Programming Languages

Programming Languages to a Non-Programmer

December 24, 2012

As a non-programmer, you have often heard programming languages names being used. Marketers have always tried to used technical words to market new products and to claim superiority using “fancy” words. Many have come across HTML, java, flash, but do not know what that means. It is to my intend to educate those who may not know.

As for the programmers among you, many of us do not go a day without using several programming languages. If you really think about it, after the first few languages, learning new ones become easier. This may not encompass human languages, but learning new computer languages became easier for me with time. One thing that helped me the most was learning about the different types of programming languages. Knowing where to categories a new language helped me relate things I already know with new information. Hopefully you too will find this true. Learning new programming languages is a vital tool any programmer needs to acquire.

A Programming language is a communication method for humans to interact with machines. That is a very high level view. Machines, computers to be exact, work on binary sequences. That is strings of 0’s and 1’s. At the end of the day that is all computers understand. Further more, the entire operations a computer knows how to do is limited to operations on those strings of 0’s and 1’s. Any more complicated operations is done via multiple operations on said strings. Thankfully, we can store and reuse a sequence of operations. This is the closet level of operations, Machine Language. In the early days of computing, computers were programmed in such method. However, it is very impractical to program anything complex in this matter. Every set of commands in any languages must end up as a Machine Language instruction set suitable for a target computer architecture.

To take a step farther form Machine Language, we created Assembly. Assembly is the attempt to combine machine language operations into symbolic ones. It often group several Machine Language instructions into a single Assembly command. This enables programmer to create more complex programs, however still resides close to Machine Language. It provides better readability, with the same efficacy of Machine language. Assembly instructions are compiled into their Machine Language representations in order to be executed on a target architecture.

The next step away from Machine Languages are the low and high level programming languages. Some are easy to specify as while others are in-between. Languages that allow direct access to memory are often considered low. Languages such as c, c++, java to some extend, are low level. High level languages include matlab, matamitica, php, and other. Python for example, could be argued to be somewhere in-between. Depending on the programmer and the libraries used, python could be utilized as a low level or a high level language.

There are many types of programming languages. The Wikipedia entry for List of programming languages by type counts 43 languages as of the date of this post. Some of the ones I highly recommend on learning are (in no particular order of preference):

  • c, java, python
  • Lisp
  • Prolog
  • web langs: php, javascript, mysql, html, css
  • matlab
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