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Which programming languages should you learn?

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› Which programming languages should you learn?
  • Published on January 30, 2014

If you want to become a Web developer, you'll need a strong command of both HTML and CSS, the two fundamental languages of the Web. Taking HTML classes at the American Graphics Institute is an excellent way to master the basics of HTML, and will enable you to write your own webpages for personal or corporate projects. However, even a solid grasp on HTML and CSS will only get you so far, particularly if you want to code Web and mobile apps and other data-driven software. Choosing a complementary programming language can be daunting, as there are dozens of them out there, so how should you choose which language to tackle when you finish your HTML classes?

Many sites and apps utilize code written in object-oriented programming languages, often abbreviated to OOP. There are many powerful OOP languages in use today, but beginners may want to get their hands dirty with Python before tackling other, more complex, languages. Python is a beautifully simple language, as it uses a syntax - the grammar of a programming language - that is relatively straightforward. As such, Python is ideally suited to programming beginners, and is used by many top science and technology organizations including Google and NASA, to name just two. 

One of the main benefits of learning Python first is that you do not need a compiler to run your code. A compiler is an intermediary program that interprets the code you write and converts it into a language that your computer can understand, known as a machine language. You can simply open the Python integrated development environment, or IDE, and start writing and running your own programs. Python is completely open source, meaning that no one organization owns the rights to the code, and the developer community is very active and welcoming to newcomers.

Python is an excellent primer for working with an OOP language, but when it comes to advanced Web development work, Javascript is a perennially popular choice.

Javascript can easily be incorporated into the core HTML of a webpage to provide additional functionality to a site or app, such as password authentication, database queries and even animation. In addition, many extensible libraries based on Javascript have been developed in recent years to leverage the power of the core language to suit specific needs, including Node.js and Backbone.js. These libraries can add a great deal of functionality to existing pages, making them popular with mobile app developers.

Learning Javascript can be a little trickier than Python, as it features a more rigid and slightly different syntax than Python, but mastering Javascript should be at or near the top of every aspiring Web developer's to-do list. Once you've completed your HTML classes at the American Graphics Institute, you'll be ready to progress to more complicated topics such as how to manipulate the document object model, or DOM, how to use application programming interfaces, or APIs, and much more.

Diving in
Some would-be Web developers obsess about which language they should learn first. Ultimately, you should choose the language that makes the most sense to you. Whether you dive right into Javascript or take your time learning the ins-and-outs of Python, the best way to learn how to code is to start coding. Pick a language and stick to it. Learning to program requires discipline, but many of the core principles of OOP transfer from one language to another, such as the use of arrays, variables and strings, so once you've picked up the basics in one language, you can apply them to another.

About the author

Christopher Smith is president of American Graphics Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the publisher and editor of the Digital Classroom book series, which have sold more than one million copies. At American Graphics Institute, he provides strategic technology consulting to marketing professionals, publishers and to large technology companies including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and HP. An expert on web analytics and digital marketing, he delivers Google Analytics training along with workshops on digital marketing topics. He is also the author of more than 10 books on electronic publishing tools and technologies, including the Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies. Christopher did his undergraduate studies the at the University of Minnesota, and then worked for Quark, Inc. prior to joining American Graphics Institute where he has worked for 20 years.