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What programming language should you learn for your career path?

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At a glance

  • Which programming language to learn depends on the career you’re most interested in pursuing.
  • Programming languages are typically classified as front end or back end.
  • Popular programming languages include JavaScript, HTML/CSS, Java, Python and SQL.
  • If you’re eager to gain a foundation in data science, check out University of Phoenix’s online bachelor’s degree!

Computer programming relies on different programming languages. There are dozens of coding systems, but all have the same goal: to provide a framework in which a program can operate.

Programming languages serve different purposes. Some are better for organizing and visualizing data, while others are preferable for creating user interfaces. Although some coding systems are easier to learn than others, none are inherently better or worse.

Most professional programmers, software developers and other IT pros learn multiple programming languages, though their level of expertise may vary depending on which they use to accomplish their daily duties. If you plan on a career in a computer or IT-related field, it is essential to understand the different languages, their nuances and the purposes they serve. You will want to learn the ones that are most useful for the specialization you plan to pursue.

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Here’s a closer look at the types of programming languages out there and which ones may best fit your career plans.

Types of programming languages

There are different ways to classify programming languages, and many coding systems will fit into more than one category. The distinctions are important for anyone studying in a computer science degree program because the programming languages you focus on need to match your career plans.

Many programming languages are meant for specialized applications, so the choice may be obvious. However, the distinction between front-end and back-end languages is the most useful for computer science students.

  • Front-end languages focus on interactivity and user experience. Developers use these programming languages, such as JavaScript and HTML, to create interfaces that users rely on to navigate software, applications or websites. Front-end coding deals with the design, appearance, user controls and related features.
  • Back-end coding systems are client-facing and deal with data, servers, algorithms and overall functionality. C++, Java and Python are popular back-end coding systems. Back-end languages can impact software or site functionality but don’t directly involve the user interface. 

Some professionals choose to learn both front-end and back-end programming languages. These multidiscipline specialists are known as full-stack developers. They can handle both user and client-facing programming tasks and could potentially have more choices regarding employment.

Most popular programming languages to learn

Even though there are dozens of front-end and back-end languages, most computer science and IT students start with one of the more common coding systems. These languages have multiple uses and a large selection of frameworks and code libraries to streamline programming. They serve as a basis for more complex systems.

Here are eight popular programming languages to start your career.

1. JavaScript

JavaScript is a front-end programming language. It’s a popular general-purpose coding system. A survey by Stack Overflow found that 65% of respondents and 67% of professional developers know and use JavaScript.

Why is it so popular? It allows developers to add dynamic and interactive elements to websites. Every major website on the internet today, from household names to applications you likely use daily, relies on JavaScript.

Learning JavaScript is essential if you plan on a career in front-end or full-stack development or application programming. Here are some possible areas of career focus for those who know JavaScript:

  • Web developers and designers who work on user-facing website components
  • Application developers and programmers
  • User interface and user experience professionals
  • Software programmers

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HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are two related coding systems that control the user-facing (front-end) aspects of websites.

HTML provides a general framework for web development, while CSS handles formatting and layout. Most sites rely on both these codes to some extent. HTML even provides the structure for developers to insert dynamic elements written in JavaScript.

Front-end developers typically have knowledge of both JavaScript and HTML, though they may focus on one or the other. However, HTML and CSS are specifically for web development. JavaScript has other applications, such as mobile app development.

3. Java

Java is different from JavaScript. It is a server-side language. According to the Popularity of Programming Language (PYPL) index, Java is the second-most popular back-end coding system after Python.

Why learn Java? It is widely used because it has platform independence. This means developers can use it to create programs that run on Windows, Linux, Apple devices or any mobile device. This flexibility means that many large enterprises use Java for their systems.

Because of this broad usage, learning Java is essential to become a software developer.

Other careers include:

  • Mobile app and web developer
  • IT specialist
  • Database architect
  • Embedded device programmer

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4. C, C# and C++

C, C# and C++ make up a family of computer languages. For many computer science and IT students, back-end coding education starts with C. It is a popular first language because of its simplicity and flexibility.

C languages focus on procedures. Some users find this easier than Java, which is object-oriented. Most back-end programmers learn both C++ and Java, but those who focus on operating systems, databases and data-intensive applications will probably need to be more familiar with the C family.

C# and C++ will remain relevant because they are an integral part of cloud-based systems, which are gaining popularity. Also, C++ works closely with hardware, so it’s the preferred language for those involved in the design and management of embedded systems.

5. Python

Python is the most popular back-end language, according to both PYPL and Stack Overflow. Thanks to its natural syntax and similarity with other basic back-end languages, it’s one of the most popular choices for beginning students.

Python works on different systems and browsers, so it’s the language of choice for many development projects. In addition to being the most popular language for software development, Python has special applications in finance and machine learning.

Additionally, professionals involved in game design, application development and data science need to know Python.

6. SQL

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a specialized language. It focuses on managing information housed in databases. In addition, it’s most often used to call up specific information. MySQL and related languages are used for a vast majority of data-related programming.

SQL is typically not a first computer language. However, those who work with data, such as database administrators and architects, business intelligence analysts and data scientists, will find it necessary to know. Major companies that rely on and monetize data rely heavily on SQL.

7. R

R is the most important language for data analytics. It’s necessary for anyone studying for a data science degree. It focuses on statistical calculations and visualization. Because it’s a more complex language, R is typically not a beginning language except for data science students without previous programming experience.

8. Go

Golang (Go, for short) is growing in popularity. Stack Overflow found that it was one of the languages programmers were most interested in learning. Why? Go is an efficient language that’s easy to learn. Because it’s lightweight and scalable, it’s also becoming popular among web developers. Big-name companies like Uber, SoundCloud and the BBC use Go. However, it still lags behind C++, Java and Python, so it’s a good candidate if you want to learn a second programming language after mastering one of the other back-end systems.

How to learn programming languages

The first step in learning a programming language is to define your career plans. You will then be able to prioritize the options to help you meet your professional goals, keeping in mind that learning multiple languages can be a benefit in many IT and computer science jobs.

You can learn one programming language at a time using online resources or boot camps, which offer intensive instruction and hands-on experience in specific coding systems.

If you want a more comprehensive knowledge base on which to build your career, you can enroll in a bachelor’s degree program. The course of study includes practice in common languages and a chance to focus on more specialized coding skills based on your chosen specialization.

University of Phoenix offers a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree program that teaches students advanced concepts in computer programing and covers many of the popular and in-demand programming languages. Students can also enhance their education with an elective to earn an IT certificate, such as in scripted and compiled programming languages or advanced software development. Graduates will be prepared to pursue careers, such as software developer or application developer, that use programming languages.

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