Programming skills are in high demand. Recruiters want job candidates with programming skills, and people who can code earn higher salaries. Learning a programming language can also help employees break into in-demand fields like software engineering or web development. But beginners often don’t know where to start. So what’s the best programming language to learn first?

Before we look at some of the most popular first programming languages, ask yourself a few questions. Why do you want to learn a programming language? What are your career goals? And what do you want to do once you learn to program? In this article, we’re going to explore the best first programming language for different people, based on their interests and career goals.

The best programming language to learn first depends on why you want to learn to code. Is it your dream to become a data scientist? Then JavaScript isn’t for you—it’s a language geared toward the web.

When making your decision, you also need to know there are two categories of programming languages: high-level programming languages and low-level programming languages. Low-Level programming languages are closer to the machine. That means zeros and ones. Low-level programming languages are harder to read than high-level programming languages, which read more like English.

As a beginner, you want to stick with a high-level programming language and avoid low-level programming languages. Low-level programming languages are harder to read and are harder for beginners to pick up. That is why you won’t see any of the popular low-level programming languages like C or C++ on our list of the best programming languages to learn first.

One last thing. I’m assuming you are familiar with the most popular programming domains (web development, app development, etc.) Here is a refresher, if you need one.

Let’s jump into our picks for the best programming language for beginners.

The Best Programming Languages to Learn First

1. Python

Overall, Python is our top selection for the best programming language to learn first. One reason is that Python is currently the fastest growing programming language in the world.

Growth of major programming languages chart

As you can see, Python’s use is growing like crazy.

It’s also one of the most flexible languages since it can be used for web development, data science, machine learning, and more.

Python is also popular in electronics, media, and finance. In fact, Python dominates industries like finance and especially finance tech. According to HackerRank, FinTech recruiters look for Python skills more than twice as much as Java.

With its speed and algorithm performance, Python has been called “king of mathematical programming.” It’s also the most important language in data analysis and machine learning, making Python well positioned for the new tech wave of artificial intelligence.

College and universities also recognize Python as a key programming language. In 2014, Python replaced Java as the most popular introductory programming language taught in U.S. universities.

One disadvantage of Python is that it can’t be used for front-end development. So if you know for sure you want to be either a front-end mobile or web developer, you may want to consider starting with one of the other languages on this list.

If you decide to learn Python first, here is a list we posted recently of the best resources to learn Python include books, online courses, and tutorials designed for people at every level.

2. JavaScript

JavaScript is the only language that gives Python a real run for its money as the most recommended programming language for beginners. One of the main reasons is FreeCodeCamp. FreeCodeCamp is an online course that teaches web development. They have a popular blog, and they use it to promote JavaScript as the best language to learn first.

In the past, they’ve argued that JavaScript is the best first programming language to learn because it is the most popular programming language in the world (according to StackOverflow). That was true in 2017 but no longer is. In 2018, StackOverflow ranked Python as the most popular programming language in the world.

JavaScript’s growth, however, is still impressive. And because JavaScript is the language of web browsers, demand for JavaScript will remain high for the foreseeable future. JavaScript is also a high-level programming language, which makes it a good choice for beginners.

That being said, JavaScript does have a few downsides. The first is that many programmers don’t consider it a very good language. There is even a famous book called JavaScript: The Good Parts that teaches you how to avoid the unpleasant aspects of the language.

The other downside of JavaScript is that it is mostly used in web development. So if you don’t know for sure you want to be a web developer, it may not be the right choice for you. But if you know for certain you want to work in web development, you may want to consider learning JavaScript as your first programming language.

3. Swift

Swift is a high-level programming language created by Apple. Apple created Swift to power the apps on its platforms.

Apple went out of its way to make Swift friendly for new programmers. It comes with a feature called Swift Playgrounds, which Apple describes as “a revolutionary app for iPad that makes learning Swift interactive and fun. It requires no coding knowledge, so it’s perfect for students just starting out. ”

Swift Playground
Swift Playground


I tested Swift out, and I really enjoyed using it. The only downside of Swift is that it is only useful for building mobile apps, and it only works on Apple’s platform. Therefore, if you are going to start with Swift, you should be confident that is the direction you want to take your career.

If you are confident you want to become a mobile developer, Swift may be the best programming language to learn first. But if you aren’t sure what programing domain you want to focus on yet, you should start with another language that doesn’t limit you to mobile development.

4. Java

Beware! Java is significantly more challenging to learn than the other programming languages on this list. You should only select Java as your first programming language with the knowledge that it is going to be harder to learn than the other languages on here.

With that said, if you are up for the challenge, Java does have many things going for it. For one, Java is one of the most used programming languages in the world. The TIOBE index, which ranks the most popular programming languages, consistently puts Java at the top.

Enterprise-level companies rely on the language, including Google, eBay, and Uber. Java also ranked as the most in-demand programming language in a HackerRank survey of 3,000 coding interview challenges. As a Java programmer, you will be able to work in the gaming, web, and mobile app industry.

It’s also a popular language of choice for Big Data. And it is the only language that works on the Android platform. Since 85% of smartphones use Android, Java is an in-demand skill and will be for the foreseeable future.

So what’s the best programming language to learn first?

The best programming language to learn first depends on your goals and what you want to create. If you aren’t sure what programming domain you want to work in, you might want to start with Python. If you know you want to be a web developer, JavaScript is a great place to start. Want to be a mobile developer? You should consider making Swift your first language. And if you are looking for a challenge, Java is the language for you.

Want to learn to program? Register for my free Self-Taught Coder Masterclass where I cover how I went from a novice to a software engineer at eBay in less than one year.

Cory Althoff

Cory Althoff is a self-taught programmer and writer. He worked as a software engineer at eBay, as well as several startups in Silicon Valley, despite majoring in Political Science at Clemson University. His book "The Self-Taught Programmer" has been translated into eight languages and featured in publications like Forbes. Book Authority and Tech Digest both named it one of the best software books of all time.
Cory Althoff

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *