Learning programming languages can open doors to new opportunities. But with so many languages out there, it’s imperative to pick the appropriate ones to best suit your career, personal goals and interests. Computer programming languages are essential to know if you have an interest in the various careers available in development, programming, ethical hacking, analysis, and engineering, among others like DevOps.
DevOps is a great role to move into as the demand is high and the talent pool is lacking the skills and experience needed for this specialized position. There are many skills that cross over from jobs like system admin and other positions. This sought-after job that can be made more tangible with learning programming languages and coding.
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In this guide, we explore the various facets that set programing languages apart, the reasons to learn each one, the languages best suited for different career paths and an exhaustive programming languages list. The comprehensive list of languages includes their origin, type, who uses them, what they’re best for, any special features and resources to help you learn them. Use the menu below to skip to your desired topic:
- Reasons to Learn Programming Languages
- How to Choose a Programming Language
- Guide to Popular Programming Languages
- Programming Language Resources
Why Learn Programming Languages?
Learning programming languages can help create career opportunities and give you the freedom to forge your own path. Many people learn to code as a hobby and thoroughly enjoy all of the challenges and rewards that come with it. Programming languages are not just interesting — learning them is also a great career move. If you have knowledge in a niche field or market, programming skills make you a huge asset for that particular vertical. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of software development is projected to grow 24% with 302,500 additional jobs opening up from 2016 to 2026. The more languages you learn, the easier it will be to pick up new ones. Becoming well-versed helps you build your knowledge base if you ever want to create your own language to solve a specific problem.
This knowledge base of different languages also helps you get better at the languages you already use and can help improve your job performance too. There are many fields and jobs that utilize programming languages to help with development and programming, computer engineering and to create better cybersecurity through pen testing as well. Some great positions that use programming languages include:
- Software application developer
- Computer systems engineer
- Computer systems analyst
- Business intelligence analyst
- Database administrator
- Cybersecurity positions
- Web developer
- DevOps engineer
Many system admins are looking to move to a similar but different position that gives them the chance to dive into the world of software development. If you’re looking to get into DevOps from a sysadmin or other position here are some of the most sought-after skills:
- Cloud computing
- Concepts in Continuous Integration and Deployment (CICD)
- OS Admin
- Infrastructure as Code (IAC)
Choosing Programming Languages to Learn
In order to select the best programming language for you, you need to have a goal in mind. As mentioned above, different languages serve different purposes and work more efficiently in solving various problems. Naturally, certain programming languages are more prevalent in a variety of job roles as well so it’s best to look into the languages that best fit your career path or desired job role.
In most people’s experiences, the first language they learn is the hardest, but once you have the fundamentals and mindset for it the learning process becomes quicker. It’s important to remember that the ease, difficulty, and usefulness of a language are pretty subjective, so you may find that your experiences don’t reflect the journey that someone else had learning a particular language. See some of the best programming languages to learn and more details about those languages in the exhaustive list below. These languages were deemed “popular” by their job demand and overall use, depending on your goals the best language for you could be something different.
Comprehensive Guide to Popular Programming Languages
The comprehensive programming languages list below covers each language’s origin, programming type, who uses it, what it’s best for and any special features. Find resources to help you learn the language under our resources section. Read on to find the language that best suits your needs.
Python is a high-level, object-oriented, interpreted scripting language created in 1991 by Guido van Rossum at CWI.
- Best For: Web development, Machine Learning, and statistical data analysis
- Careers: Programmers, software engineers, ethical hackers and back-end developers
- Fields: Information technology and engineering
- Used By: NASA, Google and Pinterest
- Advantage: Easy to learn
- Python for Beginners
- Python Tutorial
- Codecademy Python
- Treehouse Python
- Python by Programiz
Java is a web-developing powerhouse. It’s a high-level, object-oriented language created in 1995 by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems.
- Best For: Cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT), corporate applications, desktop GUIs
- Careers: Software engineers
- Fields: Finance, education, hospitality, communications, health, sciences and retail
- Used By: eBay, V2COM and Eurotech
- Advantage: Most in-demand language
Ruby + Ruby on Rails
Ruby is an object-oriented, general-purpose programming language created in 1993 by Yukihiro Matsumoto. Used primarily with the web development framework Ruby on Rails. Ruby on Rails was created by David Heineneier Hansson and was released in 2004. It’s now a mainstay and Ruby is rarely used without it.
- Best For: Web development, web applications, security, system administration, robotics, and networking.
- Careers: Software engineers, ethical hackers, data science engineers and developers
- Fields: Technology, engineering, design, sciences and information technology
- Used By: Amazon, Airbnb and NASA simulations
- Advantage: Easy to learn syntax
- Best For: Front-end website, video games, widget development and analytics
- Careers: Web developers, software engineers
- Fields: Information technology, finance, engineering, design, finance, marketing and advertising
- Used By: Nearly every website and organization
- Advantage: Flexible, ubiquitous and you can use the same language for both front-end and back-end applications
C is a general-purpose language that many other languages were inspired by. It was created in 1972 by Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs.
- Best For: Operating systems, hardware, artificial intelligence and software development
- Careers: Computer engineers, developers, ethical hackers, IT administrators and systems analysts
- Fields: Information technology, management, healthcare, engineering and commercial services
- Used By: Apple, Oracle and Microsoft
- Advantage: Transferable knowledge
An extension of C language, C++ is an object-oriented, middle-level language developed in 1983 by Bjarne Stroustrup at Bell Labs.
- Best For: Operating systems, search engines, video games, application and software development
- Careers: Programmer analysts, ethical hackers, software developers and engineers
- Fields: Information technology, design, management, engineering and commercial services
- Used By: Google, Adobe Software and Firefox
- Advantage: Supported by Apple, Windows, Android and Blackberry
C# is a versatile, multi-paradigm programming language that features imperative and declarative functions. It was released in 2000 by the Microsoft team.
- Best For: .Net web development, Windows applications, software applications and development
- Careers: Advanced web developers, software engineers
- Fields: Information technology, design, engineering and commercial services
- Used By: Microsoft, Axosoft, Unity
- Advantage: Best tooling for the development of Windows applications
- Microsoft C# Tutorials
- C# Station
- Comprehensive C# Guide
- C# Learn CS
- C# Channel 9 Videos
- Tutorialspoint C#
PHP is a popular web-scripting, server-side language created in 1994 by Rasmus Lerdorf.
- Best For: WordPress plugins, web and web application development
- Careers: Developers, ethical hackers and software engineers
- Fields: Information technology, design, healthcare, finance, management, engineering and commercial services
- Used By: Facebook, CyberCoders and WordPress
- Advantage: Can handle data-heavy sites
SQL is short for Structured Query Language used to manage database content, it was first produced in 1974 by the IBM Research Center. SQL has become the ubiquitous means by which data is queried, stored and reported on.
Most applications have a need to store at least some data and relational databases such as MySQL, Postgres and Microsoft SQL Server are the most common data stores. The other languages on this list all have their own mechanisms by which you would connect to a database to store and retrieve data via SQL commands.
- Best For: Data analysis, big data management and mining
- Careers: Database testers, database administrators, ethical hackers, software and server developers
- Fields: Information technology, design, finance, management, engineering and business
- Used By: Nearly all applications
- Advantage: Dominant means by which data is manipulated
- SQL Tutorials
- SoloLearn SQL
- SQL by Greenspun
- MySQL Documentation
- Oracle SQL Database
- SQL Syntax Docs
Objective-C language is object-oriented and was developed by Next in 1983 — it is mostly used to create apps in OS X and iOS. Consider learning Swift, Apple’s newest release, in conjunction with Objective-C.
- Best For: Software development, iOS and OS X applications
- Careers: iOS and OS X developers, software engineers, IT and web content administrators
- Fields: Information technology, design, management and engineering
- Used By: Apple
- Advantage: Apple’s primary language
- Apple Objective-C
- Objective-C References
- Tuts+ Objective-C
- Objective-C Resources
- Objective-C Atomic Object
- Objective-C Values
PowerShell and Bash are scripting languages, used on Windows and Linux based systems (respectfully) they allow sysadmins to automate tedious or error-prone tasks. Industry-wide, as the shift from on-premise hardware to cloud resources happens there is simultaneously an explosion in IT / Sysadmin complexity happening. To handle this, skill with scripting is a necessity.
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- Best For: System admins, IT professionals
- Careers: DevOps, Cloud Architect, Senior IT Roles
- Fields: Industry agnostic, but most applicable at larger organizations
- Used by: Everyone
- Advantage: Extremely relevant to sysadmin and IT work. Scripting is an excellent entry point into development as it’s immediately applicable to the day to day IT work.
- PowerShell and Active Directory Essentials
- Difference Between Bash and PowerShell
- Official PowerShell Docs
- Bash Reference Manual
- 7 Hidden Office 365 Settings You can Unlock with PowerShell
Click the button below for a shareable resource about the different programming languages explored above.
Programming Languages To Start With
If you’re just getting into programming, these languages are said to be the most beneficial. While Python is a popular first language choice, the language you pick should relate back to the goals you have.
Most In-Demand Programming Languages
These programming languages are great options to build up relevant and sought-after skills. Learning them can also help you increase your potential earnings due to their demand.
Advanced Programming Languages
The programming languages listed below are geared towards people with advanced skill sets and experience with programming languages.
Programming Languages by Career
Your desired career path or job should play a big role in which programming language you choose to learn — see some niche positions and their most used languages below.
Top Programming Languages for DevOps
If you’re ready for something more complex in your career and interested in DevOps, it’s worthwhile to look into these languages. DevOps aims to use these various languages to streamline the development process and create software more efficiently while integrating business operations as well.
- Go (Golang)
- Ruby + Ruby on Rails
Top Programming Languages for Ethical Hackers
Cybersecurity is an exciting and rewarding career path with a great deal of job growth. If you’re looking to get into pen testing and ethical hacking, make sure you understand HTML well and then give some of these languages a shot.
Resources and Additional Popular Programming Languages
If you’re interested in learning a programming language, see our list of additional programming languages below. They all have their own strengths and are worth checking out depending on what you’re looking for.
General Programming Language Resources:
- Coding for Kids
- Microsoft Learn
Additional Programming Languages and Resources:
There is no limit to what you can create if you make use of the right language. Whether you have an interest in ethical hacking, DevOps or application development, keeping your career goals and personal goals in mind is vital to selecting the right language for you. The more applicable languages you learn, the better your career opportunities may be and the more options you can create for yourself.
With a better understanding of different programming languages comes a better understanding of how to keep your assets safe from external threats and breaches — data and cybersecurity are moving to the forefront of every organization if they haven’t already. There are new viruses like Mimikatz and SAML being unleashed all the time and well thought out programming in conjunction with tight cybersecurity is the only way to stay ahead of the curve.
Additional Sources: Britannica | Business Insider | Bureau of Labor Statistics | Coding Dojo | ComputerScience.org | Geeks for Geeks | Loyola Marymount University | Medium | Python | Rasmussen College
What you should do now
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Rob Sobers is a software engineer specializing in web security and is the co-author of the book Learn Ruby the Hard Way.