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By David Gassner | Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Getting started as a programmer and what language to learn first

It scares me to say this, but I’ve just celebrated a big anniversary: I’ve been a software developer for 25 years. My first programming language was something called PAL. It stood for Paradox Application Language, and was a part of Paradox, a popular DOS-based database application that was in many ways the Microsoft Access of its time. Over the ensuing years, I’ve learned and forgotten many languages as I moved into different areas of the software development world. But I found that each language was progressively easier to learn. Once I understood the fundamentals, I was able to apply lessons learned so far to the new challenges facing me.

No one was around in the beginning to tell me that programming was difficult. I had some work I needed to do, and with the help of sample code and tutorials, I figured out how to do it. It was only later that I learned how intimidating programming sounds to some folks. But it doesn’t have to be painful at all, and I believe that by finding and using the right learning resources, and moving forward in small incremental steps, anyone can learn to code.

We’ve been hearing from our members for the last few years that programming has become more important to you, and so in 2011 we responded by publishing a series of courses on some of the world’s most popular programming languages. In this post, I’m going to describe what you need to know to get started as a programmer and how to select a first programming language to learn.

If you’ve never done a lick of programming, you might want to start with lynda.com staff author Simon Allardice’s course Foundations of Programming: Fundamentals. As in many industries, software developers have their own lingo. Words like statement, function, method, and property have very specific meanings, and some of these meanings can differ from one language to the next. Simon explains the language of languages, and compares many of the most popular programming languages with each other. Examples are provided in JavaScript, Java, C#, and many others.

The next step is to choose your first language. Which language you choose will depend largely on what you want to accomplish. You might use one language for building web pages, another for creating applications designed for cell phones and tablets, and so on.

The most popular programming language course in the Online Training Library® is, unsurprisingly, the most recent edition of our ever-popular JavaScript Essential Training, also authored by Simon Allardice. JavaScript is so popular because it’s the programming language of the modern web. It’s the language that “glues” other web technologies together, such as HTML and CSS. It’s supported in all modern browsers, and is at the core of many popular web frameworks such as jQuery. Looking beyond the browser, JavaScript is also used in many other software development environments, including Titanium, a set of tools for building cross-platform mobile applications, Node.js, a recent entry in the world of server-side web application development, and Unity, a package that enables building games for many platforms.

If you want to build native apps for mobile devices, you might choose Objective-C to build apps for iPhone and iPad. Objective-C Essential Training will help you get started, and then you can move on to our other courses on building apps for the iOS operating system. Java Essential Training with David Gassner (yes, that’s me) teaches the language that’s used to build native apps for Android and BlackBerry devices, and C# Essential Training with Joe Marini will help you get started with building Silverlight and XNA apps for Windows Phone 7. And once you learn either Java or C#, you’ll be able to build not just mobile apps, but also applications for the web (client- and server-side) and much more.

In addition to the courses we added in 2011, the Online Training Library® offers lessons on other languages that you can use for a variety of tasks. These include tutorials on Perl and Python with Bill Weinman, PHP and Ruby with Kevin Skoglund, and one of my own personal favorites, ColdFusion Markup Language with David Gassner (me again).

So regardless of which language you want to learn, you should be able to find some valuable tools in the Online Training Library® to help you get started. I really believe that if you have something you want to accomplish that requires a bit of programming, you can learn it. That’s lynda.com’s new motto, and it absolutely applies to the world of software development.

Interested in more? • All developer courses on lynda.com • All courses from David Gassner on lynda.com

Suggested courses to watch next:Foundations of Programming: FundamentalsJavaScript Essential Training (2011)Objective-C Essential TrainingC# Essential TrainingJava Essential Training

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