Which programming language should I learn first?
Photo Credit: AfroTech

Which programming language should I learn first?

This article was originally published on 07/15/2019

There are tons of programming languages out there. But how do you know where to start? Which ones should you learn first and prioritize? The experts at Codenewbies walk the Afrotech audience through how to structure their coding journey. 

If you’ve decided to learn to code, then the next step is figuring out what language to learn. There are hundreds of languages you could learn, and if you end up coding professionally, you’ll most likely learn more than one. But how do you pick the first one to focus on?

There are a few things to keep in mind. The first is how easy the language is to learn. Learning anything for the first time can be challenging, and it helps if we can connect the new thing we’re learning to something already familiar to us. For programming languages, one way to implement that strategy is to find a language that feels like English. If you saw or ran the following code, what do you think it would do?

print “hello”

Without ever seeing a single line of code, you can probably guess that this code prints the word “hello”. Let’s do a more complex example

If x>y

print “X is bigger”

else

print “Y is bigger”

end 

Again, without knowing any code, you can probably guess what will happen is x = 1 and y = 5. That’s because it reads like English. The closer a programming language is to a language you already speak, the easier it is to learn. You won’t have to fight the syntax and the grammer as much, and can pick it up quicker. A great language for this is ruby.

But more important than the familiarity of the code is the community around it. Even if you plan on learning on your own without a degree or official course, you’re never truly on your own. There are always people online who are learning just like you, with the same questions and pain points. They are active, tweeting, posting, sharing solutions and helping each other learn. The more people there are learning a particular language, the easier it will be for you to find answers to your questions and get unstuck. This also means there are more resources to learn from. The languages with bigger communities also have more content to learn from. The two go hand in hand.

You can get a feel for the size and support of a community by looking at Stack Overflow to see how popular different languages are, or by going on the language subreddits and seeing how frequently people post (and what they post), as well as looking at industry conferences for the language and seeing what kind of speakers and topics they present. Try and get a sense of the kind of people you might bump into on your coding journey and how much support you think you’ll get.

The last thing you want to consider is what you’re learning to code for. If you’re doing it to get a job and switch careers, it’s important to research the employability of your chosen language. Stack Overflow recently published their annual developer survey, where they list the most popular languages, the most loved languages, the most wanted languages and the top paying technologies. Together, these data points give you a good idea of what skills are most valued and might be worth pursuing.

But the truth is, picking your first language isn’t nearly as important as simply starting. So if you’re really, truly stuck and can’t decide, just start with JavaScript and call it a day. Chances are, you’ll be learning your second language sooner than you think.