You’ve made up your mind: you’ll learn programming. Since you already like technology and solving problems, it’s the logical next step in your path in life.
Yup, programming those pesky codes sounds like the optimal choice for you. There’s a catch, though: you know nothing about it.
Thankfully, that’s why we’re here. Although we can’t teach you how to code the next AI overlord (in a single article), we can aim for the next best thing. And that is, of course, providing you with a list of the best programming languages worth your time and effort in 2022.
So, read on to find out more about them to locate the best option for you.
Should I Learn Programming?
Choosing the programming language you’ll use as your entry point into the magical World Of Code is the most important choice you’ll have to make as a beginner.
Some programming languages are well established, widely supported, and the most versatile. But also tough nuts to crack, meaning you’ll have to invest (much, much) more time and effort into learning them. True mastery will be waving at you from decades down the road.
Others may be a great starting point as you’re taking your first steps into coding. You might pick up the basics in mere days and have your first working strings of excellence within a week. And yet, in the long run, you may find them limited, old-fashioned, under-performing, or a nebulous “something” you can only describe as “annoying”.
For Fun or Profit?
You also have to consider the reasons why you’ve decided to learn to program, for they’ll also affect this choice.
If you’re merely seeking for a hobby, your options are endless.
If investing in programming as a potential career path, you should also look at a programming language’s demand and available support. It wouldn’t make sense to spend years learning a programming language that would be actively used only by you and its creator.
To further expand on that last point, skipping the most popular choices can also make sense career-wise: less demand might be a con, but less competition can also be a significant pro.
Still, we can’t make those choices for you, so allow us to help the best way we can with the following list.
Our Ten Protagonists
We may not be able to choose a programming language for you, but what follows should be an excellent starting point for making a more informed choice.
We based our selection on their popularity, demand, promising evolution, and available support. They’re also all considered relatively “safe” choices. To clarify that, if you want to make programming your primary job eventually, our choices should (still) have enough demand after the next five to ten years.
No promises, though, for at the rate technology is evolving, programming as a concept might be extinct by Tuesday next week.
We begin our list with what many would argue isn’t a programming language. At best, you could call it a markup solution. It’s not even “scripting”, for crying out loud! How dare we include it here?
On its own, HTML is, indeed, a way to structure information in a way that can be “parsed” and presented visually by our browsers. It’s right there in its name: Hyper-Text Markup Language. And yet, that’s how many people started their journey into programming: by learning the basics of HTML.
Although it’s not really a programming language, HTML has something common with them: you’re using it, a “tech lingo”, to achieve results. So what if those “results” are not apps, tools, or scripts, but web pages where your name shows up bold and underlined in your favorite browser?
It’s still a result.
Even better, you can learn and fully grasp the basics and achieve your first results within minutes. Yes, that wasn’t a typo: minutes.
Let us make our case before you judge us for proceeding to CSS from HTML. Yes, there’s a rational explanation for our choice. The simple and short version is that you should keep in mind this is an article for newcomers to programming. You’d be correct in pointing out that C, C++, or even Ruby are real programming languages. CSS is even worse than HTML in that it can’t even achieve results on its own! It’s a helper, a nice-to-have, and nothing more. Isn’t it?
No, not if you’re new to programming, with HTML as your entry point. CSS then is what brings the first significant a-ha moment, when you realize how variables work. For if you look at the grand scale, CSS is a solution for adding values to variables.
After a specific point, it’s a given you’ll run into SCSS and SASS. With those comes the first true use of variables, easing you into the logic of assigning values to persistent text strings.
Both SCSS and SASS may also help you understand how you can manipulate values through various operations and arrange your first date with what’s known as a “compiler”. And syntax optimization. And the concept of code beautification.
So, despite both HTML and CSS individually being far from what you’d call “programming”, when combined, they can become the groundwork for better things to come.
It’s one of the most restrictive solutions you can try since it’s available only for Windows. And yes, this one’s “a scripting solution”, too. And yet, AutoHotKey (AHK for short) is a solution like no other with which to create your first actual programs.
OK purists, “program-equivalents”.
AHK was created as an AutoIt alternative for manipulating desktop elements on Windows, moving the mouse pointer, and sending keystrokes. You could write a simple script that remapped a key on your keyboard to a double-click of the mouse’s wheel, or present a “Hello World!” message box on the screen. And that’s where the magic happens.
AHK expanded and evolved, and so did its GUI-related chops. Until today it remains the only solution of its kind that not only enables you to write scripts but also create GUIs from within it. “GUIs” as in “Graphical User Interfaces”.
So, although you can write similar scripts for Bash, only AHK enables you to “map” their contents to visual elements. The results can look like regular desktop apps, with menus, text fields, progress bars, etc.
AHK also has a very active community backing it, eager to help you solve most problems. Even better, they’ve already expanded it further, with libraries and solutions that add support for popular APIs.
After using it to create something like your own desktop Twitter client, it’s safe to say that transitioning to a “proper” programming language is relatively easy.
With Python, we’re entering the world of real programming languages – although some would argue about this one, too. If you ignore the naysayers, you’ll probably end up loving Python. Just like the millions of other people using it every day.
Like AHK, Python is an interpreted language, which means that by default, you have to use its executable (known as “the interpreter”) to “run” your programs. That’s because the naysayers are right about one thing: those programs are scripts. There, we’ve admitted it.
Python, though, also enables you to write actual pieces of software that you can compile and distribute as standalone solutions. As in, “running from their executable without asking the user to install Python”.
When you’re still at the point where code strings look more like Matrix gibberish, and you fumble navigating the smallest of projects, readability is a must. And thankfully, Python code is quite readable and human-friendly.
Python’s superpower is its massive community, which has already created solutions for practically everything you can imagine. Thanks to their efforts, you can incorporate millions of ready-to-use snippets into your solutions. Or rely on tried and tested libraries for doing most of the actual work. Why reinvent the wheel?
Structured Query Language (SQL for short) among the rest entries in our list. Another non-programming language? Isn’t this supposed to be an article on programming languages?
Today’s world runs on data. Data is everywhere and, in some cases, everything. Each element on the pages of a WordPress-powered blog is data. Your posts on social media are data. Your tax information is data. Medical exam results? Data. Takeaway orders? Data. Weather forecasts? Contact and task lists? Digital journals? Almost everything today either is or relies on data. And SQL is, in the vast majority of cases, what manages and manipulates it.
SQL is a language for creating databases that can store such data and interacting with them. Through SQL, you can create an empty database from scratch, populate it with data, and then query or manipulate it.
As a real-world example, a post on a site powered by WordPress, like the very one you’re reading, is stored in an entry in an SQL database. When a browser visits such a web page, code in a language like PHP (in this case) interacts with the site’s database. It queries it for everything related to the post entry the user’s trying to access and returns the results. Among them are the post’s title, content, category, tags, etc.
You can interact directly with an SQL database through a shell. Still, usually, it’s used through other languages, like in our WordPress example.
During the first steps with SQL, it’s better to work in an interactive environment since you can immediately see the results of your commands.
In the long run, though, and since SQL is used in the back-end as “the source of data” for other solutions, you’ll probably end up using it more through other languages. You may “ping” it through AutoHotKey to “pong” its response back on the screen, or craft loops in Python that will quickly populate a column with the contents of an array.
No matter how you use it, just like the data it works with, SQL is everywhere. Just as it’s guaranteed you’ll eventually run into it, it’s also a given it can be a vital bullet point in your resume.
People love to hate Java, and have been doing it for decades.
- It’s too demanding.
- It’s underperforming.
- Everything made with it looks the same – and it’s called “ugly”.
The list could go on and on, but that would simply be mean. You’d have to intentionally hide under the rug everything positive with Java, and all the reasons you may fall in love with it.
Yes, it’s slower and more demanding than C++, but one could argue that Java’s also much more versatile. By keeping your code “generic” and not using any platform-specific features, Java apps can run on almost any operating system, which in turn means on any device. The very same code can run “untouched” on a Windows desktop or a Linux netbook.
For the beginner programmer, that’s a significant pro: you don’t have to write new code to render something you made compatible with more platforms. It will run as it is. It can be pretty empowering to see your first relatively complex project running on your PC and smartphone without needing significant tweaks.
Java’s also relatively easy to learn. It might not be the best for making a complete (and bug-free) GUI app in an afternoon. For that, maybe AutoHotKey can help. Still, Java’s also not as complex as C, and its memory management also means you won’t spend half your time fighting memory leaks.
Have you heard of that little obscure thing called Linux? According to its creator, Linus Torvalds, in the not-so-distant future, the Linux kernel will gain support for the Rust language.
That small tidbit of information can also work as an answer to the question, “is it worth learning Rust?”.
If you want to ease yourself into programming gradually, Rust should be close to the bottom of your list. Like C++, there’s no hand-holding. They’re both low-level languages, which means “more friendly to the computer than the human in front of the screen and banging on the keyboard”.
This also means that Rust is a more lean performer than the Pythons and Javas of this world. It might demand more effort, but the results are worth it. Solutions made with Rust are almost on the same level as those made with C++.
Rust is not what you need if you’re aiming for a career making dynamic sites for pensioners. Even seasoned programmers may pull their hair when un-learning how they should manage memory, trying to juggle the new concepts of borrowing, ownership, and slices. As Rust fans will point out, though, that’s a small price for a genuinely modern C++ alternative, where memory management issues (and garbage collectors) seem like relics of a troubled past.
Rust’s memory safety sounds intriguing, but you aren’t planning on building the next Linux. You’d prefer your programming language more straightforward than C++ (or else you’d be using C++ in the first place). Maybe you’d like to take a look at Go?
Also known as Golang, Go was created at Google as a better solution for the company’s own projects. It can be used locally or “on the cloud” where it excels – as expected since that’s Google’s bread and butter. You can use it to create local command-line micro-tools or server-side solutions. To build the next online streaming mega-service, or your own indie take on tic-tac-toe for Android.
Go might be easier (both to write and read) than C++, but it isn’t HTML. Python can be quicker to master, and Java can lead to more rapid deployment on multiple platforms.
Still, that doesn’t mean Go isn’t relatively easy to pick up, especially when directly compared to C. With dedication and good documentation, you can have your first Go app up and running in a single afternoon.
It might be a simple “Hello World” app, but it will be a start.
We finish our (primary) list with none other than C++. Love it or hate it, C and C++ are considered the gold standards in programming. That was, remains, and will probably still be valid for years to come.
C++ didn’t become ever-present overnight. It all started with a lowly or rather low-level C. Back in the 70s, the not-so-bright people at Bell Labs wasted their time on useless concepts, like a hard-to-use input device called “a mouse”. They created unneeded solutions that ate precious resources from their ancient CPUs, like what later became known as “Graphic User Interfaces” and their sibling, “the Desktop”.
Yes, dear reader, we’re trying (and failing) to be sarcastic. As you probably know, mice are still one of the two primary input devices we use to interact with our computers (the other being the keyboard). Modern operating systems come with desktops by default, and GUIs are what make some apps (like Krita) usable.
The reason for our trip down memory lane is because C and its evolution, C++, have followed a similar trajectory. Thus, we don’t expect things to change soon. Just as we’ll probably still be using mice, desktops, and apps with GUIs in the future, so will C and C++ be the programming languages making that possible. Thanks, Bell Labs!
In Need Of More Options?
We’ve cut our list short at ten entries, but we could easily list even more programming languages that we believe you should check out.
In fact, let’s do precisely that and quickly go over some of the most exciting programming languages we didn’t want to leave out of this article.
If you hate to admit that Java looks enticing and would like something similar but more modern, Kotlin fits the bill.
Compared to Java, Kotlin’s newer and can be easier to get into. Java, though, is more widespread and established. And those factors also translate to more support and documentation from those who use it.
SASS / SCSS
Sass and SCSS are the same thing, albeit with modified syntax. The scripting language’s actual name is SassScript. Its purpose is to assist in the creation and long-term management of modern (and complex) CSS.
Unlike “vanilla” CSS, Sass supports variables and data types, and comes with functions for manipulating them.
Sass might be “merely” a scripting language, but you can surely appreciate it when you see three dozen smartly crafted lines “compiling” into ten times longer (and much more convoluted) CSS syntax.
Few programming languages ever made an impact like Ruby. Designed for simplicity and productivity, Ruby can also capably wear many hats.
You can use Ruby to build desktop apps, or as the core tech making your online megastore possible.
If its name made you think R would be the best programming language for creating an unofficial sequel to your favorite retro-shooter, R-Type, you ought to reconsider. R is the last thing you’d want to use for game development.
If, though, what you need is to make sense of massive datasets, play with statistics, craft simulations, and create visualizations with pretty graphs, you should already be downloading R.
With Apple a dominant technological force, isn’t there a programming language that can tap into its colossal ecosystem? Meet Apple’s own Swift. You can use it to create software for all their xOS devices, including iPhones with iOS, MacBooks with macOS, and even the watchOS.
Thankfully, Swift is also not hard to get into since it’s similar to Python and Ruby. However, do keep in mind that despite also having open-source contributors, it’s still primarily a programming language by Apple for Apple (devices).
Do you want to make modern non-static sites that keep piles of content in a database like SQL? PHP can help. Maybe you’re planning on hosting information others on the same network can access? PHP can help. Would you like effortless passive income? PHP can’t help.
At least, not until you manage to make a stylish WordPress Theme with it that can float above the rest. Achieve this feat, and you can start planning for retirement.
Even if that plan fails, don’t fret. The existing millions of sites won’t “fix” their themes by themselves.
Still, since you can easily move from one to the other, there’s no “wrong” choice between them.
Perl (“Perl 5”)
For some time, “Perl” referred to both Perl 5 and what evolved into its “sister language”, Perl 6, later rebranded as Raku.
Perl (and we mean the classic “Perl 5”) isn’t blazingly fast since it’s an interpreted language. It is a general-purpose programming language with which you can create almost anything without significant effort.
I Can’t Choose!
Picking the programming language with which you’ll make your first steps isn’t easy when you don’t know anything about them.
Programming languages are tools. And like all tools, they can both work together and be interchangeable.
As you walk The Path Of The Programmer, you’ll eventually find yourself collecting programming languages like Pokemon. However, some work better together, or as a logical progression in your quest towards complete programming enlightenment.
Indeed, you never know where life can take you. It may all begin with the very basics of HTML to make a webpage for your puppy. Then, some CSS and, later, Sass to spice it up. All while also fooling around with AutoHotKey.
Install AutoHotKey on a Windows machine and enter the following in a text file:
MsgBox, Hello World!
Rename the file to have an AHK extension, and then double-click on it. See that window popping up on your screen? You’d need at least ten more lines of code in a “real” programming language to achieve the same result. Who said scripting isn’t powerful?
Thanks to AutoHotKey’s excellent documentation and helpful community, turning that single window into a full-blown desktop blogging client can be trivial.
Plus, it doesn’t look that different when compared to Python. As you’ll find, with Python, it will be much easier to craft more advanced solutions thanks to other people’s libraries and code snippets.
Python lacks AutoHotKey’s GUI chops, though. You can patch that hole with one of the many available GUI frameworks, like Tkinter. Soon, if something irks you, you’ll find it’s easy to jump ship to Ruby or Java.
Find and follow a tutorial on MarkDown. Then, do the same, but for HTML. As you’ll see, they’re pretty similar.
Then, search for “inline CSS”, and read about how you can change your HTML’s looks. You’ll only have to add some extra strings to what’s already there to make it blue or larger. Now, take out those strings and place them in their own file to keep things tidy.
That’s how you’ll effortlessly reach the point where you can set up a self-hosted WordPress site and start tinkering with its themes.
Now would be a good time to start checking those ads seeking “junior front-end developers”.
Logic, reasoning, solving problems, and juggling dozens of tasks. That’s what you do, what you like. Arguing with yourself over which shade of purple looks best on a logo? Not so much.
Welcome to the world of back-end development, where with a handful of commands, you can make lists of everything you like and, more importantly, don’t like, using SQL.
Then, take a look at Ruby, PHP, and Python. Pick the one you like and use it to make your first scripts that “communicate” with your SQL database.
As your scripts expand, they’ll reach a point where it will simply sound ridiculous to still refer to them as “scripts” instead of “programs”. Especially when they’ll have turned into a collection of multiple files, hiding behind a GUI built with a framework like QtRuby or Shoes.
We’ll end this article with a classic, old, and grumpy “oh, you youngsters don’t realize how lucky you are” approach.
Around four decades ago, when Commodore 64 was the bestest Home Computer, learning how to program was a demanding quest only for the few and brave. Documentation was scarce, and any “computing” was performed in isolation.
Now, you can fire up your browser, running on your ever-connected multi-core AI-GPU-enabled PC, and download any programming language you fancy out of dozens.
Then, start seeking for snippets of code you can “borrow”. If they don’t work as they are, there’s always the collective wisdom of hundreds of thousands of other users. They usually are more than happy to offer advice on how to mutate the snippets you found to perform what you want.
Or you could binge-watch 50 hours of tutorials on YouTube while eating popcorn in your pajamas.
Oh, how I envy you.