Coding versus programming: what's the difference?

When the average person hears about coding and programming, they assume both terms are interchangeable. Although they do overlap, coding and programming are not the same thing. If you are trying to determine the difference between the two, a great analogy to use is that of a book. If you are a coder, for example, you would be responsible for a specific chapter of a book—making sure it reads well, without error. If you are a programmer, you are responsible for the book as a whole—making sure that it flows well from beginning to end. In this post, we’ll discuss the difference between the two and the sets of skills you need to be able to fulfil the role of either a coder or a programmer.

What is coding?

Code is the language used by computers to understand and process our requests. Coding is vital to the way our modern world operates, yet many people don’t realize it. If you’re on any webpage, right click your mouse pad and click on ‘View Page Source,’ scroll through, and see if you can understand anything. There’s a lot of information about the webpage there, which you probably don’t know, but this is your first experience with coding basics (HTML, CSS, etc.).

Let’s take it back a notch and define what coding is. Techopedia defines coding as “assigning a code or classification to something.” This is the way that humans communicate with machines. And, it all started in the 1950s, when the invention and development of coding languages was in full swing. Many of the coding languages created then are still used today, like FORTRAN, LISP, and COBOL. Fast forward to the 1980s, and you now have the C++ language, which is used in today’s programs like Adobe, Google Chrome, Microsoft, and more. Then, in 1989, we hit the invention of the Internet, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee, which forever changed our lives. Berners-Lee was responsible for HTML, URL and HTTP—don’t those ring a bell? We then hit the 1990s, which saw Python, Java, JavaScript and more hit the scene. These are all used for many of the web-based applications we have today, like social media and streaming services.

Coding is a paramount skill for the future

With our world becoming more dependant on technological advancements, coding has become an important skill to learn for many reasons:

  • Coding-related jobs are in high demand: software/web developers and IT project managers are at the top of the list in Canada. The average salary for a web developer is $75,496 according to Indeed.
  • The need for cyber security is increasing: according to Cyber Security Guide, “computer programming is an elementary building block of computer science. Computer science is the foundation of computer security”.
  • Automation is embedding itself into our everyday lives: Java is one of the most common programming languages used in automation along with Selenium.

What is programming?

What is programming?

On the flip side of coding, we have programming, which is defined as a way to “instruct the computer to perform various tasks,” but in a language that the computer can understand. Ada Lovelace is attributed to inventing programming back in the 1800’s for Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine—”a machine that would perform simple calculations.” Now, there are over 500 programming languages, each with their own specific attributes.

What do programmers do?

As Dominic Tremblay, Instructor Manager at Lighthouse Labs put it, most people who acquire programming skills don’t actually refer to themselves as programmers. Many become software engineers, web developers, or software developers. As a programmer, what do you do? Those who study web development, computer science, or a related area design, develop, and test software for the front and back ends of websites and apps. They can also go in to UX/UI design, video game development, or project management.

Key differences between coding and programming

How do coding and programming fit into the software development industries? There are a few key differences to know between the two:

Skills needed

Coders don’t necessarily have to be skilled in programming, but programmers should be knowledgeable with the bigger picture and should understand coding. Programmers not only have to write code, they also have to understand algorithms to ensure that the code they write is optimized in the best possible way. Dominic Tremblay, our Instructor Manager pointed out that coding skills are needed in various domains such as data science, data analytics, and cyber security. However, programming capabilities fall under the job description of those who work in web development or software engineering.


Difficulty is a relative term. Learning a coding or programming skill comes down to accessibility. Some coding languages, like Python, are extremely common, making it easier to find learning resources. Many programming languages like Java and JavaScript and HTML & CSS are also widely available including via free introductory courses from Lighthouse Labs. Each coding and programming language has levels. You’ll need to learn the basics before diving into more complex concepts.

Work scope

When putting together software, as a coder, you’re responsible for putting together a specific piece of code for part of the program. This could be a data analyst using Python in Jupyter Notebooks for data analysis, or a cyber security analyst using SQL to understand and prevent database-related security issues. As a programmer (developer), you look at the bigger picture and ensure that the software runs smoothly on all fronts. Take for example a full stack developer who uses CSS to style the layout of a webpage who needs to make sure the page functions as it should and keeps tabs on the backend of the site with Ruby. The information in this chart from provides a great summary of the key differences between coding and programming.

Key points




It is a process to convert a set of instructions into a language that the computer can understand

Has a wider scope so apart from coding it also involves defining requirements, writing pseudo code, testing and building executables


As a coder, you need to know the syntax of the programming language

As a programmer, you need high-level thinking and analytical skills apart from coding skills


Eclipse, Bootstrap, Delphi, ATOM and many more

To add on to the coding tools other tools such as Git and Github, Database Tools, Analytical tools such as Apache Spark, Presentation tools, Cloud tools are also essential.


A working piece of code

The whole application, a software product or a website


Extensive developer community support is available

Extensive community support is available

Which is better: coding or programming?

Programming and coding are both important to software developers in different ways—they complement one another. Computer science is a vast field, afterall, and there are many aspects that students can learn. If creating beautiful and functional websites and apps or designing video games floats your boat, you’d want to start learning more programming languages. If you want to focus more on learning data or cyber security, you’ll want to pick up some coding skills. But, if you choose to go into programming, you should be prepared to learn relevant coding languages, as that will help you succeed in putting together software and troubleshooting any IT-related problems.

Should I go into coding?

If you love solving problems, and have creative thinking skills, you should get into coding and/or programming. Coders and programmers are in demand in Canada—in fact, there is a labour shortage. With more technological changes—artificial intelligence, Blockchain, and augmented reality, for example—demand for these workers will only increase. TechRepublic notes that “JavaScript, Java and Python are among the most sought-after programming languages from hiring managers when recruiting new developers.” Additionally, the average base salary for a software engineer in Canada is between $79K - $119K but experience factors into this, as well as location and the company you work for.

Do I need to learn coding before programming?

Regardless of the programming language you learn, it’s helpful to be able to grasp basic coding concepts first. Remember, coders don’t necessarily have to be skilled in programming, but programmers should be knowledgeable with the bigger picture and should understand coding. As coding is the initial step in building software, it’s beneficial to learn it before moving on to programming. As programming is increasingly complex in comparison, it’s always good to start with the groundwork to be able to scale your knowledge to different languages and tech stacks. Terms like variables, control structures, data structures, syntax, and tools all provide you the foundation to build upon. When it comes to what programming language to learn, that’s entirely up to you. You can choose a popular language like JavaScript or Python, two of the web’s most used technologies according to Stack Overflow. Or, you can learn a language like Ruby for its clean, elegant, and aesthetically uncluttered code characteristics.

Where to learn more

Where to learn more

Learning to code is one thing. Becoming a developer is a whole other ball-game. Lighthouse Labs makes it easy for you to kickstart your career in coding or programming (or both!). You’ll go from being a hobbyist to a professional developer and be the launchpad for your career. Through various bootcamps—full time or part time— Lighthouse Labs offers different courses built to suit your needs. A few of these courses include:

Intro to Web Development

This course is focused entirely on equipping you with tools that apply directly to professional web development. By the end of 6 weeks, you'll be creating beautiful apps and understanding web development fundamentals for both front and back end. If you're interested in eventually becoming a web developer, communicating with your dev team, understanding how to create an MVP or gaining valuable career skills, this web development course is for you. In this introductory course, you’ll learn:

  • Web development 101
  • Ruby
  • HTTP
  • HTML & CSS
  • GitHub
  • Sinatra Web Framework

Learn more here.

Web Development Program

With this course, our priority is getting you trained in the digital skills you need to succeed professionally in the most efficient and effective way possible. You have the choice between a 12-week immersive bootcamp or a flexible 30-week option. Both delivery formats follow the same industry-informed curriculum and have the same great instructors, helpful mentors, and access to lifelong Career Services.

In this program, you’ll learn:

  • Javascript & Node.js
  • Node.js & React JS
  • Ruby on Rails
  • HTML, CSS, & More
  • Networking & HTTP
  • SQL & Relational Databases

Learn more here.

Now that you know the difference between coding and programming, want to learn more about how you can pursue one of these skills (or both)? Lighthouse Labs is here to help you gain the skills you need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.