Which Programming Language Should I Learn? Decoding the Basics

Which Programming Language Should I Learn

Designing beautiful websites, developing innovative apps, creating the latest software—you envision big things for yourself. And that’s great—technology is booming, and skilled programmers, developers and designers are needed across the board.

There’s the catch, though: Skilled. You may be asking yourself what it takes to gain the knowledge and experience needed to climb the ranks of the tech world. One of the biggest questions you may have is: Which programming language should I learn?

Learning a programming language is the first step to breaking into the tech world. You don’t need to know every language ever developed—which would be a feat in itself, as there are currently 256 languages, and counting—but knowing the most popular ones for the area you want to go into can be the leg up you need.

So whether you would like to be a web designer, a back-end developer, an app creator or you just want to learn the most versatile programming languages, we have your answer. The next time you are wondering, “Which programming language should I learn?” refer to this article for expert advice.

The best programming languages for beginners

Not everyone has a clear idea of what they want to do, only what their passions and interests are. Sometimes school can help mold and formulate interests in specific niches, but for now, you want to learn the basics of programming so that when you do decide what you’d like to do, you have a solid foundation.

For those completely new, experts recommend several languages to get your feet wet.

1. Java

“Java is good for front-end and back-end [development], and it is a gateway into JavaScript,” says Tom Meeus, CTO of Crisalis LLC. “Java will also give them a head start into C#, which is the language supported by Microsoft and integrates easily with lots of database back-ends.”

Java is consistently rated one of the most popular programming languages, so it seems a natural fit for any beginner looking to build an impressive resume.

2. Python

Python is another popular language that is used on sites such as Instagram, YouTube, Reddit and even Google.

“It has a large community with lots of resources for using it, and since it is open source, programmers can be part of the continual development of the language,” says Meeus.

Python has a plethora of uses, including use in popular fields such as web and software development. 

Notable mentions: Ruby, PHP

The best programming languages if you want to become a web designer

The first thing to understand when considering web-based languages is that web design and web development are very different. Web development is usually referred to as back-end development and is responsible for the actual functioning of the site. Web design is front-end and responsible for the aesthetics and visual design of the site. Understanding these differences and knowing which side interests you the most will save you hours of time.  With that, here are the top languages for web design.


While HTML and CSS are not exactly programming languages, but both are responsible for much of the visual design on a page. HTML, or hypertext markup language, is responsible for the aesthetic appeal of a website, including its font, type and background. HTML cannot stand on its own but is often found with other languages, such as JavaScript.

CSS, or cascading style sheets, is used for the layout and design of a web page. It is also used for the adaptability of a site to be used on different devices and screen sizes. It can be used independently of HTML; however, they are usually used together and are essentials for any prospective web designer to learn.

2. JavaScript

Not to be confused with Java, JavaScript is an essential for any future web designer. JavaScript is the language that allows you to control what items on a page do. There are many frameworks for JavaScript too, which streamlines the coding process. AgularJS, ReactJS and EmberJS are popular frameworks to consider.

Notable mentions: Django (a framework using Python) and jQuery (a library for JavaScript)

The best programming languages if you want to be a back-end developer

“Backend developers have slightly different requirements and aren’t restricted by what web browsers support,” says Cody Reichert, owner of Assertible. Therefore, the back-end language that you choose depends entirely on personal preference and goals. Some back-end languages are more common than others, so we parsed through the data and found two programming favorites.

1. Ruby

Ruby has been surging in popularity for a while. With its framework, known as Rails, Ruby on Rails is a powerhouse language that is used on popular sites such as Hulu and Airbnb. It was designed to be a clean, easy-to use language. “[It] can be used to build a backend API, server or system,” Reichert says.

2. PHP

PHP stands for hypertext preprocessor, and it is one of the most widely used languages for back-end web development. While it has a variety of uses, it serves as the foundation for many websites, such as Yahoo and Wikipedia. It can be easily embedded into HTML to change the output of a webpage.

“Those looking to learn backend development will find PHP is a fairly easy language to learn and can find examples of it all over the internet,” says Logan Seeley, an associate software consultant.

The best programming languages if you want to make apps

The average American spends five hours per day on their mobile device, so it’s no wonder that languages specifically for app development are booming. Programming languages for apps are slightly different in that you will need to know the platform on which you are creating—iOS and Android each have their own defined languages. We found the fastest growing language for each platform to help you.

1. Swift

Swift was developed by Apple in 2014 and has since climbed its way up to become the 12th most popular programming language. Swift is similar to the Objective-C language but was built to withstand more errors than Objective-C. If you are hoping to create apps on any Apple product, then Swift is the language for you.

2. Kotlin

Another newer language that has shot up in popularity, Kotlin is the third programming language compatible with Android (next to Java and C++). Kotlin can be used with or without Java, so it is not essential to know Java before learning Kotlin. If you are interested in any kind of Android app creation, desktop development or server-side development, Kotlin is a worthwhile language to learn.

Notable mentions: Java (for Android) and Objective-C (iOS)

The best programming languages if you want to create software applications

Software itself is a very broad field, but when it comes to learning languages for software development, there are a few tried and true languages that have evolved to be industry standards. So whether you are hoping to create software for education, communication, manufacturing or another arena, you will find these languages come in handy.

1. C++

Based on the C language, C++ supports object-oriented programming, and having an understanding of object-oriented concepts is highly sought after in the software world. C++ is an extremely popular language that is used in nearly every kind of software.

“While C++ may be a bit harder [to learn] than languages such as Python, it equips programmers with the skills and knowledge to tackle just about any software-related challenge,” says Seeley.

2. Java

Ranked the most popular programming language, Java is a versatile language used in many different ways. It is used on a wide range of devices such as Smart TVs, game consoles, Android phones and desktop computers.

“There are a multitude of programming languages, each accomplishing different goals—some, like Java or C++, are battle-tested and reliable for back-end developers building large-scale projects,” says Kristian Freeman, technical trainer and consultant at Bytesized.

Notable mentions: Python and C#

Ready, set, code!

The world of programming is ever-changing, so it’s important to note which areas you’re interested in and adopt those languages and systems. While no employer will scoff at a programming language on your resume, knowing the right ones for the job can put you ahead of the crowd.

Figuring out which programming languages you should learn is only part of the equation though—most employers will also look for a degree in Computer Science or another tech-related field. If you’re considering taking that step, it’s good to know what career opportunities are out there.

To help with this, we’ve rounded up 9 Programming Careers for Coding Connoisseurs to show you some of the exciting prospects for those who have a tech degree.


Advertisement: This article was created by Rasmussen College to promote its computer science program. Please see www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of the programs we offer. Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college and Public Benefit Corporation.

Anna Heinrich

Anna is a Copywriter at Collegis Education who researches and writes student-focused content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes the power of the written word can help educate and assist students on their way to a rewarding education. 

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