The modern world simply wouldn’t be possible without computers. You’ll find one sort of computer or another in almost every appliance in your home – from your freezer to your microwave. But computers would be little more than expensive ornaments without the instructions necessary to do their respective tasks. And that’s why programming is such important work.
What is computer programming?
A well-written program will allow a computer to perform effectively. A badly-written one, by contrast, might cause it to run more slowly. You might have seen this principle in action after updating a particular piece of software, and noting an improvement (or drop) in performance.
Programming requires both logic and creativity, and talented programmers are always in great demand. For this reason alone, it’s an extremely valuable skill. Fortunately, you needn’t spend your money and time commuting to some distant centre of learning – you can simply pick things up in your own time, from home.
What computer programming languages are there to learn?
Just as there are many sorts of spoken language, there are also many different sorts of computer programming language, too. And, since the technological world is constantly evolving, new and improved languages are being constantly developed.
At the most basic level, computers do their work using extremely rapid electronic pulses. But programmers don’t spend their time typing out a lengthy stream of zeroes and ones – this would be impossible. Instead they use languages which are abstracted from the machinery of the computer, and therefore easier for a human being to understand and intuit.
Programming languages come in several different sorts. A high-level language is one which is highly abstracted, and very much removed from the way that a computer actually executes tasks. A programmer working with such a language needn’t worry about things like managing the amount of data that’s stored in memory, or how many instructions can be completed within a given cycle – because this will be sorted automatically when the program is compiled.
A low-level language, on the other hand, will provide very little abstraction – or perhaps even none at all. This means that it corresponds very closely with the machine-level language running underneath it all. Low-level languages are much more difficult to learn, but they tend to produce more efficient results – particular in highly specialised computers.
Of course, there is some disagreement among programmers as to which sort of language yields the best results. Some maintain that high-level languages do the job perfectly well in most instances; others counter that low-level ones are worth the trouble of learning.
As a beginner, it’s best to walk before you can run. Start with a high-level language. You might eventually progress to a lower-level one as you grow more familiar with the process involved, and want to learn less abstracted languages. You might, on the other hand, decide that you can do plenty with what you already know.
Two languages in particular dominate the world of programming. These are C and Java.
Among the most popular programming languages of all time is the C language, which was designed in the early seventies in order to provide programmers with an alternative to assembly code, whose output would work on a range of different systems.
The success of the language is legendary, and it’s now used in everything from tiny microcontrollers to enormous supercomputers. C has been developed and improved almost constantly since its inception, and remains among the most powerful tools at a program-writers disposal – and among the easiest to use, too.
Java is a close relative of C programming language, which enjoys similarly huge popularity in client-server web applications. It has less low-level functionality than either C or C++. The platform is currently owned by Oracle, who acquired it from Sun Microsystems in 2010.
Though Java once had a reputation as being slower and more memory-hungry than its rivals, that reputation has been shed in recent years – and the language now enjoys tremendous popularity.
It’s worth also mentioning another high-level programming language which is targeted specifically toward beginners: Microsoft’s Visual Basic. This language is perhaps the easiest of them all to get to grips with, and the principles you pick up when learning it can be easily applied to other languages.
For many simple applications, Basic is all that’s needed to create a fully-functional application – and so it’s used by many developers. Happily, Microsoft provide the software for free, allowing would-be programmers to learn the ropes without spending a penny.
Where to learn computer languages online
Whichever language you decide to learn, you’ll find an enormous amount of useful information out there on the internet. This might come in the form of a paid-for online course, or in the form of free, community-made instruction videos on popular sites like YouTube. You might also learn from the software providers themselves; Microsoft provide comprehensive instruction on a range of different programming languages, and beginners would be well advised take advantage of such a resource.
Naturally, it’s impossible to learn any sort of skill without putting it into practice. And computer programming is no different – in order to learn, you must write programs. Start with something easy, and write incrementally more difficult and sophisticated programs as you go on. Try to introduce a new programming instruction to your repertoire every week or so, and before long you’ll be competent enough to turn your vision into reality – however sophisticated or outlandish it might be!
What computer programming qualifications are there?
Of course, if you’re to take your newfound skills to an employer, you’ll need to demonstrate to them. Many employers will ask for a degree in computer science or software design, or for certification in a given language. If you’ve learned C, for example, you might consider completing one of several tests at a designated centre here in the UK.
Other employers are more willing to look for experience – if you can build up a portfolio of programs you’ve created, then this will serve as evidence of your skills. Remember, some of the most world-changing programs ever written were the work of college dropouts – so you needn’t have a university background in order to get the best out of your programming!