How to Pick Your First Programming Language

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 9,600 job openings for computer programmers are projected each year over the next decade, and about 162,900 openings are projected for software developers, quality-assurance analysts, and software testers.  Programming is an extremely valuable skill, and these projected numbers show that it is very likely to stay in-demand for a long time.  If you’re interested in learning how to program a computer, your first step will often be to pick a programming language–but which one do you start with?  Does it matter?  Here’s how to pick your first programming language: 

What do you want to accomplish by learning to code? 

Do you want to develop phone apps, create websites, or work with large sets of data?  Different programming languages are best suited for different purposes.  For example, JavaScript has become the de facto language of the internet, but languages such as Kotlin or Swift are mostly used for creating Android and iOS applications. 

Do you want to get a job in programming? 

If your goal is to get a job in computer programming, you need to consider the job market.  Some languages are more in-demand than others.  Keep in mind that you will be a beginner when you first start out: that COBOL job making $250k a year may sound great, but learning COBOL as your first programming language so that you can bug-fix mainframes is probably not the best idea in 2023.  Look at job postings to help you figure out which languages are most in-demand in your area.

What kind of support is available? 

I often tell students that programming is a team sport, and recommend choosing a first programming language with a large, active user community (bonus points if there is an active user group local to you!).  Picking a language with an active user community can help you find a mentor and provide you with documentation, support, learning resources and even opportunities to collaborate with other developers as you learn.

How do you learn the best? 

Everyone has a different learning style–do you learn best by reading books or watching videos, following tutorials, or are you a “learn-by-doing” type who decides on a project first and learns how to do something as they go along? Are you going to self-teach, go to a bootcamp, or enroll in a degree program?  It’s important to pick a language that has a lot of resources for you to utilize as you learn.  Additionally, some programming languages are easier to learn for beginners than others, and my personal recommendation is to avoid using a lot of frameworks and libraries until you have a solid foundation of the basics. 

I usually recommend a handful of third-generation, object-oriented languages for beginners: C#, Java, Python, JavaScript, or Ruby.  All of these languages are very popular, have been around for a long time, and have a lot of learning resources that you can choose from.

Picking your first programming language can be a daunting task–but, if you consider your goals, the job market, community, and your learning style, I’m sure you’ll set yourself up for success.  Learning to code takes a lot of time and effort, but it is a valuable skill that can open up many opportunities for your future, even if you’re not a full-time programmer! 

Top 20 Programming Languages used by professional developers, according to the 2022 Stack Overflow Developer Survey: JavaScript, HTML/CSS, SQL, Python, TypeScript, Java, Bash, C#, C++, PHP, C, PowerShell, Go, Rust, Kotlin, Dart, Ruby, Assembly, Swift, and R
Top 20 Languages used by professional developers, according to the 2022 Stack Overflow Developer Survey

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