What Programming Language Should I Learn First?

October 28th, 2016 • ☕ 5 min read

What programming language should I learn first? The question every new or aspiring developer asks themselves. I dread to think how much time I wasted trawling, websites, blogs and Quora trying to find the magical answer.

Unfortunately, there is no magic answer. There is no correct answer, the answer is different for everyone. The answer to YOUR question depends on YOUR goals, the part of the world that YOU live in and ultimately, what YOU enjoy the most.  I just don't have the answer...Sorry.

However, what I will do in this post is give you an insight into how I chose the language that I did, how it helped me get a job and why I enjoy it. Hopefully, my experience can help you find  the answer to your own question.

I'm a junior PHP developer. Please, don't stop reading now, it really isn't that bad 🤣! I had been learning to code for about 9months when I landed my job and PHP had been my language of choice when I first opened my code editor. If I'm honest,  it was the only programming language that I had heard of at the time!

When I first decided that I wanted to transition into a career in tech the only previous experience that I had of software development, was a distant friendship with a programmer that worked for my father-in-law (My father-in-law runs a wholesale business and the developer was  working on a bespoke accounting and stock management system for him). Anyway, whenever I would visit the office, I would become quite fascinated with this guy tapping away, building this thing, talking about these alien technologies like PHP, MySql, Ajax and Javascript! It all meant nothing to me but must have stuck with me because PHP became my go to language when starting out.

I'd made the decision to learn to code, I'd heard of PHP,  so full of enthusiasm I went to Google and asked for 'learning PHP'! It wasn't long before I'd signed up to Codecademy and I was on my way.

<? echo 'hello world' ?>

After I had completed the brief course, I thought this was it, I can do this. If/else statements, arrays,  for loops, functions...I got this!

A bit of Googling later and I had installed MAMP and was well away. I managed to add a simple log-in form to a static html website that I had built. A few more tutorials and I was working with a database to build my own blog. I didn't know about Object Oriented Programming or any of the various frameworks, I was writing crappy inline procedural PHP...BUT...I was BUILDING things and I was becomming more and more hooked. The point? The barrier for entry with PHP is so low that a few months into my programming journey and I was building some decent projects, building confidence and building a foundation of knowledge that I could improve upon. Im not saying that PHP is the best and that everyone should start with it, but if you are complete beginner, new to coding, you can get up and running fairly easily and with so many resources available and massive community, its a great place to experiment with server side code!

Anyway, after a few months, I was hooked on programming and 100% sure this was the career for me. The more I progressed, the more I read and learned, the more I started to hear about these amazing languages like Ruby, Python and Javascript. I started to doubt my decision to pursue PHP. All the podcasts and books raved about Ruby on Rails and Node. Apparently, every start-up in the world was built on Rails! I was beginning to worry. Would I ever be able to get a job?

I started to analyse my local job market and see where the demand actually was (when I say local, I mean the UK).

At the time I made the decision to jump careers, I was earning a really decent salary as a time served Heating Engineer. I was fed up with the long hours, uncertainty in contracts and lack of mental challenge but I was helping to  provide a decent lifestyle for myself and my family. This meant that money was obviously a consideration when I started looking at careers in tech. I actually had to be able to learn a relevant skill and be competent enough for someone to pay me to do i. I expected that I would have to take a big pay cut but I was looking at my long term future.

Anyway, as I searched for junior Developer jobs on Indeed, I found no shortage of positions. I looked through, and to my relief, most of them listed PHP as a basic requirement. No Node, Rails or Django.  The thing is, here in the UK at least, although there are plenty of Javascript, Python and Ruby jobs, they are all senior or at least mid level positions. Companies aren't looking to employ junior developers to build and maintain their brand new React project. They aren't going to let you loose working on the product that keeps the office lights on and keeps the roof over everyones head.  Companies are looking for junior developers to maintain and tweak old legacy PHP apps, add some functionality to a small basic project or  maybe modify a Wordpress theme. Obviously it depends greatly on the company and I can only speak from my own experience, but PHP is certainly an in demand skill for junior positions. If you want to increase your chances of getting into employment as soon as possible, you need to learn the skills that will offer you the largest number of job opportunities. You don't have to learn the newest, coolest technology in town. Analyse your local job market and see where the demand is. Once you have that first job, you will also have the opportunity to get experience and learn other technologies. Let me tell you, you will learn so much faster once in employment that you ever will on your own!

Finally, I just want to say, that I really enjoy working with PHP. At work we use the Symfony framework and it makes it really easy to write great code. Its not the language that produces bad code...its the developer. Whatever technology you choose, stick with it, be confident in your choice and master it!

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If you enjoyed this post and are interested in similar stuff, check out my next post: Want to learn web development but don’t know where to start?.

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