A Brief History of Computer Programming Languages; How to Choose Which One to Learn

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Code is the foundation of computing. Whether you are using a social media app on your smartphone or working with a cloud server’s API, the task relies heavily on a programming language.

What you may not know about computer programming is that most historians recognize Ada Lovelace as the world’s first programmer. She wrote an algorithm for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Although this computer was never completed, Lovelace noted that “Mr. Babbage believes he can, by his engine, form the product of two numbers, each containing twenty figures, in three minutes.” While that is relatively slow even by punch-card standards, Babbage and Lovelace were about 60 years ahead of their time. Digital, programmable computers didn’t emerge again until the 1940s.

The Guardian provided this brief overview of Lovelace’s work in December 2012, the 197th anniversary of her birth:

Often described as the world’s first computer programmer, Lovelace showed a keen interest in mathematical studies from an early age and was taught by her mother, Annabella, who was also a gifted mathematician.

Her notes include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine, while she also speculated on its future ability to create graphics and complex music.

Lovelace’s contributions to computing marked the beginning of a rich history in programming. In 1970, Niklaus Wirth created the language known as Pascal, which is still used to make Skype desktop applications; in 1983, Bjarne Stroustrup created the object-oriented language C++, which today powers Google’s Chrome web browser, among others; and in 1991, Guido Van Rossum contributed the incredibly useful and powerful Python language, named for the British comedy group Monty Python. As a result, Google, Yahoo and Spotify are reaping the benefits.

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The infographic below outlines the history of programming languages in greater detail.

History of Computer Programming Languages

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Coding is a completely and uniquely democratized skill. While you can certainly learn it in the most prestigious universities around the world, you can also learn how to code from your couch, or even on the bus or train with your smartphone.

Wherever and whenever you want, you can learn to code. Once you have a programming language or two under your belt, an entire world of career possibilities opens to you. IT jobs are expected to grow 22% by 2020, but that’s just one area in which programming skills are useful.

Software is automating all kinds of jobs in every industry, but the opportunity looming largest on the horizon is in the Internet of Things. One report predicts that by 2020, we’ll need 4.5 million developers to power the IoT — currently, there are only 350,000.

Think of learning a programming language as future-proofing your career. You don’t have to worry about the machines putting you out of a job if you’re the person powering the machines.

With all of this opportunity before you, how can you decide which programming language offers the greatest upside for Future-You?

The folks over at Udacity, a pioneer in open programming and computer sciences e-learning, created an infographic illustrating current and future trends in the industry and how to use them to your advantage.

Which languages offer the greatest flexibility? What should you study if you want to continue living in a particular region? Which language should you learn if you just want to make the best possible salary for your programming skills?

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Check out their 4 ways to pick your first (or next) programming language:

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