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Top 10 Programming Languages to Learn



One of the first questions people have to answer when breaking into the tech industry is, “What programming language should I learn?”

As technology has become more complicated and an increasingly crucial part of our lives, a wide range of programming languages have emerged, which allow us to give instructions which a computer should carry out.

Python, Ruby, JavaScript, C++, are all examples of programming languages you may have heard of, and that list only scratches the surface. Today, there are hundreds of programming languages out there.

The reason that so many exist is that each language was designed with its own principles and use cases in mind, and it just so happens that computers are capable of doing so much that we have needed more languages to harness their potential.

If you’re a beginner to the tech industry, you may be unfamiliar with the concept of a “programming language.” In this article, we’re going to break down the basics of programming languages, what they are used for, and then explore the top 10 languages that may be worth researching if you’re interested in learning how to code.

What Is a Programming Language?

To communicate with other people, we use a language—whether it is English, Spanish, Chinese, or another language entirely.

Languages allow us to share information and work together because they are all based on the same set of rules and principles. Everyone who knows how to talk in English, for example, should be able to understand most other English speakers, because all English, at its core, is based on the same set of rules. The same applies to any other language.

But computers are not capable of understanding traditional languages, which presents us with a problem, “How do we tell a computer what to do if we cannot use the languages that humans use to communicate?”

That’s where programming languages come in. Programming languages are sets of rules that allow you to instruct a computer to perform a specific set of tasks. Instead of telling a computer to “turn on”, for example, we use programming languages to tell the computer exactly what it needs to do to turn on.

Every programming language has its own set of use cases. Some, like HTML and Ruby, are used for web development while others, like Java and C++, are used for game development and building software. Each language has its own rules—like how French and Spanish have different rules—which is referred to as a “syntax.”

There are two main types of programming languages out there. The first is a high-level language, which abstracts away many of the complexities of working with a computer. These languages include Python and Java, which are great for beginners. The second type of language is a low-level language, which is used to get into the nitty-gritty and provide more specific instructions to a computer on how it should work.

Top 10 Programming Languages to Learn

There are literally hundreds of languages out there today, but there are a few that are used significantly more than others. Below, we outline the backgrounds of the top 10 most important and in-demand programming languages used in the technology industry today.

Python

Python is an object-oriented, general-purpose programming language built with simplicity and readability in mind.

The Python language was created by Guido van Russo in 1991, and was designed to be easy for beginners, but powerful enough to be used by experts.

Who Uses Python?

The Python language is used for a wide variety of purposes, on account of being a general-purpose programming language. For instance, Python has a reputation for being used in data science, machine learning, gaming, web development, and scientific computing.

Python is used by companies all around the world, from Instagram to Google, and from Spotify to Pinterest.

According to the TIOBE Index, which tracks the popularity of various programming languages by their search engine traffic, Python is the third most popular programming language in the world (as of April 27, 2020).

Ruby

Ruby is a dynamic, open-source programming language designed to be simple and easy to use.

The Ruby language was developed by the Japanese computer scientist Yukihiro “Matz” Matsumoto which combined the principles from various different languages to create a new one that included both functional and imperative programming ideals.

The founder describes the Ruby language as “simple in appearance, but is very complex inside, just like our human body.”

Who Uses Ruby?

The Ruby language is commonly used in combination with the Ruby on Rails framework, which allows you to create websites using Ruby. As a result, Ruby has found a strong following among web developers. With that said, Ruby is still used for other purposes, such as web scraping, data analysis, robotics, and software engineering.

Today, organizations such as Motorola, Google, GitHub, Kickstarter, and Hulu all use Ruby within their companies in some capacity.

Java

Java is a general-purpose, high-level, object-oriented programming language. 

Java, which was initially released by Sun Microsystems in 1995, was designed to be simple and portable. The language does not depend on any particular platform, so an application written in Java for one device can be easily ported over to another device.

The Java language was developed based on the now-ubiquitous principle “write once, run anywhere”, which refers to the flexibility offered by the language. Today, the language is owned and maintained by Oracle.

Who Uses Java?

Java is a widely-used programming language, most often used in web development and software engineering. Developers across sectors, ranging from finance to healthcare to retail have found use cases in Java.

For instance, eBay, Square, Spotify, and Google all report using Java. In fact, the Java programming language is the language upon which Android was built, and so all Android applications that you use will have some component of Java in their codebases.

JavaScript

JavaScript, also abbreviated to JS, is a scripting language that allows you to create dynamic content for a website.

While HTML and CSS are used to create the structure and style for a website, JavaScript allows you to add features such as interactive components, animated images, and automatic content updating onto a website.

The JavaScript language, which is not related to Java, can be used for both client-side and server-side web development. The language was initially designed by Netscape, the famous web browser company.

Who Uses JavaScript?

JavaScript, which is a lightweight programming language, is essential in many modern web development use cases. The technology is most commonly used by front end web developers, but it can also be used throughout the rest of the web development stack—on the middle end and back end.

JavaScript is used on most of the modern websites that you’ll encounter. A few sites which use JavaScript include Yahoo, Google, WordPress, PayPal, and Uber.

HTML

HyperText Markup Language, or HTML, is a markup language that allows you to define the structure of a webpage.

The HTML language is the building block of web pages and uses a tag-based structure to instruct browsers on where elements should appear on a web page. HTML was created by Tim Berners-Lee, known for being an inventor of the World Wide Web, for the purpose of sharing documents between scientists.

HTML is free, easy to use, and uses a structure that has a good learning curve.

Who Uses HTML?

Because HTML is a web development technology, the primary user of the language is web developers. With that said, HTML is commonly used by email designers, WordPress experts, and other people who work with websites indirectly.

Every website on the internet uses HTML to some degree, and so there is no need to name a few examples—just think of a website, and you’ll know it uses HTML.

C++

C++ is an object-oriented, general-purpose programming language, which extends the C programming language.

C++ allows you to create high-performance applications and gives programmers a high degree of control over the memory used by a system. The language, developed by Bjarne Stroustrup, was written to be both simpler and more efficient than C.

The C++ language was released in 1983 and abstracts away many of the complexities present in the C language. As a result, it is often described as a “middle-level” coding language.

Who Uses C++?

C++ is used across a wide range of professions. Most commonly, C++ developers, embedded systems engineers, and software engineers use the C++ language. In addition, the language is used across a wide range of fields, from retail to gaming.

As for companies that use C++, there is no shortage to choose from—Google, Amazon, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, and Blackberry are all examples of companies that use the C++ language in some capacity.

Swift

Swift is an open-source programming language designed to allow developers to create applications for Apple devices.

Before Swift was launched in 2015, apps for Apple devices such as the iPhone and Mac were written in Objective-C. Then, Apple launched Swift, which is based on the Objective-C language but includes many performance enhancements.

Swift was written to be so easy to use that it could be the first programming language you master, according to Apple.

Who Uses Swift?

Swift is used for programming applications on Apple devices. So, Swift is commonly used by iOS developers, Mac application developers, data scientists, software developers, and anyone else developing an application for an Apple device.

Of course, Apple uses Swift, but since its launch, it has been adopted by a wide range of companies. N26, Asana, Robinhood, and Uber are a few examples of companies that use Swift in their organizations.

SQL

Structured Query Language, or SQL, is a database query language that allows you to store data in and retrieve data from a database.

While SQL is not technically a programming language—it is a query language—the technology is a crucial part of many different applications. SQL provides a set of standards that allow you to perform create, read, update, and delete (CRUD) functions in a database, which can be used across different database platforms.

SQL was developed in 1974 at the IBM Research Center and has since become a standard language used to interact with databases. The language features a simple syntax and a good learning curve.

Who Uses SQL?

The SQL language is ubiquitous in any technical environment with a need to work with data.

Data scientists, for example, use SQL to store and analyze data; web developers use SQL for the same purpose; so do salespeople, marketers, financiers, and more.

In the tech industry, the titles most commonly associated with SQL are software developers, database administrators, data scientists, data engineers, and data analysts.

PHP

PHP, which is short for Hypertext Preprocessor, is an open-source programming language used to create dynamic web applications.

PHP is a scripting language that is often used in conjunction with HTML to generate page content that can be updated. PHP can work with files on a server, collect form data, store cookies, monitor user access, and can also be integrated with a database.

PHP, released in 1995, is a server-side language, which means that code written in PHP is executed on the server, not the client.

Who Uses PHP?

PHP is frequently used by web developers and PHP developers to create dynamic websites, and there is no shortage of companies that use the technology.

WordPress, which powers a large percentage of websites on the internet, is built primarily on PHP. In addition, sites like Facebook, Yahoo, and Wikipedia all use PHP.

The PHP language is part of the LAMP stack, which is one of the most popular sets of tools used to develop applications on the internet due to its flexibility.

Objective-C

Objective-C is a general-purpose, object-oriented programming language that combines the Smalltalk messaging feature with the C programming language.

The Objective-C language was developed at Apple in 1983 as a more modern iteration of C, which did not include all the features needed by Apple.

Who Uses Objective-C?

Until Swift came along, Objective-C was the primary programming language used to develop software for Mac, iOS, and other Apple technologies. This meant that the APIs for these systems, and technologies like Cocoa and Cocoa Touch—both used in iOS and OS X development—were heavily based on these languages.

While Swift is now the de-facto preferred language for application development on iOS devices, many older codebases make use of Objective-C. In fact, apps such as Twitter, Slack, Snapchat, and Uber all use Objective-C within their technologies.

The Bottom Line

Given how important technology is to our day-to-day lives, it is no surprise that there are so many programming languages out there, each with their own principles and use cases.

If you’re looking to learn how to code, you should know that there is no “right” language for you to learn—it should be based on your unique goals and career ambitions.

Do you want to build websites? In that case, learning JavaScript, Ruby, or PHP may be a good use of your time. Or do you envision yourself as a software developer? If so, maybe you want to pivot your attention toward a language like C++, Java, or Python.

In this article, we may have only scratched the surface of the programming languages that are out there—all in all, there are too many to cover in one article—but we have discussed the main languages used today.

Now you’re ready to take your research into the tech industry to the next step, and you can start to delve into these languages in more depth.

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