Coding versus programming: what's the difference?

When the average person hears about coding and programming, they assume both terms are synonymous and 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 fulfill 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, just 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 essentially 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 $69,305.

  • 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?

Photo of a computer screen with lines of code 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.

As a programmer, what do you do? As the Southern New Hampshire University notes, computer programmers “design, develop and test software and ensure software adheres to best practices in performance, reliability and security. Computer programmers can work developing mobile applications, coding video games, programming websites and much more.”

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.

  • Difficulty: If you want to be a coder, you need to learn all about programming language. As a programmer, you’ll need to know this as well as how various algorithms work.

  • 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. As a programmer, you have more responsibility as you need to look at the bigger picture and ensure that the software runs smoothly on all fronts.

The information in this chart from provides a great summary of the key differences between coding and programming.

Key points Coding Programming
Skills 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
Scope 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
Tools 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.
Outcome A working piece of code The whole application, a software product or a website
Support 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 you like big picture thinking, programming could be your route. If you prefer learning different languages, coding could be for you. If you are wondering which is better, the answer is based on your personal preference and your skillset.

But, if you choose to go into programming, you should be prepared to learn coding, 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 programmer in Canada is $70,325 but experience factors into this, as well as province.

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

coding versus programming: what are the differences? 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 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 Flex 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. With Web Flex, we're expanding the ways we accommodate the unique shapes of your lives. Through an immersive remote learning format and a balance struck between lectures, projects, mentorship, and group work, Web Flex gives you another option for how you can learn. The same great bootcamp training in a way that works for you.

In this flex 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.

Web Development Bootcamp

The goal of our Web Development Bootcamp is to transform you into a professional web developer. You'll come to understand coding logic using popular languages and frameworks like JavaScript & Ruby on Rails, while learning how to think like a programmer by building software from the ground up. Our web development bootcamp will provide you with mentorship, industry-relevant curriculum, and a top notch learning environment that will launch you into your first Junior Web Developer role.

In this bootcamp, you’ll learn:

  • JavaScript & Node.js
  • Databases & Data Modeling
  • HTML, CSS, and More
  • Software Architecture
  • React JS
  • Ruby on Rails

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.

Submit your application today to kickstart your career transition.