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Is Programming Hard to Learn?

According to Emsi, a labor market insights company, between January 2016 and February 2017, there were 115,058 unique job postings for software developers each month compared to just 33,579 average monthly hires (approximately one hire for every three unique job postings). Clearly, the demand for software developers outweighs the supply, which means this is a great time for anyone looking to get their foot in the door in the computer industry. Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that keeps many people from pursing a programming career: computer languages are incredibly difficult to learn.

Unique Job Postings vs. Hires (January 2016 – February 2017)

Average Monthly Postings
Average Monthly Hires

Computer programming languages are not easy to master, but that doesn’t mean they are impossible to learn, either. In a lot of ways, coding is like cooking—both require you to follow a set of instructions with no room for error. It also helps if you understand that the most common state for a programmer, especially a new programmer, is a sense of ineptitude. There is almost a limitless amount of stuff to learn, so programmers constantly need to learn new tools, languages and technologies.

Learning a computer programming language is like learning anything else—it will be easier for some people, and more difficult for others. Whether or not programming is hard for you depends as much on your personality as your computer skills. According to Brian Feldman, robotics specialist and founder of Feldman Consulting Enterprises, there are some key personality traits programmers need to be successful, including:

  • Nearly unlimited persistence to continue trying to troubleshoot, fix and develop
  • Excellent short- and long-term memory
  • Understanding of how things interrelate
  • Excellent attention to detail

If you don’t have these personality traits, you can still learn how to code but your experience of learning a new programming language may be more difficult than it is for someone who has the personality traits of a programmer.

Which Programming Languages are the Easiest? Hardest?

WP Engine surveyed nearly 1,000 developers (presumably in 2017) and asked which languages are the easiest and hardest to learn. If you are interested in learning how to code and wondering where to start, the results of WP Engine’s developer survey may help you decide.

Easiest programming languages to learn

WP Engine asked, “What do programmers think is the easiest language to learn?” The top five results:

One of the primary web languages, HTML is used to structure and give meaning to web content. JavaScript makes use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), ready-made sets of code building blocks, making it easy for newcomers to write and run interactive webpage features. If you plan to pursue a career in web development, HTML is a great first language to start with.

Python is a general-purpose, object-oriented language, which means it can be used to build just about anything, including web development, system automation and penetration testing. The Python language has easy-to-learn and easy-to-use syntax, making it the perfect language for newcomers to computer programming. Python also tops our list of the five most popular and in-demand programming languages.

As one of the few languages that let programmers write object-oriented code, JavaScript is one of the easiest programming languages to learn. JavaScript is also known as “the language of the web,” so this is another great place to start if your plan is to learn coding for web development.

One of the reasons PHP is often considered among the easiest programming languages to learn is because it is forgiving. The script continues running on minor faults, which can help new programmers avoid some of the initial frustration that comes with learning how to code. That being said, it’s important to note that finding faults is a part of really learning how code works, and not just knowing how to write it.

Since it was first introduced more than 20 years ago, Java has proved a worthwhile programming language for a variety of applications and industries, making it one of the best languages to learn if you want a wide variety of career options. Similar to HTML, Java is comprised of APIs that make it easy for coders to write complex programs and applications.

Hardest programming languages to learn

WP Engine asked, “What do programmers think is the most complicated language?” Complicated means difficult to read, understand, debug and maintain, and also difficult to learn. The top five results:

Without resorting to simply 1’s and 0’s, Assembly is one of the lowest level programming languages computers understand. The language implements a symbolic representation of the numeric machine codes needed to program a CPU architecture. In other words, you should wait to learn this advanced language until you understand what all of that means.

C# (pronounced “C-sharp”) is a higher-level language, object-oriented language, which means a lot of moving parts, so to speak. As many forums point out on the subject of the difficult of learning C#, many programmers say that it is dependent on how much time you are willing to put into learning it. The steep learning curve isn’t insurmountable, but it might not always be enjoyable for new programmers.

Although TeX is a complex language to learn, it is admittedly not widely used so most programmers don’t even regularly employ it in their daily coding functions. Another low-level language, like Assembly, TeX was designed in 1978 for typesetting and was never intended to be a programming language, but rather a markup language.

As many programmers have pointed out on forums, like this one from StackOverflow, one of the biggest challenges of learning Objective C is the confusing syntax (the rules that define the combinations and structures of symbols that computers understand). If you are approaching coding as a complete outsider, you may not yet have the theoretical foundation to understand what Objective C (and most C-languages) require to run.

Although C is a fundamental language that is still used in the IT industry, it is not necessarily the best language for first-time coders. That being said, knowing C is the foundation for many other higher-level languages, including C++, Objective C and Perl, so it might be a worthwhile pursuit to learn C.

Choosing Your First Programming Language

Although it can be helpful to consider which languages other programmers consider the easiest and hardest to learn, the truth of the matter is that like any foreign language, learning how to code is going to take some amount of effort and determination. For that reason, a better question to ask than which language is the easiest to learn is why do I want to learn how to code in the first place?

Below is an overview of the most common uses for some of the most relevant, in-demand and important computer programming languages:

​Languages ​Most Common Uses
​Python ​Web and internet development, scientific computing, graphical user interfaces (GUIs)
​Java ​Internet of Things (IoT), enterprise architecture, cloud computing
​Ruby ​Web app development, robotics, networking, system administration and security
​HTML ​Web development, email programming
​JavaScript ​Front-end website development, gaming development
​C ​Artificial intelligence, computer graphics, image processing, systems programming
​C++ ​System/application software, client-server applications, embedded firmware
​C# ​Windows-based platforms
​Objective C ​Software development
​PHP ​Web application development, server-side scripting, command line scripting

So, if you plan to become a web developer, for example, you may look to learn Python, HTML and/or Ruby. Or if you’d like to design and build apps, consider learning PHP or C++. In any case, the first step is to figure out what you’d like to do as a programmer and then figure out which language to pursue.

Taking the Next Step Toward Becoming a Computer Programmer

There are a couple different routes you can take toward become a developer or computer programmer. You can learn programming on your own thanks to the vast supply of online resources dedicated to teaching people how to read, write and interpret code. However, if you want to learn the theoretical foundations of computer programming so you can do more than just write code, you may want to consider a master’s degree in computer science.

No CS background? No problem! If you have a bachelor’s degree, you can get a master’s in computer science without any prior computer science experience.

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