Top 10 Programming Languages to Learn

Sunil J

Having spent more than 10 years in software development and the computer programming arena, one of the most common questions I am asked is:

What are some of the best programming languages to learn?

This is a question that is asked by beginners, as well as experts. As with many important questions, the answer is not simple. There are many factors that should be taken into account while deciding a programming language to learn.

Technology evolves in matter of weeks and by the time you become expert in a particular software technology, it can already be considered obsolete. Another extremely important thing to note is that programming languages vary greatly in terms of functionality and complexity. The answer to what programming language you should learn majorly depends upon the type of task you want to perform. For instance, if you are developing some static web-based application, you might need to learn simple HTML. Conversely, if you want to develop a more dynamic application with advanced capabilities, you might need to learn ASP.NET, PHP, Ruby on Rails, or JavaScript and accompanying framework. Desktop and mobile applications have different requirements as well.

In addition to that, another interesting aspect of programming that I noticed is that not only programmers and software engineers are interested in learning new programming languages, but people from totally different walks of life are also into it. Recently, I came across a PhD researcher with psychology as a research area. He was instructed by his supervisor to learn some advanced programming language because he would be required to display his research result in form of a software application. He was also asking the same question about what from where he should start. That shows that programming is not limited to programmers, with rigorous practice and attention, anyone, yes anyone, can program.

Now back to the top 10. I have decided to compile a list of programming languages that can be helpful in deciding which to pursue, and have also added a number of typical “developer types” or “tracks” that you could become or experiment with. You should have a look at these languages and decide which is best suited for your requirements. So, let’s get started.

C Language

C is a general-purpose, high-level language that was originally developed by Dennis M. Ritchie to develop the UNIX operating system at Bell Labs. C was originally first implemented on the DEC PDP-11 computer in 1972.

In 1978, Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie produced the first publicly available description of C, now known as the K&R standard.

The UNIX operating system, the C compiler, and essentially all UNIX applications programs have been written in C. The C has now become a widely used professional language for various reasons.

  • Easy to learn
  • Structured language
  • It produces efficient programs.
  • It can handle low-level activities.
  • It can be compiled on a variety of computer platforms.

Facts about C

  • C was invented to write an operating system called UNIX.
  • C is a successor of B language which was introduced around 1970
  • The language was formalized in 1988 by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI).
  • The UNIX OS was totally written in C by 1973.
  • Today C is the most widely used and popular System Programming Language.
  • Most of the state-of-the-art softwares have been implemented using C.
  • Today's most popular Linux OS and RBDMS MySQL have been written in C.

Why to use C?

C was initially used for system development work, in particular the programs that make-up the operating system. C was adopted as a system development language because it produces code that runs nearly as fast as code written in assembly language. Some examples of the use of C might be:

  • Operating Systems
  • Language Compilers
  • Assemblers
  • Text Editors
  • Print Spoolers
  • Network Drivers
  • Modern Programs
  • Databases
  • Language Interpreters
  • Utilities

C Programs

A C program can vary from 3 lines to millions of lines and it should be written into one or more text files with extension ".c"; for example, hello.c. You can use "vi", "vim" or any other text editor to write your C program into a file.

2. C++ Language

C++ (pronounced see plus plus) was developed by Bjarne Stroustrup at Bell Labs as an extension to C, starting in 1979. C++ was ratified in 1998 by the ISO committee, and again in 2003 (called C++03). A new version of the standard, known as C++11 has been made available.

The underlying design philosophy of C and C++ can be summed up as “trust the programmer” — which is both wonderful, because the compiler will not stand in your way if you try to do something unorthodox that makes sense, but also dangerous, because the compiler will not stand in your way if you try to do something that could produce unexpected results. That is one of the primary reasons why knowing how NOT to code C/C++ is important — because there are quite a few pitfalls that new programmers are likely to fall into if caught unaware.

C++ adds many new features to the C language, and is perhaps best thought of as a superset of C, though this is not strictly true as C99 introduced a few features that do not exist in C++. C++’s claim to fame results primarily from the fact that it is an object-oriented language.

C++ Features
  1. C++ is C. C++ supports (almost) all the features of C. Like C, C++ allows programmers to manage the memory directly, so as to develop efficient programs.
  2. C++ is OO. C++ enhances the procedural-oriented C language with the object-oriented extension. The OO extension facilitates design, reuse and maintenance for complex software.
  3. Template C++. C++ introduces generic programming, via the so-called template. You can apply the same algorithm to different data types.
  4. STL. C++ provides a huge set of reusable standard libraries, in particular, the Standard Template Library (STL).
C++ Strength and Pitfall

C++ is a powerful language for high-performance applications, including writing operating systems and their subsystems, games and animation. C++ is also a complex and difficult programming language, which is really not meant for dummies. For example, to effectively use the C++ Standard Template Library (STL), you need to understand these difficult concepts: pointers, references, operator overloading and template, on top of the object-oriented programming concepts such as classes and objects, inheritance and polymorphism; and the traditional constructs such as decision and loop. C++ is performance centric. The C++ compiler does not issue warning/error message for many obvious programming mistakes, undefined and unspecified behaviors, such as array index out of range, using an uninitialized variable, etc, due to the focus on performance and efficiency rather than the ease of use - it assumes that those who choose to program in C++ are not dummies.

3. Java

 Java is a computer programming language that is concurrent, class-based, object-oriented, and specifically designed to have as few implementation dependencies as possible. It is intended to let application developers "write once, run anywhere" (WORA), meaning that code that runs on one platform does not need to be recompiled to run on another. Java applications are typically compiled to bytecode (class file) that can run on any Java virtual machine (JVM) regardless of computer architecture. Java is, as of 2014, one of the most popular programming languages in use, particularly for client-server web applications, with a reported 9 million developers. Java was originally developed by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems (which has since merged into Oracle Corporation) and released in 1995 as a core component of Sun Microsystems' Java platform. The language derives much of its syntax from C and C++, but it has fewer low-level facilities than either of them.

Java is a computer programming language. It enables programmers to write computer instructions using English based commands, instead of having to write in numeric codes. It’s known as a “high-level” language because it can be read and written easily by humans. Like English, Java has a set of rules that determine how the instructions are written. These rules are known as its “syntax”. Once a program has been written, the high-level instructions are translated into numeric codes that computers can understand and execute.

Why Choose Java?

Java was designed with a few key principles in mind:

  • Easy to Use: The fundamentals of Java came from a programming language called c++. Although c++ is a powerful language, it was felt to be too complex in its syntax, and inadequate for all of Java's requirements. Java built on, and improved the ideas of c++, to provide a programming language that was powerful and simple to use.
  • Reliability: Java needed to reduce the likelihood of fatal errors from programmer mistakes. With this in mind, object-oriented programming was introduced. Once data and its manipulation were packaged together in one place, it increased Java’s robustness.
  • Secure: As Java was originally targeting mobile devices that would be exchanging data over networks, it was built to include a high level of security. Java is probably the most secure programming language to date.
  • Platform Independent: Programs needed to work regardless of the machine they were being executed on. Java was written to be a portable language that doesn't care about the operating system or the hardware of the computer.

This is a must learn language for every programmer.

4. C#

C# is an elegant and type-safe object-oriented language that enables developers to build a variety of secure and robust applications that run on the .NET Framework. You can use C# to create Windows client applications, XML Web services, distributed components, client-server applications, database applications, and much, much more. Visual C# provides an advanced code editor, convenient user interface designers, integrated debugger, and many other tools to make it easier to develop applications based on the C# language and the .NET Framework.

C# syntax is highly expressive, yet it is also simple and easy to learn. The curly-brace syntax of C# will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with C, C++ or Java. Developers who know any of these languages are typically able to begin to work productively in C# within a very short time. C# syntax simplifies many of the complexities of C++ and provides powerful features such as nullable value types, enumerations, delegates, lambda expressions and direct memory access, which are not found in Java. C# supports generic methods and types, which provide increased type safety and performance, and iterators, which enable implementers of collection classes to define custom iteration behaviors that are simple to use by client code. Language-Integrated Query (LINQ) expressions make the strongly-typed query a first-class language construct.

As an object-oriented language, C# supports the concepts of encapsulation, inheritance, and polymorphism. All variables and methods, including the Main method, the application's entry point, are encapsulated within class definitions. A class may inherit directly from one parent class, but it may implement any number of interfaces. Methods that override virtual methods in a parent class require the override keyword as a way to avoid accidental redefinition. In C#, a struct is like a lightweight class; it is a stack-allocated type that can implement interfaces but does not support inheritance.
In addition to these basic object-oriented principles, C# makes it easy to develop software components through several innovative language constructs, including the following:

  • Encapsulated method signatures called delegates, which enable type-safe event notifications.
  • Properties, which serve as accessors for private member variables.
  • Attributes, which provide declarative metadata about types at run time.
  • Inline XML documentation comments.
  • Language-Integrated Query (LINQ) which provides built-in query capabilities across a variety of data sources.

If you have to interact with other Windows software such as COM objects or native Win32 DLLs, you can do this in C# through a process called "Interop." Interop enables C# programs to do almost anything that a native C++ application can do. C# even supports pointers and the concept of "unsafe" code for those cases in which direct memory access is absolutely critical.

The C# build process is simple compared to C and C++ and more flexible than in Java. There are no separate header files, and no requirement that methods and types be declared in a particular order. A C# source file may define any number of classes, structs, interfaces, and events.
The job market for C# programmers is also good and you can find a lucrative job being a C# programmer.

5. Objective C

Objective-C is a general-purpose, object-oriented programming language that adds Smalltalk-style messaging to the C programming language. It is the main programming language used by Apple for the OS X and iOS operating systems, and their respective application programming interfaces (APIs), Cocoa and Cocoa Touch.

The programming language Objective-C was originally developed in the early 1980s. It was selected as the main language used by NeXT for its NeXTSTEP operating system, from which OS X and iOS are derived. Generic Objective-C programs that do not use the Cocoa or Cocoa Touch libraries, or using parts that may be ported or reimplemented for other systems can also be compiled for any system supported by GCC or Clang.
Objective-C source code program files usually have .m filename extensions, while Objective-C header files have .h extensions, the same as for C header files. Objective-C++ files are denoted with a .mm file extension.

Sound knowledge of Objective-C would be helpful in landing you a job in companies that develop Apple based software applications. In addition to that, freelance industry also has huge demand for Objective-C coders across the globe.

6. PHP

PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) is one of the most widely used languages used to develop dynamic websites. PHP was developed in 1995 and is a server-side scripting language which means that PHP code is processed on the server and end result is sent to the user of the website in the form of plain HTML.

PHP is an open-source language which means that there are thousands of already built modules that can be modified to achieve the desired functionality. Also, PHP is easy to learn; you simply have to embed the code inside HTML. And if there was anything left, there are hundreds of PHP platforms available such as Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal that allow you to develop websites even more conveniently. PHP is one language that every programmer should learn if he or she plans to pursue a web developer’s career. PHP is also an integral part of the famous LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL and PHP) platform that Facebook, Yahoo, and other famous websites use. PHP has a huge job market, though not much highly paid when compared to ASP.NET developers; PHP developers easily find decent jobs.

7. JavaScript

JavaScript was originally developed by Brendan Eich, while working for Netscape Communications Corporation.

JavaScript (JS) is a dynamic computer programming language. It is most commonly used as part of web browsers, whose implementations allow client-side scripts to interact with the user, control the browser, communicate asynchronously, and alter the document content that is displayed.  It is also being used in server-side network programming (with Node.js), game development and the creation of desktop and mobile applications.
JavaScript is a prototype-based scripting language with dynamic typing and has first-class functions. Its syntax was influenced by C. JavaScript copies many names and naming conventions from Java, but the two languages are otherwise unrelated and have very different semantics. The key design principles within JavaScript are taken from the Self and Scheme programming languages.  It is a multi-paradigm language, supporting object-oriented, imperative, and functional programming styles.

The application of JavaScript in use outside of web pages—for example, in PDF documents, site-specific browsers, and desktop widgets—is also significant. Newer and faster JavaScript VMs and platforms built upon them (notably Node.js) have also increased the popularity of JavaScript for server-side web applications. On the client side, JavaScript was traditionally implemented as an interpreted language but just-in-time compilation is now performed by recent (post-2012) browsers.

JavaScript was formalized in the ECMAScript language standard and is primarily used as part of a web browser (client-side JavaScript). This enables programmatic access to objects within a host environment.

JavaScript alone will not help you land a job but if you are looking to pursue a career in web development, JavaScript is a must learn language along with some advanced server side scripting language.

8. Python

Python is an interpreted, general-purpose high-level programming language whose design philosophy emphasizes code readability.  Python aims to combine "remarkable power with very clear syntax", and its standard library is large and comprehensive. Its use of indentation for block delimiters is unusual among popular programming languages.

Python supports multiple programming paradigms, primarily but not limited to object oriented, imperative and, to a lesser extent, functional programming styles. It features a fully dynamic type system and automatic memory management, similar to that of Scheme, Ruby, Perl, and Tcl. Like other dynamic languages, Python is often used as a scripting language, but is also used in a wide range of non-scripting contexts.

The reference implementation of Python (CPython) is free and open source software and has a community-based development model, as do all or nearly all of its alternative implementations. CPython is managed by the non-profit Python Software Foundation.
Python interpreters are available for many operating systems, and Python programs can be compiled into stand-alone executable code for those systems, using tools included with the interpreter installation package.

Python is a clear and powerful object-oriented programming language, comparable to Perl, Ruby, Scheme, or Java.
Some of Python's notable features:

  • Uses an elegant syntax, making the programs you write easier to read.
  • Is an easy-to-use language that makes it simple to get your program working. This makes Python ideal for prototype development and other ad-hoc programming tasks, without compromising maintainability.
  • Comes with a large standard library that supports many common programming tasks such as connecting to web servers, searching text with regular expressions, reading and modifying files.
  • Python's interactive mode makes it easy to test short snippets of code. There's also a bundled development environment called IDLE.
  • Is easily extended by adding new modules implemented in a compiled language such as C or C++.
  • Can also be embedded into an application to provide a programmable interface.
  • Runs on many different computers and operating systems: Windows, MacOS, many brands of Unix, OS/2, ...
  • Is free software in two senses. It doesn't cost anything to download or use Python, or to include it in your application. Python can also be freely modified and re-distributed, because while the language is copyrighted it's available under an open source license.

Some programming-language features of Python are:

  • A variety of basic data types are available: numbers (floating point, complex, and unlimited-length long integers), strings (both ASCII and Unicode), lists, and dictionaries.
  • Python supports object-oriented programming with classes and multiple inheritance.
  • Code can be grouped into modules and packages.
  • The language supports raising and catching exceptions, resulting in cleaner error handling.
  • Data types are strongly and dynamically typed. Mixing incompatible types (e.g. attempting to add a string and a number) causes an exception to be raised, so errors are caught sooner.
  • Python contains advanced programming features such as generators and list comprehensions.
  • Python's automatic memory management frees you from having to manually allocate and free memory in your code.

Like, PHP, Python also has associated web frameworks which make it more convenient to develop web based applications in python. Django is one such platform which powers the sites aforementioned.  Good jobs are available in the market.

9. SQL


SQL (Structured Query Language) is a special-purpose programming language designed for managing data held in a relational database management system (RDBMS).

Originally based upon relational algebra and tuple relational calculus, SQL consists of a data definition language and a data manipulation language. The scope of SQL includes data insert, query, update and delete, schema creation and modification, and data access control. Although SQL is often described as, and to a great extent is, a declarative language (4GL), it also includes procedural elements.

SQL was one of the first commercial languages for Edgar F. Codd's relational model. "A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks." Despite not entirely adhering to the relational model as described by Codd, it became the most widely used database language.

The Structured Query Language (SQL) is the set of instructions used to interact with a relational database. In fact, SQL is the only language that most databases actually understand. Whenever you interact with such a database, the software translates your commands (whether they are mouse clicks or form entries) into SQL statement that the database knows how to interpret. SQL has three major components: the Data Manipulation Language (DML), the Data Definition Language (DDL), and the Data Control Language (DCL).

Like JavaScript, SQL alone is not that beneficial in terms of job placement; however, good command of SQL can help you stand out of crowd. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you learn it.

10. Ruby

Ruby is a dynamic, reflective, general purpose object-oriented programming language that combines syntax inspired by Perl with Smalltalk-like features. Ruby originated in Japan during the mid-1990s and was first developed and designed by Yukihiro "Matz" Matsumoto. It was influenced primarily by Perl, Smalltalk, Eiffel, and Lisp.

Ruby supports multiple programming paradigms, including functional, object oriented, imperative and reflective. It also has a dynamic type system and automatic memory management; it is therefore similar in varying respects to Python, Perl, Lisp, Dylan, Pike, and CLU. Ruby also has got a good job market and ruby developers are being paid decently.

Which Language to choose from the above?
Only you can answer this question. Following are some of the factors that you should take into account while selecting a particular language for development.

  • What the requirements of the application you want to develop are; web-based, desktop or mobile application?
  • What your personal interests are; commercial or open source technologies?
  • What the job market of the language is.
  • Learning curve for a particular language.

Though these are some general guidelines, in the current market where job competition is at its peak, you must be proficient in at least one web-based language, one desktop based programming language, and at least one mobile platform, in order to distinguish yourself among contemporary programmers.