Even during turbulent economic times, a computer programmer is a steady, well-paid career choice.
Do you want to learn programming languages, but are unsure where to begin? With nearly 700 languages to choose from, picking a starting point can be tough.
When you see advertisements about coding boot camps or quick-and-easy code tutorials, these learning tools won’t automatically qualify you for a high-paying programmer career. However, becoming a coder is the first step to becoming a programmer.
If you want to learn to code, knowing the difference between coding and programming, what programming languages are, and the uses of popular programming languages can help you find your starting point.
Read on to learn about the popular programming languages you can choose.
Coding vs Programming
Although the terms coding language and programming language are interchangeable, coding is different from programming. All programmers are fundamental coders, but not all coders are necessarily programmers.
Coders use programming languages to write a program’s code. They may write program code without involvement in other program development functions.
Computer programming is the process of building an entire program, such as functional software, websites, or apps. In addition to coding, programmers design, implement, analyze, and troubleshoot the program.
Whether you want to stay a coder or progress to a programmer, learning a programming language opens the door for either career path.
What are Programming Languages?
Programming language uses are the basic set of instructions in computer programming, web development, and software development. They tell the program what the programmer wants it to do. It then uses a translator or compiler to convert the programming language into a usable machine language for the hardware.
Like human languages, each programming language has its own special rules, syntax, semantics, and abstract concepts. They can also share a family tree or common origin with important similarities and differences between the related languages.
There are over fifty programming language types, called paradigms. Popular paradigms include procedural, logical, object-oriented, and imperative.
Paradigms help coders and programmers choose the best code to complete a task. Some coding languages use multiple paradigms.
Programming languages are further classified between high-level and low-level, with some a combination of both (mid-level or hybrid).
High-level Programming Languages
These coding languages are easier to understand but harder to control. The codes are closer to human language and rely on abstraction or the use of simple code to represent hidden complex tasks.
High-level programming languages generally use translators instead of compilers to convert their code into machine language, which can make the code run slowly.
Their main advantage is the ease of learning and use, which also makes their programs easier to maintain and debug. High-level languages rarely include memory management. Popular high-level programming languages include Python and Java.
Low-level Programming Languages
These coding languages are harder to understand but easier to control. Their abstraction is low to non-existent. They are closer to machine language, which requires more effort for the human coder, but less translation for the machine.
Less translation means a code has more direct control over functions and can run faster with higher performance. They can include memory management. However, the learning curve for programmers can be much steeper.
Low-level programming languages include assembly language and the popular coding language R.
Mid-level (hybrid) Programming Languages
Some languages combine the functionality of low-level with the abstraction of high-level. These coding languages can be contentious among programmers who may not agree if they qualify as low-level or high-level.
For example, C is one of the oldest programming languages still in use. C was considered high-level for its time (the 1970s). As coding languages evolved, some programmers reclassified them as low-level in comparison to newer high-level coding languages. Other programmers still classify it as high-level.
Along with memory management, mid-level languages generally use compilers instead of interpreters, resulting in faster, lighter, and more controlled code.
Popular mid-level programming languages also include Rust and Go.
Popular Programming Languages and Their Uses
Large companies use different programming languages for various solutions. Many will use multiple coding languages within their company.
Popular programming language uses include designing websites, building operating systems, and developing apps. Niche coding uses include artificial intelligence, data analysis, and computer simulations.
Here is our guide to 11 of the most popularly ranked programming languages, what they are used for, and what large companies are using them.
The guide also includes the average programmer’s salary for each coding language via ZipRecruiter.
Average Programmer Salary: $115,000
Python is the Swiss Army knife of coding languages. It’s versatile and applicable for diverse uses including web and software development. It’s currently the #1 popular programming language according to PYPL, and #2 according to TIOBE.
Both beginner coders and experienced programmers can use Python for simple or complex tasks. It can build mini-projects like random password generators, or large-scale research engineering projects like artificial intelligence.
Major technology-driven companies use Python in multiple ways. Google uses this code for building systems, Netflix and Spotify for data analysis, and Uber for its tech stack (the system’s building blocks that run a website or app).
Average Programmer Salary: $118,000
Like Python, Perl is a general-purpose coding language. It’s also a language family that includes multiple related coding languages. Because it’s versatile but unwieldy to use, it’s often referred to as a Swiss Army Chainsaw.
Perl currently averages as the top highest-paid coding language. As other programming languages become more popular and/or easier to use, companies will pay more for rarer Perl programmers to maintain their systems.
Perl’s expertise is text processing or the automated generation and manipulation of electronic text. Its various uses include system administration, GUI programming, web automation, cloud data, and speech recognition. It can also generate HTML.
Average Salary: $106,000
Java is also a multi-purpose coding language. Its motto is “write once, run anywhere,” meaning in theory Java code should run on any Java-supported platform. Java sits at #2 on PYPL and #3 on TIOBE, right behind Python.
Java has many functions, but its wheelhouse is application development. Java is the primary code used to write android apps for companies like Twitter. Other popular app development categories include GUI, web, gaming, and cloud-based apps.
Java’s high performance makes it integral to many high-powered programs, including Adobe’s Creative Suite, Wikipedia’s search engine, and NASA’s WorldWind. Java was also the programming language used to control the Maestro Mars Rover in 2004.
Average Salary: $108,000
Average Salary: $86,000
PHP also includes HTML functionality and is primarily used for developing websites and web-based apps. It also includes database integration with popular databases like Oracle, MySQL, and the Microsoft SQL Server.
The blogging site Tumblr and the e-commerce site Etsy primarily used PHP code to build their websites. WordPress and Wikipedia also use PHP for database management.
Average Salary: $107,000
Ruby was created by software programmer Yukihiro Matsumoto, who combined elements of other programming languages to create a more “balanced” language. Ruby is not as popular as Python or R but still holds steady at #16 on PYPL and #15 on TIOBE.
Ruby is flexible as well as versatile. Unlike Python, Ruby may have multiple programming solutions. It’s used in networking, building operating system programs, and 3D models. The Ruby on Rails development tool can build websites, and apps, and integrate databases.
Ruby is used by many different types of companies, including GitHub, Goodreads, Twitter, and Amazon. Ruby is even used by the NASA Langley Research Center to run its computer simulations.
Average Salary: $110,000
Apple developed Swift to replace the more outdated Objective-C language, and is even referred to as “Objective-C, without the C.” Released in 2014, Swift is a baby compared to C and Python. Despite its relative newness, it still makes #10 on PYLP and #16 on TIOBE.
Like Java, Swift is a high-level programming language that uses a compiler, adding speed and stability. It focuses on being clean and easy to use.
Swift’s primary use is the development of Apple programs for Apple platforms and operating systems. Apple’s ARKit uses Swift. However, it still includes some functionality with Windows and Android. Rideshare company Lyft recently used Swift to re-write their iOS app code.
8. C / C++
Average Salary: $81,000
C is the common ancestor in a sprawling family tree that includes Perl, Java, PHP, and R. Despite their age, they are still some of the most used programming languages to date. Both C and C++ are #5 on PYPL, while C is #1 and C++ is #4 on TIOBE.
C++ is only slightly younger than C and was created to enhance C’s programming functions. Because they are mid-level and closer to machine language, they’re used in hardware-heavy systems such as gaming engines and operating systems.
Adobe uses C++ to develop its Photoshop software. Although it recently started integrating Rust, C and C++ have been the backbone of Microsoft applications and product development for decades.
Average Salary: $ 92,000
Rust is a stable and fast coding language that uses a compiler. Like other mid-level languages, it uses both the easier abstraction of high-level languages and the greater control of low-level languages. In the most recent Stack Overflow Survey, Rust was the #1 language for developers.
Rust is used for systems programming, including operating systems like Redox and Theseus. Rust’s memory management utilities can also safeguard against bugs and security issues.
Microsoft, Cloudflare, Facebook, and Yelp have all utilized Rust for higher memory safety. The communication app Discord uses Rust for services such as Go Live, Elixir NIFs, and Read States.
10. Go (Golang)
Average Salary: $129,000
Google designed Go to improve productivity and replace C/C++. Its official name is Go but is nicknamed Golang after its website domain, golang.org. Although it hasn’t reached Python and Java levels of popularity yet, it’s #5 on the Stack Overflow Survey.
Go combines C’s low-level functions, such as compiling and memory management, with high-level ease and versatility. Go’s primary uses include web development and network programming.
Along with Google’s uses, worldwide e-commerce company Alibaba used Go to develop their container engine PouchContainer. Other companies that use Go for various tasks include PayPal, Twitch, and Slack.
Average Salary: $91,000
R is a statistically driven language for analyzing data and turning it into graphical visualizations or statistical models. Despite being a low-level programming language, it ranks as #7 on PYPL and #14 on TIOBE.
R is more difficult to learn compared to coding languages like Python. However, R still has an accessible process for data science and software development. R’s data analysis and visuals make it especially useful for academics.
Many large tech companies utilize R’s functions. Facebook uses it for behavior analysis, and Twitter for data visualization. The manufacturing company John Deere uses R to model and forecast certain trends, such as crop yields and land usage.
Learn to Code
Choosing which programming languages to learn depends on what you want to do. Whether you want to develop multimillion-dollar apps, build stunning websites, or create a brand-new operating system, there is a code out there for you.
To learn more about coding, check out more articles in our programming section.