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11/8/2015
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10 Top Programming Languages For Learning To Code

Everyone wants to learn how to code, but what is the best entry point? Here are 10 top ways to check "programming" off your skills life-list.
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(Image: OpenClipartVectors via Pixabay)

(Image: OpenClipartVectors via Pixabay)

It seems that everyone wants to learn how to write computer code these days. No matter what field or profession a person works in, the ability to make a computer (or mobile device) dance to your tune seems part of the basic skill set. The question is, how does a person take the first step toward gaining those skills?

Once upon a time the path was simple: BASIC was where most people started before moving into Fortran or COBOL (depending on whether they were heading toward scientific or business programming). Now, though, there are far more options and rather less clarity.

If you want to know how to get started (or give advice to others), then you have a number of options. Choosing the best means looking at what you ultimately want to do, what you like to do now, and how you best learn new skills.

[See 10 Fascinating Facts About Apple's Swift Programming Language.]

Do you like to see things move at your command? Do you want to handle physical-world input and output? Is there a database at the center of your application dreams? Do you live your life on the Web? Depending on how you answer each of these, there could be a different "best" language for your foray into application development. The nice thing is that, once you've taken the first step, the second step is much easier regardless of the direction it takes you.

Did you use one of these languages to learn programming? Would you recommend one of these to someone who came to you for advice? I'd love to know the answer -- and to know about any good options I might have missed. I'll look forward to seeing you in the comments -- no advanced programming necessary!

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
11/8/2015 | 5:40:20 PM
And JavaScript
Though it might be an odd choice to start programming with, JavaScript just won't go away. Trust me, I have been praying for that since the 90s. It seems like more and more of our world runs on JavaScript, a startling amount by passing around JSON to and fro.

And it has the true hallmark of a mature language. No, not clear syntax and such. Its that sensation that you really can't *do* anything without calling 17 frameworks first.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
11/10/2015 | 6:41:48 PM
Re: And JavaScript
@Somdude8, JavaScript was #11 on my list. I thought hard about including it, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it even though I agree with all the points you made. I should probably do another list of scripting languages still being used out in the real world: REXX, anyone?
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2015 | 1:06:00 PM
Re: And JavaScript
I would argue Javascript does not count because it is client side only. There are no database oriented commands in the language. If you are only programming client side, you are not getting the full picture.

I would make similar claim about SQL but for opposite reason, all it does is work with database. You don't do UI in SQL, period.

Charlie brought up good point below about typing. We spent a lot of time in college using Pascal because it was a strong typing language. Even in these days before OOP existed, it was a powerfull concept to understand.
damean
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damean,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/12/2015 | 12:17:54 PM
Re: And JavaScript
TerryB ... Would disagree with your statement "I would argue Javascript does not count because it is client side only". Javascript on the Serverside has RE-gained (It does starts as both server & client) a pretty wide acceptance in the corporate world lately; especially since the rollout of Google's V8 (JavaScript Engine; Eqv to Java' JVM)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_server-side_JavaScript_solutions

 
biggsy
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biggsy,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2015 | 6:52:31 AM
Top 10 Programming Languages
All the suggestions make perfect sense.  My only caveat has to do with your description of C++ leading to an in depth knowledge of the OS and the hardware......and there's the rub.  I'd suggest that learning about the OS and the hardware probably needs parallel learning of something like the UNIX command line and shell scripting (or the equivalent in your OS of choice).  Perhaps shell scripting would be "language eleven".
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
11/9/2015 | 11:32:14 AM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
A business cannot operate without IT at an efficient level. MIS, ERP and CRM, etc., are the systems that enable business efficiency. I wonder if basic programming skills are important for a professional to transfer for instance, from a CFO to a CEO role.
ThadeusF903
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ThadeusF903,
User Rank: Strategist
11/13/2015 | 11:08:10 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
Purely asinine. Many companies survive well without CRM or ERP or any other IT alphabet soup you care to throw against the wall. And often without IT being efficient, even at the core infrastructure stuff. And yeh, I'm sure programmers become C-level all the time...
pdembry950
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pdembry950,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2015 | 12:07:54 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
Shell or C++ will not lead to an in depth knowledge of hardware. Assembler is the way to truly understand what you are telling the hw to do (you could also dig deeper and write firmware). IMO the lack of h/w-s/w interaction understanding is a big reason why so many products are less efficient than they could be. When CPUs were ever-faster (and power hungrier), you could simply pour more hw into the system to make it faster. Now that power consumption is important, understanding the most efficient way to write s/w is vital. "Make it work" vs "Make it work efficiently" are two different paths. The second requires more thought.

Granted it is not easy or time-effcient to write large sytems completely in assembler but knowing what your C++ code is doing to the hw is important.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/9/2015 | 2:02:13 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
@pdembry950, as someone old enough who actually wrote Assembler for an IBM mainframe in college, I'm not sure I'd visit that on my worst enemy. How much hardware stuff you need to know certainly varies with what application you are writing, but for most part hardware has been abstracted from the o/s itself. And unless you are writing some embedded system, like a weapons system for B2 bomber, the characteristics of CPUs, disk drives, screen I/O, etc are really irrelevant in learning to program.

The only exception to this is when trying to optimize performance and those systems (like Windows) where o/s does a horrible job of managing memory. If you don't understand memory leaks on Win, you are in big trouble as developer. Thankfully I've always developed on IBM mainframes and midranges where o/s manages that stuff well.

As developer. you do need to understand certain characteristics of hardware. Like disk I/O being slow compared to memory. The latency of networks. How cache is used by o/s. But to actually write code which moves data between registers in a CPU adds very little insight to an ordinary business programmer.

I will admit these new multi threaded cores are changing the game. To write thread safe code, you do need to at least understand what you are dealing with, how that works. But even that has a layer of abstraction, you don't actually code the use of the CPU core unless you are writing the compiler/interpreter for the programming language the end developer is using.
pdembry950
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pdembry950,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2015 | 2:16:44 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
I did my time with IBM assembler and I still have my yellow card. But did you use punch cards? I still recall the smell of the warm oil of the punch card machines. I had a trick to minimize punch card typing, especially for PL/1. I created a shorthand of common keywords, submitted my deck to file, then wrote a short program to do find/replace of my keywords, submitted that deck and the file was updated. Saved hours and many wasted cards. So did drawing a diagonal line across the top of my deck with a thick black marker so that if/when I dropped it, I could quickly get it back in order.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/9/2015 | 2:27:34 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
Ha! Now that brings back a bad memory. I created a punch card deck for COBOL to run on the IBM 360 the school had. We didn't get green screen timesharing until my junior year. Anyway this deck was hundreds of cards, probably 8-10 inches thick if you measured with ruler. The stupid machine you typed punch cards on was out of alignment, all the holes were not in right spot. So the punch card reader could not process, had to type the whole deck in again. Ah, the good old days.... :-)

One of my other classes we actually wrote the o/s for a DEC PDP-11, which had a floppy drive and punch card reader, in some Assembler language. The class was called Real Time Design II. For the final, the professor loaded your program into machine and ran it. After he verified peripherals worked using your code, he flipped the Off switch, which dumped all the registers in zeros and ones. You then had to sit with him and circle each register on dump, explain exactly what machine was doing when it went down. Thankfully, that experience has not been needed in my business careeer.  :-)
onnikcorp
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onnikcorp,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2015 | 9:05:50 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
I came from the middle of the road, just missed the punch cards and assembler in college, although they where stillin use. Had my head burried in developement when the Web first came out and HTML, JAVA, PHP where in there infentcy.

Did the Basic/Pascal/Fortran/Cobal/RPG thing, Basic was my main tool, but as languages go, you know, even with libraries and tools, developing was time consuming. I needed FAST FAST FAST, and a database to boot.

How many of you came up from Radio Shack TRSDOS PC in 1979. their database "Profile" was a database and language wrapped in one. When it moved on to PC's and Unix and Xenix and all othed *ix OS's it was renamed "filePro" and every few months, more wish list items added to the database.

After years of dev work by the owners and writers it has come to be an amazing developement tool that a novice can learn in hours and days (Processing tables stop syntax errors and point them out to you. You dont have to try to find a missing symbol somewhere in hundreds of lines of code) and an expert can create entire programs in minutes, hours or days. 

It's probably the fastest application developement tool. "PERIOD"

And probably the fastest data processing application too.

Couple that with a Unix/Linux/AnyIX OS using some Shell Scripts and the power of the OS and you have one kickass application developement and production environment.

It runs on windows too, but I prefer Unix! No comparison for me.

Back to the "Top 10". in recent years, the above tool has been amazing, but, to do it all required a little bit more. So for my list of languages for the task at hand.

1) UNIX/Linux Shell (sh, ksh, csh, and good shell language will do, and can do a lot!)

2) filePro (My main Dev Language and Database)

3) Eventually any data you process will have to go to the web in some form or another so HTML needed.

4) To really minipulate your website add Java to the list.

5) Also necessary for many tasks on the web, add PHP.

6) Finally, the last language we needed was pearl for some local data minipulation.

With these 6 main tools, almost anything can be coded for business applications.

Unfortunitly, learning only one or two languages does not give you enough flexability to do it all.

My hunble opinion!

 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2015 | 1:31:51 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
@onnikcorp, I think your list gives a lot of insight into the problem with UNIX, it takes a lot of stuff to get anything done. Please don't take that as bashing UNIX, it is a fine o/s, especially when compared to Windows. It's just UNIX does not come with integrated tools, other than it's shell language. That's why so many people using UNIX are running Oracle or MySQL for database, plus a large variety of programming languages. You have to.

My career has been in the IBM world, mainframes and what used to be called the AS400. Those platforms have integrated relational databases and native programming languages (including SQL) to build applications with. I do agree that browser apps take more, you must learn client side tools like HTML/javascript.

Only my personal opinion but the best thing I see going today are the javascript platforms like jQuery and Extjs which, combined with CSS, create HTML5 code on the fly for your client side. I personally use Extjs and Touch from Sencha, which acts like a high level language. Think COBOL/FORTRAN versus coding Assembler, that is the difference in coding Extjs versus javascript. With both Extjs and jQuery, you use AJAX calls to server to get data returned as either JSON, XML or a SQL result set. That can be any type of server and whatever server language you want to use to get data from your database. That's the space PHP lives in, although I personally still use RPG on my IBM i5 server.

RPG has changed radically from it's beginnings, hardly qualifies as same language it used to be. If you looked at RPG Free now, looks more like C than old RPG. But RPG is IBM specific, certainly not recommending that as a starter language for learning programming.
nmouradian113
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nmouradian113,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2015 | 10:22:46 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
I know most of you never even heard of filePro from fptech.com.

If you want to learn programming, without all the heavy lifting, (coding screens, reports and processes)

download the free trial of filepro and spend 1 hour with it.

In that time, a beginner will learn about files, fields, creating screens and report and if you want to write something simple like an address book, you can write the whole thing in under 5 minutes once you spend the hour learning the basics of filePro and minipulating data.

I don't think there is any other language or database that you can make that statement with.

BTW, filePro is written in C so it runs native on all the linus.unix servers.

you can play with the Windows version, but the WOW comes in when you run 40 or 50 users on single server, with 4 GB of memory and it just flies!

Java not going anywhere, with AJAX, for the WEB to DATABASE connection. Love It!

Same for C++, everything Linus/Unix loves C.

So, I would teach on filePro, so novices can grasp the concepts of data, files, fields, etc.

Then move on to the the tougher languages. Need to start somewhere, I cant think of anything easier.

If you don't believe me, take a few minutes, check out their site fptech.com and try it for yourself.

I personally don't believe anything I have not tried myself. so I put you all to the chalange to give it a try and let me know what you think.

If you do, I promise you will thank me and hate me at the same time, because you will still have to code with your current tools, for weeks on a project, and you will know you can do it in filePro in just a few hours.

Let me know!
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
11/12/2015 | 1:18:17 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
@nmouradian, interesting you and @onnicorp have exactly the same writing style and both talk about this UNIX tool I've never heard of in my 30 year career. This wouldn't be an attempt at getting free advertising, would it? You aren't talking to a bunch of idiots on this thread.

If you are legit, what exactly makes FilePro any better than, say, MS Access and VBA?
ThadeusF903
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ThadeusF903,
User Rank: Strategist
11/13/2015 | 10:56:34 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
I'll break out an old copy of Turbo Pascal or DBase III before I approach a filepro plug of any kind. Nice shameless ad.
nmouradian113
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nmouradian113,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2015 | 1:25:21 AM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
Not a plug for filePro. We where discussing teaching somebody what programming is about and how it works.

Pascal and Dbase just didn't cut it. #1 too slow to code in, #2 not powerfull enough to do everything thrown at it.

With filePro you can get a novice to understand the programming concepts very quickly. Then he can take a year or more to figure out how to do the same thing he just did in 10 minures, in a higher level language, be it C or Java or whatever. They will know the end goal of what they need to achieve. What it takes to get there is an entirely different matter depending on the language or other 4GL Database designed to develope applications in.

Again, this is just my opinion from playing with many many languages, relational databases etc for the past 35 years. 
MichaelOFaolain
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MichaelOFaolain,
User Rank: Moderator
11/14/2015 | 11:54:20 AM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
onnikcorp's history sounds much like mine (including the Tandy thing). I'm retired now, but still "fool around" using HTML, JAVA, Flash, etc., tools with some code writing. Like you I would think to make a secure living today one would need a number of languages to list on a resume.
mcook372
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mcook372,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2015 | 1:25:06 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
OMG - we must be the same age!  Don't tell!
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
11/12/2015 | 1:37:24 AM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
In addition to programming language, working with different system is also important: embedded OS, Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, Realtime OS - each one will give you a different (and deeper and deepr) view of computer software/hardware.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
11/13/2015 | 2:19:14 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
From my personal experience, I was introduce to C++ I really had a hard time understanding programming. I have tried Python later on in my career, I really learned to enjoy it, the syntax was easy for me to understand.  There are many good tutorials out there as well. 
ThadeusF903
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ThadeusF903,
User Rank: Strategist
11/13/2015 | 10:51:08 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
Arduino, Scratch, MATLAB, and Lego? Seriously? And you don't even mention PHP or .NET? Shame on you for being a poser. And not one mobile device oriented language, in this day and age? Amazing.
ThadeusF903
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ThadeusF903,
User Rank: Strategist
11/13/2015 | 11:05:32 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
Who says anything needs to lead to an in-depth knowledge of the hardware? That kind of programming accounts for less than .1% of the code written today. People want solutions to real world problems, not some code that can do something with the hardware. Get over yourself, and your own personal (limited) focus and experience.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
11/11/2015 | 5:44:42 PM
Re: Top 10 Programming Languages
@biggsy, your comment gets straight to one of the biggest philosophical questions in the whole "learning to code" discussion: Should the initial coding education focus on "programming basics" like logic, numerical analysis, and process control; or should it emphasize the working of the computer itself (with the OS thrown in for good measure)?

I came down on the former side, though I'm willing to be convinced that I'm wrong. If I'm going to teach someone about the hardware I'm probably going to dive right into assembler, though I'm almost certainly going to choose a relatively simple processor. In retrospect, IBM's BAL was a dream language for that purpose.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
11/9/2015 | 9:45:30 AM
Quite Different From the Old Days
First language I learned, BASIC followed by COBOL, Pascal, Fortran, APL,  RPG and lastly PowerBuilder.  I wonder if these 10 posted here will still be around in another 20 or 30 years. 
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
11/11/2015 | 5:49:42 PM
Re: Quite Different From the Old Days
@DDURBIN1, your progression of languages looks a lot like mine (though I left COBOL until later in the process.) And your question about longevity is a good one. I suspect that C++ and Java will still be hanging around, though I suspect that more and more interactions with the computer will involve "building blocks" rather than lines of code. Unless you're doing stuff that seriously stresses the hardware (or are tasked with doing things on a system level) the machines have gotten fast enough to gracefully deal with the inefficiencies of a more remote approach.
BertrandW414
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BertrandW414,
User Rank: Strategist
11/9/2015 | 1:57:47 PM
MATLAB but not R
If MATLAB made the list then I would have expected R to have, too, or at least earned an "honorable mention" by being commneted on in the MATLAB mini-write-up. Hey, R is free, too!
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
11/9/2015 | 7:15:27 PM
Java: Strongly versus loosely typed
One of the biggest differences between Java and some of the more modern scripting languages is that Java is strongly typed. Variables need to be of a defined type to be accepted by the Java program, which limits the mischief that can be done through the program. Some scripting languages are loosely typed and have a more open door to tampering.
tedosetek
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tedosetek,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2015 | 9:57:50 PM
10 top programming languages for learning to code
learn, understand and use Excel.  Makes you understand logic and functions.  Result is useful

tool that allows you to graduate to any language.  I started a long time ago using 1620 Fortran

and then IBM FAP, MAP and some APL...and have used various languages.  Always thought it

was more important to understand the goal rather than the code.
danstrong501
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danstrong501,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2015 | 2:06:01 PM
Start with C++ or C#
I learned basics of coding with C64 BASIC.  If I could go back to 1982, I would have rather started with C.  Now days I tell people to start with C++ or C#.  Understanding the C structure is the way, most languages are based on a C type structure of development. 

C++ is my first pick though, it is multi-platform.  Also, I tell people to learn OOP while taking C++ and understand it very well. 

Once you get a language down, it is good to learn a framework as well.

 

 
Nathe37216
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Nathe37216,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/10/2015 | 2:24:35 PM
A very subjective list...
I find your list rather subjective, and wonder why javascript and C# did not make your list at all.  HTML + Javascript with plugins is by far the most used combinations for web site UX development as far as I know.

You seem to dismiss Microsoft's contribution to language development entirely.  I began programming with C in the early 80's after starting with FORTRAN and BASIC. I moved on to C++ as soon as it was viable.  I began programming with C++, WIN32 API, and MFC for Windows in the early 90's. C# brings together the power of managed code, C++ and the architecture independence depending on the CLR you build for.

And last of all is Structured Query Language (SQL).  Why that didn't make your list I cannot imagine.
hgolden913
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hgolden913,
User Rank: Strategist
11/10/2015 | 2:25:44 PM
"The Haskell Road to Logic, Maths and Programming"
It may seem strange to recommend learning the Haskell programming language first, but there is a method to the madness. Ultimately, programming is about logic and mathematics. If you have a good understanding of high school mathematics, you may find that learning Haskell using the course The Haskell Road to Logic, Maths and Programming is right for you. The book is available online or in paperback, and all the programs are available on the author's website (I will refrain from posting a link, but you will have no trouble finding the website using your favorite search engine). Enjoy!
nmouradian113
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nmouradian113,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/11/2015 | 10:39:10 PM
Re: "The Haskell Road to Logic, Maths and Programming"
You know, when I was starting to program, they wanted a strong math background.

After years of coding application software for businesses, the toughest math I've had to do has been currency conversion or tax calculation. I never understood why they always pressed the math. You do need to have good logic and a good understanding of what is happening to the data.

In todays world of VM servers, everything, including the OS is just a datafile you can minipulate.

A lot of people I work with seem to have a problem understanding "THE DATA" whether it's a database, or a program, it's all data, and it can all be manipulated, if you understand the logic of what is happening.

Now, my cousin, who works on phone systems, is in a NUMBERS world. he even compiles C programs manually to fully optimize the code and the timing. How many of you every really need to crunch numbers to the point where you can say you need a very strong math background?

Just my opinion that they overstress MATH for Programming.
ThadeusF903
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ThadeusF903,
User Rank: Strategist
11/13/2015 | 10:54:45 PM
Re: "The Haskell Road to Logic, Maths and Programming"
Try programming something related to graphics, or scientific transformations, and see if math doesn't come in handy.
nmouradian113
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nmouradian113,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/15/2015 | 1:58:55 AM
Re: "The Haskell Road to Logic, Maths and Programming"
Point well taken. If you are developing any video games or other graphic apps, you are 100% correct, but to tell kids that they have to have a "STRONG" math background to be able to code is BS! I have the strong masth background they wanted to let me program, but my forte is applications for businesses, almost 0 real math required. Qty X Rate, Total some lines, calculate tax, all BS. If you understand the logic, this math is simple.

 
TedR411
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TedR411,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/13/2015 | 12:50:07 PM
Don't leave SQL off the list
Good post. Brings together the historical view of languages with a view of the most common languages used today.

The language I don't see mentioned is SQL. SQL really needs to be on the top 10 list. Along with SQL, developers also need to have a solid understanding of the database they are working on (Oracle, SQL Server, etc) to understand query optimization, triggers, DB connections, commit processing, etc. Too many programmers don't understand the underlying database and the apps suffer significantly because of it.

My flash from the past is a shoutout to Borland's Turbo Pascal. The first IDE which revolutionized programming on PCs.

 
ThadeusF903
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ThadeusF903,
User Rank: Strategist
11/13/2015 | 10:52:30 PM
Re: Don't leave SQL off the list
SQL is not by any stretch of the imagination a programming language, anymore than PCL is.
DouglasA385
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DouglasA385,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/10/2015 | 4:00:43 AM
My pennies worth
As some whose whole career 30+ years has been in programming (M)umps for the 1st part of my career then into SQL. Now VB.NET, C#, SQL the list is long. Regardless of what language you want to learn especially if your trying to be self taught is having a well reasoned need. It's all well and good to say "I want to learn xyz language". But having an end goal focuses you in learning process to gain the pre requiste skill set in any given language. We could go into the symantics of is SQL a programming language v say a more client side language. The point is any language is a tool for a job. So no matter how easy or hard a language is to code in a lot of beginners give up because they don't have a project or an end goal to strive for and they end up unfocused and thus making learning any language harder than it actually is. Like all learning it takes not just a desire but a reason. I am not saying Python isn't easier than others. But what you learn doing any language above the syntax and guts in any language is just as if not more important.
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