on Rails
Ruby is another general-purpose programming language. It’s most used for building web applications, especially when used in combination with Ruby on Rails. However, it can also be used for wide-ranging things such as data analysis and prototyping. The integration of Rails adds a lot of functionality and versatility to Ruby.
Which Programming Language is Easiest to Learn?
When assessing the ease of learning a programming language, we want to look at things like clear syntax that isn’t bogged down by complex rules and nuances. We also want to look at smooth functions that don’t differ across different contexts. Within this framework, Python and Ruby are among the easiest to learn programming languages.
Python is known to be a beginner-friendly programming language. It is a consistent and simple language, with high readability. Its syntax is comparatively simple due to its short, clean language. Python is a language that many would describe as approachable and easy to use and understand.
Ruby & Ruby on Rails
When reading Ruby for the first time, beginners are often surprised at how easy the language is to understand. As a programming language, Ruby is as close to English as possible. The syntax is clear, non-complex, and very easy to read. Ruby learners often comment on how non-threatening Ruby is as a language, eliminating the steep learning curve that might come with some others.
Match Your Programming Language to Your Career Goals
Usefulness and accessibility are helpful criteria to use when assessing which programming language to learn. It also makes sense to consider programming languages in light of what goals you have for your career. Though most languages can be used for a wide range of activities, as we saw earlier, certain languages are better suited for certain tasks and job positions.
If you’re learning a programming language to do something more substantial than automate accounting tasks, chances are you’re interested in one of these career goals: front-end developer, back-end developer, data analyst, or data scientist.
Back-End Developer: Ruby
Back-end developers handle the server-side of different web applications and sites. Where front-end developers handle how things look, back-end developers can be said to handle how things work. They orient the logic and data of programs to set the structure of them.
For these positions, Ruby is frequently a great programming language to learn. It’s simplicity and ease of use can make a back-end developer's job a lot easier.
What About Full-Stack Developers?
For the high-aspiring programmers, a career as a full-stack developer may be considered. These positions combine front-end and back-end programming into one compiled role. These programmers will need to learn a variety of languages, all of which perform distinct tasks.
Data Analyst or Data Scientist: Python
Those pursuing a career in data science will typically aspire to become a data analyst or a data scientist. In these roles, you will perform tasks like evaluating data, building machine learning models, automation, and building data infrastructure.
There are many different applications of data processing and programming. For these roles, learning a programming language like Python is recommended. It’s widely used within data science and data analytics for its versatility, and for how simple it is to set up small programs.
What Programming Language Should I Learn?
If evaluating programming languages according to ease of learning and versatility, Python and Ruby are both great languages. Both are accessible, beautifully simplistic languages that even total newbies won’t feel intimidated by.
It’s important to match what language you learn to your career goals. If you’re interested in a career that leans towards the data science realm of things, Python might be more relevant. If you want to break into web development, it will be helpful to learn Ruby.
But no matter what programming language you learn, it’ll kick-start your programmer journey and get you used to that way of thinking and designing.
Learn in a Programming Bootcamp or Part-Time Course
Learning a new programming language can take a lot of work. Lighthouse’s bootcamps are specifically designed for accelerated and personalized learning, so that you can jump-start your programming journey in a short amount of time.
Whether you’re interested in learning front-end, full-stack, or data science programming, mentors are present to guide you every step of the way. Plus, our career services team can help you find a fulfilling job right after graduation. 95% of bootcamp graduates find a job within 180 days of graduation, and 94% of those jobs are as developers.
Want to kick-start your programming journey with bootcamp or part-time courses?