What Programming Language Should I Learn?

"I’ve been trying to settle on a major for college next year, and computer science seems like a logical choice, given the city where I live and the kinds of jobs which seem to pay well around here. I know I’m located in an ideal area to become a computer programmer, and most of the programmers I’ve met make good salaries. At this point I know next to nothing about programming except the names of the common programming languages. I was wondering, what language am I going to learn in college? Or which will I learn first? I’d like to begin studying in advance so that I can get a head start on the rest of the class when I get started. I know that this can be a challenging field, and I figure there’s no time to waste."

asked by Jack from Washington, D.C.

If you’re going to school for programming, you won’t get to decide yourself which language to learn first. The college will pick it for you. There are a few common choices, but there is no single language you are guaranteed to be taught first. Common choices include Java, Python, and C. Python is a high-level programming language which is useful for all kinds of applications. Java is object-oriented and can run on pretty much anything, making it another good choice. C is probably one of the most popular and versatile programming languages in existence.

Your college, as I mentioned, will be making the choice as to what to assign you. So my suggestion is to call up an advisor at the computer science department of the school you will be attending and simply ask what will be taught in your first CS class. Or you can check the website and see if you can hunt it down yourself. Then you can go out and buy yourself a textbook and start learning that language.

If you’re not sure what school you will be attending next year, then you might want to start by learning the basics of those three. Even that doesn’t guarantee you’ll be on the right track. You could end up at a school which chooses something a little less obvious (maybe Visual Basic).

One more thing I would like to mention that is important for any programming major is this: You are already on the right track if you are trying to get started learning on your own.

Programming classes are notoriously poorly structured in colleges. You will spend a lot of time in lecture, but it’s tough to teach abstract concepts like those involved in programming in a lecture format. This is a “learn by doing” field, and you will probably be spending a lot of extra time with your lab classmates long after the lab lets out.

One of the absolute best things you can for yourself as a computer science major is to learn as much about programming on your own as you can.

During your spare time, work on personal projects. Try coding websites or programs just for fun. The more you make programming a part of your life outside the classroom, the easier these concepts will come for you and the more skilled you will become.

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