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November 23, 2023 - 6 minutes

How to Learn a New Programming Language

Discover everything you need to know about mastering that next programming language. 

Ironhack - Changing The Future of Tech Education

As you’re probably well aware by now, pursuing a career in any area of tech means you’re on a continuous learning journey, constantly looking for new ways to enrich your skill set and new tools to add to your repertoire. And in web development, there’s certainly no exception: there are a plethora of programming languages out there, each with unique characteristics and uses, that serve as a great option for your next challenge. 

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of learning a new programming language, give our tips and tricks to mastering the learning process, and suggest some of the best programming languages to learn; before that, however, let’s review what programming languages are and their importance in the world of tech. 

What are Programming Languages? 

To put it simply, programming languages are those the set of rules that programmers input into a computer so that it does what the programmer wants. In the same way that humans can verbally instruct others to do what they need, computers understand and produce the intended outcome, thanks to the programming languages. However, there are a vast number of programming languages that differ in the following areas:

  • Learning curve: programming languages vary significantly when it comes to ease of learning; some are intuitive and easy to pick up on while others require lots of practice and study. 

  • General purpose vs. special purpose: the specific programming language you need to use will depend on what you’re doing; general purpose programming languages can be used for a wide range of tasks while special purpose programming languages are exactly that–-for a specific task. 

  • Imperative vs. declarative: programming languages aren’t all designed to execute specific commands, imperative programming languages work this way, but declarative ones simply give the computer a goal and let it figure it out on its own. 

  • High-level vs. low-level: there’s a programming language out there for everyone and finding the right one requires a bit of patience and research; if you have little to no experience with coding, a low-level language is the right place to start because the computer handles most of the nitty gritty while high-level languages require more programming knowledge from the user. 

We could go on and on because there are many differences between programming languages and it’s quite easy to get a bit lost. So when you sit down to learn a new programming language, how can you know which is right? Is there even a right answer? Well, there may not be one correct answer, but we can help narrow down your options. 

Which programming language should I learn? 

Answering this question may be even harder than learning the language itself! With so many options and lots of similarities and small differences, making the right choice can seem impossible. So if you’re lost, take a look at our guide below:

  • Identify your needs: whether you’re learning on your own for fun or for a specific project at work, you need to ensure your programming language choice meets your needs or those of your team. Think about your end goal, the complexity of your project, and what this programming language knowledge will ultimately be used for–this will help narrow down your options. 

  • Research learning methods: if you find an obscure programming language that seems to meet all your needs but you aren’t sure you’ll be able to actually learn it because of the few resources out there, it’s probably not the best choice. As you’re starting off or choosing the most common programming languages to learn this probably won’t be a problem, but make sure you find a learning method that works for you and that’s readily available. 

  • Explore other resources: lots of the common programming languages are open-source, meaning they boast large online communities that can help you troubleshoot or get help if you get stuck. More specialized languages, however, may not have this help available, resulting in roadblocks. 

  • Research the cost and other requirements: some programming languages require licensing or you have to pay other fees; research this beforehand to ensure you are able to meet any requirements. 

How to Learn a New Programming Language

Now that the first step is out of the way and you know what you want to learn, let’s dive right into the good stuff: how to learn a new programming language. Learning a new programming language is totally possible on your own or with some help on the side, as long as you have the right motivation:

Find your purpose 

Like we mentioned above, it’s important to carefully choose the language you want to learn based on the project you have to complete, but that’s not the only reason: learning a new programming language is a serious commitment and one that will take lots of time and dedication; if you aren’t truly interested and invested in the process, it will be nearly impossible to learn. 

A large part of learning a programming language is practicing it and if you pick a language that’s a bit obscure or only used in very specific cases, you may struggle with practicing it over and over again. That’s why it’s crucial to evaluate your purpose for learning beforehand and make sure that inspiration fuels your learning process. 

Take on the basics 

We get it–you want to dive right into the good stuff, focusing on what’s going to let you start coding as soon as possible, but dedicating time to the theoretical aspects of coding and essential foundational knowledge is an absolute necessity. Even if you already know other programming languages, take your time with the basic and beginner steps of this programming language to ensure that you have the foundational knowledge needed for success as you become more and more advanced. 

Get to practice 

Don’t worry–it won’t take long before you’re getting your hands dirty and practicing. Even if you’re feeling great after reviewing the foundational knowledge, the actual action of coding is quite different than reading about it and you’ll need to put what you’ve learned into action through practicing. 

This is where having a clear purpose and outcome comes in handy; you can practice on your project so that you’re seeing real-world applications of what you’re learning. If you don’t have something to get started on, however, don’t worry: there are tons of exercises and resources online that can give you prompts to help you get practicing. 

Consider coding by hand 

We know, we know: why would you code by hand?! It sounds like a complete waste of time considering you’ll never code by hand in the real world, but it will allow you to go slower and better understand each step of what you’re doing. Just like how taking notes in a lecture by hand helps you retain more of the information, you’ll have a higher understanding of each part of the code by writing it out by hand.

In addition, some companies conduct their technical interviews through on-paper coding exercises and this serves as great interview practice for once you’re ready to start applying! 

Dedicate time to debugging 

Coding isn’t just watching magic happen from your code writing skills; bugs are inevitable and knowing how to both check for them and remove them from your code without undoing everything you’ve already done is a key part of the life of a web developer. If you practice debugging while you’re learning, you’ll be better suited to handle problems that arise once you’re on the job. 

Set realistic goals

Learning to code can be a tiring and long process and it will be easy to get distracted or lose focus. To combat this, try to set goals to help you check in with your progress throughout your learning journey so that you’re able to check off accomplishments and see what else is left. Make these goals measurable and attainable and let them assist your learning process, but not dominate it. 

If you have a large end goal, such as landing a new job or completing a new project, this can serve as extra motivation when it comes to those moments when you feel stuck or unmotivated. 

The coding journey can seem long and arduous, but it’s one that’s definitely worth it in the long run. After all, if you prioritize your learning journey and really commit to learning this new programming language, you’ll be well on your way to promotions, new job opportunities, and an overall better understanding of web development. 

At Ironhack, we know that learning a new programming language can seem like an impossible task and that’s why our bootcamps are designed with the student in mind, bringing together the perfect combination of foundational and practical knowledge to help you become an expert in coding in just a few months and land that first tech job. 

If you’re interested in becoming a web developer, what are you waiting for?! Check out our Web Development Bootcamp today and take the first steps towards making your dream a reality. 

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