Choosing a First Coding Language (or Not!)

One of the first questions we hear from teachers, parents, and summer camp leaders who want to start using coding with their kids is "What coding language is this?" often followed by some version of "Is that the one I want my kids to know?" 

It's a valid question. Nobody wants to learn useless coding! On the other hand, we at Let's Start Coding don't think it's one of the first questions to ask. In this blog post, I'll lay out why language choice is less important than you may think for total coding beginners. 

 

Languages Upon Languages Upon Languages....

If you search Wikipedia for "List of Programming Languages", you'll find this page and hundreds of programming languages that are described as 'notable', meaning they aren't languages written as a joke and used by 5 people worldwide.

Nobody knows all of these languages. Nobody needs to. Some coding languages are extremely specialized to a certain field or function. And rather than spend all of your time researching each of these languages and trying to predict their usefulness to your beginners, you may want to look for 'most used computer programming languages'. 

 

Top 5, Top 10, or Top 15 most used languages lists

These lists abound on the internet. It's hard to know exactly what they're measuring, (surveys of programmers, insights into major companies, popularity at colleges) but if you browse through a few of these you'll see that the same names start popping up over and over. Names like Javascript, C, Java, Ruby, Python, and Go will often populate these lists. So we've narrowed it down to 15 languages that are widely used. Now what?

 

Focus on the Fundamentals

If you're setting out with a specific goal in mind- a great website, a console video game, or a robot, you'll likely find that there is one language that is most common for that function. But if you're setting out to learn some basic coding and then follow your interests from there, the core fundamentals are very, very similar between these languages. Let's prove it by examining a common code structure: the 'for' loop.

 

The 'for' loop

Almost every coding language has a way to repeat an action a certain number of times. You may want to blink a light exactly 10 times, for example, or create 10 random numbers.  That's what the 'for' loop allows you to do. I found a list of the most used programming languages in 2017 and then looked up the specific syntax for each language to run a command 499 times. The command is not important; what we're demonstrating is that the structure of each of these 'for' loops is similar and often exactly the same! Take a look at the list of programming languages and the format for a 'for' loop below- no need to understand all of the code, just look at the letters, punctuation, and formatting.

C++

for(int i=0; i<500; i++) {
}

Objective C

for(int i=0; i<500; i++) {
}

Javascript

for(var i=0; i<500; i++) { 
}

 

Java

for(int i=0; i<500; i++) {
}

 

Swift

for i in 0..<500 {
}

Python

for i in range(0, 500):

 

C

for(int i=0; i<500; i++) {
}

 

PHP

for($i=0; $i<500; $i++) {
}

 

Ruby

for i in 0..499
end

 

Golang

for i :=0; i<500; i++ { 
}

I hope this is convincing evidence that once a coder understands the purpose of a 'for' loop and when to use it, they could easily make the leap between languages. So, if language isn't the first consideration for someone who wants to learn code, what is?

 

Engagement and Support

Especially if you're focused on helping a young person learn some real code, engagement is critical. It's not likely that a task like manipulating lists of fake customer data is going to keep them interested in learning to code. At Let's Start Coding, we engage students with hands-on electronics that they control with code. Because they're working with real circuits and making their own customized gadgets, we find that kids stay engaged with the code, even when it's challenging.

A support structure is equally important to a beginner having a solid learning experience. Without guidance, students can get lost in the huge body of knowledge around coding. How should concepts be sequenced? What are the real-world examples of code in action? A structured learning experience helps answer those questions. For our coding kits, we've created 14 free step-by-step lessons that introduce code fundamentals in a sequence.

 

So What Coding Language does Let's Start Coding Use?

Let's Start Coding kits use C++ (see-plus-plus) code, but our focus is on teaching the core loops, variables, statements, syntax and troubleshooting skills that any student of typed coding will need. Are you ready to get started? Grab a Let's Start Coding kit from our shop and you're ready to go!