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Best Programming Languages for Newbies

Best Programming Languages for Newbies
Credit: Red Pixel PL/Shutterstock

Back in the day, before computers were in every business and household, learning to type was a basic skill that created job opportunities. I know I was one of those people. I didn't get terribly high-paying jobs by accurately typing 100 words per minute, but I made a living.

Today, preschoolers know how to use a keyboard. Programming is now the technical skill that creates careers, whether as a lifelong programmer or as a springboard to IT networking, systems analyst and digital forensics jobs. And programming salaries are worth the time and effort to learn a language or two. According to PayScale, the average annual salary of a programmer is about $61,000, which can climb to $100,000 or more with the right skills and experience.

Let's look at some of the best programming languages for beginners: Python, C/C++, Ruby, PHP, Go and JavaScript. Most of these languages are considered foundational in nearly every computer science program. Keep in mind that once you learn one language, even at a basic level, learning others seems much more straightforward.

MORE: 10 Best Resources for Learning to Code

Python is a general-purpose, object-oriented language that's in wide use today. Programmers use it to develop websites (the back end, not necessarily the actual pages visitors see) and web applications, as well as programs for artificial intelligence, data analysis and a lot more. Programmers like Python because it's easy to read and requires less code than other languages to complete tasks. Because it's open source, there's a slew of libraries you can pull code from to add to your own work. And it's very easy to learn.

As a side note, the name Python has a geeky origin. Its author, Guido van Rossum, was a fan of the BBC comedy "Monty Python's Flying Circus." He wanted a "short, unique and slightly mysterious" name for his new language, so he decided on Python.

The C language is a general-purpose language that's been around since the 1970s. Although it's no longer as popular as C++, learning C helps you understand the basics of programming, procedures and how things work (or don't work, as the case may be).

C++ combines the procedural-type programming found in C with object-oriented programming. It's considered a little more difficult for beginners to pick up than C, but the rewards can be great. C++ is used to create many desktop apps, and is the foundation of many games and the engines that run them.

Many programmers agree that Ruby is relatively easy to learn. Similar to Python, Ruby is object-oriented and used for many purposes, although you'll find Ruby code most often in web applications. Often described as elegant, clean and readable, Ruby is also flexible. There are usually many ways to solve the same problem in Ruby, unlike other languages.

Google developed Go in 2007 to help programmers be more productive (while working on Google code). Today it's available as open source for anyone to use with code that's highly readable. The word on the street is if you already know C, C++ or a similar language, you can learn Go in a day or two.

Considered a general-purpose scripting language, PHP is well suited for web development projects that require dynamic content. It's generally used to add functionality to websites by running scripts on a web server (called server-side scripting). For example, PHP can create simple images on the fly and graphics that change constantly, collect data from user web forms, and provide calculations for measurement conversions.

JavaScript is another object-oriented language that adds "programmatic control" to objects. For example, web developers use JavaScript to update content on pages automatically, animate graphics and let users interact with maps. Script languages are considered easier to code in than a compiled language like C++.

Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML. OK, it's not technically a programming language. It's a markup language used to create the structure of webpages across the internet. Once you know how to create simple webpages with HTML, you can pretty them up with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Then, to add interactivity to your webpages, you would use a full-fledged scripting language such as JavaScript or PHP.

Employers fill tens of thousands of software and web development positions every year, and knowing Python, C++, Ruby and so on will help you land one of those jobs. So, pick a language, set aside some time for learning, and get started.


Kim Lindros

Kim Lindros is a full-time content developer who writes about security, technology and business. She spent nearly 10 years in tech support and as a network administrator before transitioning to tech publishing. With a background in project management, she has run large multifunction teams to produce entire book series, online curricula and on-ground training classes. She has also contributed to several books on Windows technologies and applications, and IT certification.