How to Choose Your First Programming Language

Library Bookshelves

In my previous post I discussed how you can get started with programming with just four easy steps. The next big step for you is to think of how to choose your first programming language. But which is the best programming language to learn first? How do you decide?

There are so many options out there that choosing a language might seem a bit daunting at first. Different languages are simply used for accomplishing different things. Therefore, there are a few points you need to consider when it comes to which language is the best choice for you. In short, it all depends on your goals and aspirations. This post is here to help you when you are a beginner with coding and not quite sure which programming language to start learning first.

Would you like to create web applications? Or perhaps developed iPhone or Android apps? Maybe you are interested in game development? All these different fields come with specific languages that are the best choice for them.

This post will first discuss the importance of defining your goals and considering your options. After that, you need to choose your preference area in programming. Setting yourself some goals for your future and knowing why you want to learn coding will help you keep things more structured along the way. Without further ado, let’s get started!


1: Define clear goals for yourself

First off, you will have to ask yourself what it is you wish to achieve by learning how to program. What is it that you find interesting? What would you like to build or study? Nothing will motivate you better than seeing the progress you make towards a specific goal. Moreover, having some clearly defined targets will also keep you focused on what you really want to create.

And don’t be too modest with your ambitions! As you surely know already, pretty much anything is possible with programming. You will see this once you start writing your first programs and notice what a computer can do for you. If you plan on coding a new addition to the global social media, go for it!


2: Consider your options for picking your first programming language

There is a vast number of different directions where you can go with programming. Therefore, you should start by picking an area that you feel most interested in. Here are a few areas you could be aiming at with learning programming:

  • Making websites
  • Creating video games
  • Building mobile apps
  • Making OS X or Windows applications
  • Analysing and visualising data
  • Creating 3D graphics

All these different areas have their unique requirements and focus points. Thus, each of them uses a different set of programming languages. Therefore, it is a good idea to make sure you are choosing your first programming language according to what area you find the most interesting.

Considering your future, in which of these areas would you see yourself working in the future? If you wish to build a career in tech by learning programming, remember that all these areas have different opportunities and technical roles you can specialise in.

If the career talk feels too scary at first, just think about what you would like to present to the world in the future? What would you like to create that would make everyone’s lives easier or more fun?

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Still unsure about what you would like to create? No worries! Being unsure and somewhat indecisive at this stage is perfectly fine. I needed some time to find the right direction myself, too. As long as you’re curious about programming and hungry to learn more, the rest will sort itself out sooner or later.

All that matters in the end is that you just start!


Bookshelf

3: Narrow down your options for your first language to learn

Once you have defined yourself some targets it is time to choose an area you wish to specialise in with programming. You need to choose a programming language that lets your translate your individual goals into concrete projects and programs.

All different areas in the world of programming, such as the ones I mentioned before, have a stronger focus on either one of the following:

  1. Back-end development languages
  2. Front-end development languages

These two camps take care of very different aspects of the overall project of creating and maintaining a specific program or project. This broad division of programming languages into two groups can also simplify your decision making between your options. However, not all languages fall into only one of these categories, but that is something you don’t have to worry about just yet.

Let’s take a closer look at both of these groups.

Front-end development languages

Front-end developers are focused on the client (or end-user) side of programming. They use programming languages that let them take care of the design, look, and feel of a specific project or program.

Thus, front-end languages are responsible for what you see right now on this page: typography, layout, colors, menus, and images. Therefore, the main task of a front-end developer is to make sure the user gets to see a modern, user-friendly interface that is easy to use, beautifully designed, and optimised for its specific purpose.

The most common programming languages used for this are all my new best buddies: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

In order to make all this work properly, there has to be something to support the front-end. That’s where back-end development steps in.

Back-end development languages

Back-end developers work on the server-side of a project. They spend their time making sure that the program works the way it is supposed to, linking the front-end with the actual functionalities of a specific program. They monitor the performance and make adjustments and updates to improve the more technical properties of a specific project.

Back-end development languages focus on three different parts of a program:

  1. Application
  2. Server
  3. Database

The client could for example create a user profile in a web application using a web browser. The application on the browser would first send a request to the server. The server would then access the database, and the user’s information would then be saved in the database.

When it comes to programming languages used for back-end development, they include such treats as Python, PHP, Java, or Ruby, for example.

All in all, front-end is what you see; back-end is how it works. Just like in a restaurant: the dining room is the front-end, while the kitchen is the back-end.

Some of us find both areas so awesome that we want to do both. Combining both front-end and back-end development makes you a full stack developer. For a more thorough discussion on this topic, check out my post about back-end development vs front-end development.

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4: Choose your first programming language

Once you decide between front-end and back-end development, you are pretty much good to go! Choosing either one of them narrows down your options quite considerably, so the decision should be that much easier for you. You can go with the programming languages I already mentioned, or check out this post with 14 different programming languages and their uses explained for more details on each language.

As always, keep looking for more information, answers, and inspiration. Go and watch some tutorials online and start with a couple of online courses. Read blogs and discussion forums and see what other techies think of a programming language you would be interested in learning.

In case you are more interested in what new career opportunities coding could bring along, there are plenty of great resources online to help you out. For instance, check out this helpful post about what types of job roles and career prospects each language can bring with it.

Perhaps pay a visit to your local bookstore, too, like I did. It sometimes helps to get your hands on an actual book. That is actually how I got a kick-start into my learning process. I somehow found the entire idea of learning a programming language more tangible by having a book in my hands. Seeing the table of contents and feeling the weight of the book made me think that maybe it was not that difficult, after all. I would just have to read this one book and I would be familiar with the basics of one programming language already!


Why I chose Python as my first programming language

I had started by doing a bit of research online. What each language was good for, what people were saying about it being suitable for beginners etc. However, I knew that I could not simply learn programming solely by using online resources. And that is why I went to a bookstore and started looking for a book that was not only written for beginners, but also had some “proper” content like simple projects I could build just by reading the book.

First, I compared an entire pile of different books. What I found interesting was that the most inspirational and beginner-friendly ones with more than just basic blah-blah were all for Python. So I narrowed down the pile to just a few beautiful Python bibles I found. Finally Python Crash Course caught my eye with its strong focus on both learning the syntax and also practising with a few cool projects.

Sold!

So I chose Python as my first programming language and it proved to be a pretty great language to get started with. Initially I wanted to create web applications and focus on web development. At the same time I found data analytics and visualisation extremely interesting. Not to mention programming simple video games just for good fun.

Luckily, Python Crash Course includes three practical projects as coding challenges which cover all of these three different fields. So basically I just had to pick one area to start with and the rest would just have to wait.


Books in Piles

Afraid of picking the wrong first programming language?

Don’t worry, there’s no such thing as a wrong first programming language! Everything you learn will be of huge value to you in the future. Make sure you start at the very basics and understand everything before you move on.

Once you know what you will be focusing on, try to choose your first programming language rather quickly. Don’t ponder over two similar languages for too long or you will only get more confused. Two languages aimed at solving similar problems in similar projects often have the same logic. This makes learning the next language so much easier. Thus, should your first choice not be the best one, switching to another, similar language later on will be quite straightforward.

After Python I’ve become acquainted with several other languages. Each of them was easier to pick up than the previous one. Once you find one that is interesting, just start with it. The main thing is that you start, that’s it.

Thanks for reading! Let me know how you chose your first programming language in the comments below! Did it work out right away? Or are you perhaps still in the process of choosing one? Did the first programming language make it easier to learn the second one?

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  • Pingback: Learn Python Online: Best Resources for Beginners - Mikke Goes Coding()

  • Μαρία

    Hey Mikke! I have to say that your blog is so much fun to read to the point that it gets addictive. It’s so addictive that even the time to get out of one post and look for the next one feels like eternity.

    Hint: could you please add two buttons at the end of each post – one directing the reader to the next post and one to the previous?

    Other than that, I’ll keep on reading hungrily and hope to start my own rpogramming adventure soon! *Thank you*

    • Mikke Goes

      Hi Maria!
      Thanks so much for your message! Happy to hear you’re liking the posts, feel free to get addicted 😉
      I’ve added next/prev post links to the bottom of each post, thanks for pointing that out!
      Let me know when you get started with coding yourself and how it all goes 🙂
      Cheers, Mikke