Best Programming Languages to Learn to Code: 2020 Edition

Best Programming Languages to Learn to Code: 2020 Edition

When it comes to programming languages to learn and use, there are a lot of options to choose from.  Some popular programming languages have stood the test of time and been around for ages, outlasting numerous changes to the technology industry.  Still, many programming languages are relatively new as well, developed to adapt to those very changes in novel ways.  So, in this choice overload situation, the question becomes, which programming languages should you choose when you want to learn to code?

Making an informed decision about this is no easy matter, all programming languages offer something different, whether it be in terms of how they’re used, how beginner-friendly they are, or something else entirely. However, with good information, and a clear goal in mind, you can make this tough decision and be on the fast track to learning any number of popular programming languages that will help you achieve whatever you would like professionally or personally.  Below, we’ve compiled a comprehensive information guide to help you along so you can stop researching and get to learning to code that much faster.

So sit back, and let’s talk about the best programming languages to learn!

Programmer programming at a computer with dual screens

Key Terminology

Before we jump into talking about the popular programming languages themselves, there are a few keys terms we need to cover which are important to computer programming in general.  When learning to code, these concepts are quite important, as they can not only inform your personal goals somewhat, but also have wider implications in terms of the best programming languages that should be used to create certain projects.  That being said, we won’t dive too far into the technical specifics of each term – it’s just important to have a good grasp on them.

1990s computer

High-Level Programming Languages

Most programming languages have a level of abstraction from the computer itself.  When a computer sees a set of code, in the background it breaks it down into elements it can understand, often referred to as the machine language.  However, this machine language is not something fit for humans to work with on a regular basis, hence why we have programming languages to help us out.

When something is a high-level language, this means that it is “far” away from machine language i.e. the computer needs more steps to do this conversion.  While this does result in some loss of efficiency, which can be bad for projects needing something highly efficient to the millisecond, it makes up for this by being more human-readable, and thus simpler to work within many regards for general purpose programming (which is a necessity for highly complex tasks).

Low-Level Programming Languages

Given the above, as you might imagine, a low-level language is the opposite.  These programming languages have a “low” degree of abstraction from machine language, meaning that it takes less time for the computer to convert it to machine language.  Certainly, this sacrifices some amount of human readability, but it does result in higher efficiency.

Object-Oriented Programming

When someone talks about object-oriented programming, they’re talking about computer programming that is based around the ideas of objects.  In this model, developers create various objects to hold their data, including properties, attributes, and methods.  For example, you could have an “animal” object that holds a name, age, and various functions it can do (eat, play, sleep, etc.). In this way, the program is easier to understand for humans and, in most cases, makes it easier to work with.

Further, object-oriented programming also lets programmers:

  • Encapsulate certain pieces of data privately away from other parts of the program.
  • Use inheritance so certain data can be passed along a hierarchy.
  • Abstract data so only the most relevant data to an object is shown.
  • Morph objects with polymorphism to change behavior compared to its parent.

Python

Example of a program that counts BlackJack cards

What is Python

Python is a high-level, interpreted programming language.  Created in 1991 by Guido van Rossum, Python is a programming language that was designed specifically for human readability.  Unlike other computer programming languages that determine where a set of instructions ends with various punctuation (such semicolons), Python uses lines to determine where each instruction starts and stops.  As such, the programming language emphasizes the use of whitespace and indentation, which furthers its mission of being as readable as possible for human programmers.

How is Python Used

Python is used in many different sectors of the industry.  It can be commonly found being used to develop backend aspects of web development, software development, and even some games.  In recent times, however, Python has seen the most use in the areas of data science, computer vision, and machine learning.  Due to its simple syntax, it’s been used to break down the complex tasks and data-heavy tasks in these areas into easy-to-understand code.  Due to this, it has allowed programmers to create advanced data analytics programs and teach machine tasks in ways that are generally considered quicker than what other programming languages are capable of.

Why Learn Python

Python has quickly become one of the most popular programming languages to use simply due to its ease of use and overall readability.  It is extremely capable of breaking down complex tasks that would be more difficult in other programming languages.  This has profound consequences for data science and machine learning projects, which are both topics already very heavy in theory.  As such, learning how to code with Python can provide you with an astounding headstart if you’re interested in pursuing either topic.

In addition, its readability also makes it a good first programming language for many developers to learn how to code.  Since it is specifically designed to be read by humans (and also requires fewer lines to do specific tasks), it makes it a programming language that is quick to adapt to.  However, it is equally versatile, making it suitable for even things such as game projects you might have in mind.

Given its rise in popularity, it is also equally in high-demand across the technology industry.  So, if you’re looking to expand your skills for the professional field, this is a great language.  Not only does this open up positions in data-oriented tasks, but other niches also have expanded into Python as well, such as cybersecurity.  Thus, it makes a great point to have on your resume.

Frogger Style game made with Python

Job Prospects for Python Developers

Python Developers were reported to earn on average $119,000 per year in the US.  However, developers in the US who specialize in data science can earn up to $121,680 per year on average, while machine learning engineers were average at $140,200.

Resources to Learn Python

JavaScript

RPG made with Phaser

What is JavaScript

First appearing in 1995, JavaScript is a high-level, just-in-time compiled programming language that was created by Brendan Eich and other contributors to conform to the ECMAScript specification – a standardization so multiple web browsers could interpret code the same.  Due to this origin, JavaScript forms one of the core pillars of web development, providing the integral scripts that inform most user interaction on the internet.  The programming language features both object-oriented programming structures, as well as event-driven, functional, and other programming styles.  Additionally, JavaScript is used as the basis for many modern frameworks.

How is JavaScript Used

JavaScript sees the most use in the area of web development.  On the frontend, JavaScript is used to create many functions that bring webpages to life, whether through animations or user interaction such as buttons, forms, and so forth.  JavaScript also sees plenty of use in website backends through frameworks such as Node.js, where it can be used to send and receive data through requests to create complex webapps.  Recently, JavaScript has also provided the backbone for HTML5 games due to its event-driven nature of user interaction, resulting in a resurgence of browser-based games.

Why Learn JavaScript

As a core pillar of web development, you really can’t go wrong with JavaScript.  Whether you want to develop backends with Express and Node.js, use frontend frameworks like React and Vue, or create your own custom scripts, JavaScript is absolutely necessary to know when learning how to code.  So much of the web is based around the language, you will always find new web projects that will require knowledge of it.  Thus, knowing it provides you one of the most fantastic foundations to have for any sort of web programming.

However, as mentioned, if you’re looking to develop games, especially browser-based games, JavaScript has a big role there as well.  It allows you to animate, provide the necessary user interactions to function, and beyond.  Further, unlike other programming languages that require hefty computers to create games, JavaScript requires very little of your machine, meaning you can develop games on your laptop if you so desire!

In terms of professional work, learning to code JavaScript can open up web development paths to you, including the all-inclusive Full-Stack development path.  As the programming language is extremely stable and ingrained, you can expect quite a bit of security that it won’t be dethroned anytime soon, meaning there’ll be lots of opportunities available for a long time.

Road crossing game made with JavaScript

Job Prospects for JavaScript Developers

On average, web developers in the US can earn around $78,070 per year.  For those who specialize in JavaScript and become general JavaScript developers, though, salaries rise to about $118,150 per year in the US.

Resources to Learn JavaScript

C#

Text-Based RPG made in Unity with C#

What is C#

C# is an object-oriented programming language created by Microsoft in 2000 to work with their .NET framework.  It was designed to not only incorporate the best modern features from other programming languages such as C++ and Java, but also made with businesses in mind so that programmers could create a variety of software using it.  Given this initiative, it is considered a general-purpose language and, while a high-level language, it is closer to machine language than other programming languages such as Python.

How is C# Used

C# is used in two major ways.  Given its compatibility with the .NET framework, many developers choose it to develop their web and desktop applications.  In fact, for Windows developers specifically, this is often the first choice language to create Windows apps.  However, C# also plays a major role in the game development industry as the default language for the Unity engine.  Many reports show at least 33% of games are developed with Unity, making it a big player.

Why Learn C#

As the programming language was developed specifically by Microsoft, there is no doubt that it will remain a stable language for quite a long time.  You can also expect amazing cross-platform abilities with it, meaning it is super easy to develop with in terms of compatibility due to the .NET framework.  To boot, while it does possess some of the best features of C++, like garbage collection, it goes beyond that to make it a much easier language to learn for beginners.  However, the language is also extremely scalable, so you can easily adapt it to the scope of most any C# based project.  Thus, it is a language that learning how to code will offer a lot of long-term and robust abilities.

If you’re interested specifically in game development with Unity, learning to code C# is definitely a must.  However, with Unity’s libraries it created around the C# language, many complex tasks are automated – making it a simple programming language to use even for more complex video game projects.

In terms of jobs, learning to code C# lets you pursue a rather versatile field of opportunities.  For example, most Unity programming will, of course, require knowledge of the language.  However, since C# is also used for software development, it is in high-demand for businesses as well looking to develop any kind of software.

Blocky platformer made in Unity with C#

Job Prospects for C# Developers

Unity developers earn somewhere around $50,920 per year according to Glassdoor.  Meanwhile, general C# developers on average earn $102,780/year in the US.

Resources to Learn C#

C++

Point and Click Game made with C++

What is C++

C++ is a general-purpose language that was initially created to expand and extend the C programming language.  Developed by Bjarne Stroustrup, the language was intended to combine the efficiency and advanced features of C (C being a relatively low-level language) with some aspects of object-oriented programming, such as classes.  As such, the language is often considered to be somewhere between low-level and high-level programming languages, as it utilizes aspects of both to accomplish its tasks.

How is C++ Used

C++ is one of the most widely used programming languages across the entire industry.  Developers can adapt it quite easily to create desktop applications, implement it on web servers, and so forth.  While other programming languages on this list have the same general-purpose qualities, C++ is perhaps the most widely used for that purpose.  Additionally, like C#, C++ has also found a place in game development through various frameworks and engines, such as the Unreal Engine and Godot engine.

Why Learn C++

Of the popular programming languages on the list, C++ is probably one of the most widely used programming languages, even more so at current than Python.  Thus, resources to learn how to code with C++ are far and wide, and community support for the programming language is fantastic whenever you might need help with a specific aspect.  Additionally, learning how to code C++ lets you make a variety of different projects. From the programming languages on the list, though, it is the most efficient, meaning the programs you develop with it generally will handle tasks quite a bit faster.  While this won’t be relevant to ever project, if you’re intending to create projects where every millisecond counts, C++ is definitely the way to go.

As mentioned, it is also used for video games.  C++ gives you the ability to create text-based games quite easily from scratch.  However, you can also find frameworks such as SFML that will allow you to incorporate multi-media to those games, and these frameworks are generally great for those who don’t have fantastic systems for larger engines.  However, if you do have a beastly computer, learning to code C++ lets you extend engines like the Unreal Engine even further than usual, meaning you can create simple and complex games with the language with ease.

Beyond these aspects, if you’re looking to become a professional developer, C++ offers a very rounded set of opportunities, whether you want to pursue software development, web development, or game development.  Again, it is one of the most widely used programming languages, so learning how to code with C++ offers nothing but opportunities to expand your career.

Unreal Engine game

Job Prospects for C++ Developers

The average salary for a general C++ developer is $100,720/year in the US.  For those who specialize in something like the Unreal Engine, salaries can vary anywhere from $95,000 to $105,410 per year in the US.

Resources to Learn C++

Java

Pet Database app for mobile

What is Java

Java is an object-oriented, class-based programming language created by James Gosling in 1995.  The design principle behind the language was to require as few dependencies as possible to operate.  As such, Java is a language that is capable of running across multiple different platforms and doesn’t need to be rewritten for different systems.  Though not possessing every feature C++ does, it is closer to machine language than Python and JavaScript.

How is Java Used

Once again, you can generally find Java being used everywhere, including games like the ever-popular Minecraft.  However, two of its main areas are software development and mobile development.  Given the lack of reliance on dependencies, it is a popular choice for software, as it makes the software easily compatible regardless of the user’s machine – save developers time and money.  As mentioned, though, it is also popular for mobile, as Java is the default programming language for Android phones.  Thus, many apps and games on your phone are powered by Java.

Why Learn Java

Next to C++, Java is one of the top choices for software development.  As it doesn’t require lots of dependencies by design, of all programming languages, it is by far the most cross-platform compatible.  As such, learning how to code with Java means you won’t be spending tons of time worrying about what systems your program will work with.  As one of the first object-oriented programming languages as well, it encompasses all the positives of this data modeling system, meaning by learning it, you’ll have a great grasp of OOP computer programming, in general, should you wish to expand with even more programming languages.

Besides software, though, if you’re looking to develop for mobile, learning to code with Java is definitely a big help – especially if you’re targetting Android.  In fact, the Android OS UI was coded with Java, so you can expect high levels of compatibility for mobile app development should you pursue that route.

As one of the older programming languages on the list, Java is quite a stable profession in the development industry.  Next to Python, Java developers earn some of the highest salaries, though specialization can definitely increase your salary potential.  With Java knowledge, you can develop software, become an Android developer, or more, so the field offers some good opportunities.

Weather mobile app for Android

Job Prospects for Java Developers

In the US, reported salaries for Java developers sat at around $104,436/year.  Meanwhile, those who specialize in Android development specifically earned upwards of $125,480 in the US per year.

Resources to Learn Java

Swift

Simple Input Output app with Swift

What is Swift

First appearing in 2014, Swift is a general-purpose language developed by Apple to work specifically with Apple-based products (Macs, iPhones, etc.).  The programming language was designed around Objective-C (another programming language that extends C), taking core concepts from the language and extending them further.  Additionally, the language was crafted to incorporate many modern, safety features to prevent the same errors that are easier to come across with other programming languages.

How is Swift Used

Being developed by Apple for its hardware, it should be no surprise that Swift is used across all their products.  It is used to develop Mac-based apps, create programs for iPhones, and even provides the basis for coding for Apple watches.  It is also used for just about everything in terms of what a program can do.  Additionally, Swift is designed to work with Linux as well, so some developers do use it as a language of choice for Linux systems.

Why Learn Swift

If you intend to target any Apple OS at all, learning how to code with Swift is almost necessary.  As Apple is a widely regarded brand sticking around for a long-time to come, Swift will allow you to make cross-platform programs with this in mind, which is definitely fantastic if targetting PC and Mac (or Android and iOS phones) is a concern for your goals.  However, as a general-purpose programming language, you will learn skills that allow you to develop just about any project you could think of.  Further, for those just starting out, Swift can be a great programming language for beginners, since it does help weed out common errors without you needing to know about it.

Of course, if you are intending to develop apps for iOS phones, Swift is the way to go.  There’s no language contest if that is your ultimate learning goal!

In terms of professional development, Swift is definitely in-demand, since it is one of the key programming languages for Apple products.  Thus, if you’re passionate about Apple, learning to code with Swift guarantees you can pursue tons of job prospects that won’t be open to developers who choose other programming languages on this list.

Contacts app made with iOS compliant device

Job Prospects for Swift Developers

Depending on the specialty, Swift developers in the US can earn $93,500 to $109,820 for general and software development, while iOS and mobile specialization earns up to $125,314 per year.

Resources to Learn Swift

PHP

Random lines of code

What is PHP

PHP (or Hypertext Preprocessor) is a scripting language that first appeared in 1995.  Designed originally by Rasmus Lerdorf, until it was taken over The PHP Group, the language was created to work specifically for web development.  While a web server does require a PHP interpreter installed, the language allows users to access any webpage with only the need of a web browser.  The programming language also features common modern principles such as object-oriented models and the likes.

How is PHP Used

As mentioned, the language was designed with web development in mind.  This being the case, whether frontend or backend, PHP is used heavily across the web development industry to create web pages and, in general, provide websites their functionality.  However, it is more commonly found in the backend aspects of the web, where it is used for many Content Management Systems, to control various server requests, and similar.

Why Learn PHP

PHP is one of the key components of many web servers.  If you’re aiming to have more than a static website that isn’t suitable for JavaScript alone, learning to code with PHP can allow you to create the robust backend needed to add extra functionality, including communication with your database.  As a flexible programming language, you can extend it to handle a great many tasks, including the numerous PHP applications available for website backends. Additionally, PHP is considered a very beginners friendly language to learn to code!

Given its wide use for server-side web development, you can expect quite a number of job opportunities in that specific area.  As many applications and other web elements are built based off of PHP, it is equally valuable for companies in need of developers to extend and maintain their websites.  Thus, it is a great choice for those pursuing backend web development!

Two people looking at charts and graphs

Job Prospects for PHP Developers

In the US, the base salary reported for PHP developers is $93,820 per year.  PHP Engineers see a slight salary increase to $99,260 per year.

Resources to Learn PHP

Conclusion

When it comes to learning popular programming languages, there is no real right or wrong choice.  Instead, the “right” programming language to learn how to code is the one best suited for your projects, goals, and overall personal tastes.  No matter what you choose to learn to code, though, a fantastic world of opportunities awaits you.  With knowledge of any programming language, you’ll be able to make software, games, and mobile apps that change our world in fun and/or novel ways never seen before.

So, whether you’re looking for an efficient language, an easy to read language, something geared specifically for a certain platform, or anything else, we hope this information helps you choose a programming language you’d love to learn how to code.

Good luck with your projects, and we wish you the best with your learning goals!

Further Resources

Still need some more information before diving in and making your choice of programming language? We’ve compiled a final list that will let you explore general coding topics. You can think of this as recommendations of next steps if you’re on the fence.

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