One of the great things about learning a language – be it for speech, writing, or even programming – is being able to gain access to not just a wealth of new thoughts, but a whole way of thinking.
There’s Shakespeare in the Original English, and Shakespeare in Translation – the latter sometimes having to sacrifice some things due to the languages having vocabulary or grammatical differences. For example, “To be or not to be” has a huge existential weight to an English speaker, based on the literary resonance, the fact that “to be” in the infinite tense encompasses your whole infinite being – and how those things are ordered grammatically.
English’s “to be” verb tense does not exist the same way in other languages – French, for example which uses the verb “avoir” for “have” for much of what English does with “to be.” Consider I am ashamed vs. J’ai honte (I have shame.) The same, as we’ll see, is true of programming languages. Some programming codes order things differently from others, which can make a real difference as to how you think about and approach the coding in question.
Learning a language means gaining access to new worlds and modes of thought – and that includes computer languages via programming. Just as the language of Shakespeare is different from that of Moliere, Goethe, Pushkin, and other literary greats who define how their languages order ideas and create meaning, so too do different computer languages differ from one another in how they order data and create content. What’s more, as with language learning in the past, learning computer languages can open many socio-economic and cultural doors today.
In addition, programming jobs and others that involve coding are among the most in-demand jobs in the world. Consequently, where French, German, Russian, and English all remain vital languages in the global economy and community, you can now add “Java” to that list.
That said, it’s worth asking – is Java the best programming language to learn first? Or is it better to start with another programming language and work your way back? Let’s take a look.
Java and Popularity
The degree to which a language is used can play a huge role in how socio-economically important it is to learn. Ancient Greek, Latin, and Old Norse are all languages that can boast some of the greatest works of Western Literature to their credit. Still, they are “dead” languages in terms of everyday usage.
You don’t want to waste time learning a programming language for work that won’t actually lead to your being able to get work. That’s one of the biggest marks in Java’s favor. Java has long been one of the most popular programming languages in the world. In fact, according to a survey by Stack Overflow, it is the most popular programming language in the world at present and has been for the past few years, with nearly 70% of programmers using it in one capacity or another. What’s more, many of our most basic programs today use Java in one fashion or another. As such, if you want to learn to program for things we use every day (Android apps, for example) Java is practically essential. As such, if you’re looking to start learning a coding language that is popular and useful today and is likely to remain so for many tomorrows to come, Java is a great choice.
Other Advantages of Java
One of the most fundamental aspects of any “writing style,” be it Java’s or Henry James’, is the question of how well it uses and structures its units of meaning, be it words in English or characters in Java. It is here that one of the big advantages of the latter shine – its ability to handle large amounts of characters well. Some of James’ books, such as The Portrait of a Lady, are among the biggest classics in Anglo-American literature – both in terms of literary impact as well as sheer size and word count. Java, likewise, has been described as “verbose” in terms of displaying more characters and steps throughout the coding process, and it is thus a great way to code products in a more structured, detailed manner.
Disadvantages of Java
James famously called those massive Victorian novels “loose baggy monsters,” and with good reason. James’ own novels are a perfect example, with his works, like many Victorian novels across Europe and America, being massive, dense, and drenched in the stylistic conventions of the period. That’s one way to think of Java’s aforementioned massive space and older conventions for coding. On the one hand, it gives you a lot of space to work with, but on the other hand, as with a 600-page tome, if you’re just starting out, it can be more than a bit intimidating – and it might even cause you to want to quit before you finish.
Your available time might also prove a factor here. Just as you might want to read Dickens or Dostoevsky but simply don’t have time for their longer works, so, too, might you want to learn Java someday – just not when your time is so limited, and Java’s coding system is more expansive and complex than others, such as Python, as we’ll soon see.
It is also fair to say that while Java is among the most popular coding languages out there, it is likewise one of the oldest among that popular set. On its own, a language being old doesn’t mean it’s useless, or will be going away any time soon – Hebrew, Armenian, and Farsi have all been around for thousands of years, after all, and they aren’t going away any time soon. That said, Java is starting to see increased competition in those fields in which it has traditionally been king. For example, other programming languages, especially Kotlin, are starting to rival Java in terms of usage for Android apps. While Java has outlasted rival languages before, it’s no longer the only game in town.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Python
It is fair to say that Python is one of the closest rivals to Java in terms of attracting first-time programming learners. It is still taught in schools as one of the first programming languages that students learn. So what is it that makes Python an attractive choice for some?
Python’s biggest advantage is that where Java is more multi-faceted and sprawling in its layout, Python is simple and streamlined. Look at screenshots of the two coding languages side by side, and the difference is immediately visible. Python shows quite a bit less onscreen. On the one hand, that can make it harder to code massive projects with the same kind of immediately-visible attention to detail as Java. As stated, Java’s sprawling design can make it easier to see everything at once while coding these huge projects. But what if you’re a beginner and you don’t know a line of code from a line of Kafka?
In that case, where Java may seem like an overwhelming descent into a Kafkaesque morass of coding confusion, Python is neat, clean, simple, and lets you track basic commands when starting out a lot more easily than Java, albeit at a loss of access to and thus potentially understanding of higher concepts. It is also used a lot at present among those who are engaged in the field of Deep Learning. If this is the field you plan on studying, then Python is probably a good programming language to learn.
That being, said, the very ease and accessibility that characterizes Python as a programming language can also be counted as something of a potential drawback. As stated, learning a more difficult language can be more challenging at first, but ultimately quite rewarding. Even if Java is rough sledding at first, once you have it down, it can be an immeasurably valuable skill set to have. What’s more, because it displays things in a more spread out fashion, it is easier to learn Java and then transition to something more streamlined and simpler such as Python, as opposed to the opposite.
If you are used to Python’s streamlined format, it can be quite hard to then transition into viewing and working with Java’s more expansive layout. Since Java is so widespread and is used in more applications than Python, learning the latter first can risk your feeling uncomfortable with Java, thus making it harder for you to get into coding for all the major applications and sites using Java. What’s more, Java’s complexity also makes it a good primer on other programming languages that are out there. As such, if you are looking to learn more programming languages afterward, such as the aforementioned Kotlin, Java can be an easier stepping stone in that direction than Python.
Java vs. Python
So, with all of that said, where do we stand on the great Java vs. Python debate, at least as far as first-time programming learners are concerned?
The biggest case for learning Python as your first programming language is the fact that it offers a quick, clean, and easy approach to first-time programmers. While it can be harder to develop your coding prowess or career from just a Python-based starting point and little else, it can be a useful way for those who have never coded before to get started. If you aren’t looking to become a professional coder per se, but have limited goals and are more focused on those than building a skill set for a whole career, Python may be more accessible.
That said, English and French are notoriously difficult to learn for non-native speakers as well. Even so, the rewards of learning these rich languages are immense, offering great literary rewards from Austen to Zola as well as the practical advantage of increased access to huge financial, legal, and tech sectors. The same holds true for Java. Sure, it may be a bit more difficult at first, but as with English and French, the steeper learning curve is well worth the effort, and the sooner you start, the easier it will be.
As such, if you are looking to pursue a career in coding, learning Java first may be harder than Python, but ultimately worth it in terms of payoff down the line. If you are looking to code as part of a university major or career involving computer science, engineering, or any permutation thereof, learning Java is all but a must, and you’ll likely wind up learning it sooner than later, so why not just start there? You can still learn Python after Java as a more streamlined way to do what you want to do, if the projects on which you’ll be working support it. Learning Java first allows you to have a broader skill set from the beginning –as is the case with spoken and written languages, the earlier you learn a language, the easier it can be to grasp and fully understand.
Finally, Java is the better programming language to learn straight off if you’re looking to join the app development craze. That’s due to the fact that, while it faces more competitors nowadays, it’s still the top programming language for Android. What’s more, learning Java first can make it easier to transition into other programming languages used for iOS, such as Swift.
As with written and spoken languages, there are many programming languages from which to choose, and many reasons to choose each one. That said, the rewards of language learning are great. Despite the harder learning curve to start, English, French, German, Russian, or other major languages come with unique advantages, cultural insights, and boosts in economic opportunity – all of which are likewise present when you choose to start to learn your programming language learning with Java.
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