Don’t: Spend too much time trying to pick what language to learn

This is the first article in our “12 Dos and Don’ts of becoming a Web Developer” series.

So you want to be a web developer?  Great!  Would you like to be a front-end or back-end developer, and if you do want to do any server-side programming, what language do you want to learn?


None of us got to pick the first language that we learned to speak, and unless we went to an exceptionally flexible elementary or high school, it’s likely that we didn’t much of a choice in the second language either.  It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of us who want to learn back-end programming are a bit paralyzed when trying to figure out what server-side language to learn first (if the 186,000,000 hits on Google for the question are any indication).  If you’re wondering this, you’re not really going to like my answer.

It doesn’t really matter what language to learn.  Just pick one.

Yeah, I know, sorry.  It’s a lame answer.  I could tell you which languages I know, and what I like about them and what I don’t, but that’s not going to do you any good because your preferences might be totally different than mine.  You can spend a little time with each one (CodeAcademy is a great, free resource for this, and check back for my upcoming article about some other resources as well) to see which one you like best, but that’s only going to take you so far.  What you need to decide is where you would like to start off in your career.  If working at a huge, big-name enterprise-level company appeals to you, Java or C# is a good bet.  If you want to work in the startup scene, Ruby (the language) and Ruby on Rails (the framework) are really hot.  If you want to freelance or agency life really appeals to you (which I can highly recommend as being totally awesome, by the way), PHP is a safe bet, since a lot of these places (Doejo included) use PHP frameworks or CMSes like WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.

So by all means, research the question and take some time to think about it, but don’t spend too much time trying to figure it out.  Javascript is a safe language to cut your teeth on, since you can (and will) use it in conjunction with all of the languages listed above, but once you feel comfortable with that language and need to make a decision about your next step, don’t spend too much time worrying about the finality of your choice.  When you research languages, you’re going to get the opinions of the fanboys and the haters, but you shouldn’t take them too seriously.  A lot of programmers treat our languages like sportsball teams, when in truth they mostly all do the same thing.  You’ll mostly decide need to decide whether you want to be BFFs with semicolons or not.

Whatever you decide, you can feel comfortable in the knowledge that, not only can you always switch teams if you want to (and you probably will have to, depending on the needs of whatever company you end up working for), but that as you become more familiar with one language, learning other languages becomes easier.  Besides, whatever you decide will probably be mostly obsolete in five years anyway.

Welcome to the magical world of web development!


Articles in this series:

Filed in: Web Development