How to Decide Which Programming Language to Learn Next

By February 11, 2020Web Design & Development

Given the demand for coding skills in today’s workforce, choosing a career in software or web development isn’t difficult. However, things can get tricky when it comes time to decide which programming language to learn after you have HTML and CSS down.

No matter what stage you’re at as a developer, learning a new programming language is always a smart move. Since you’ll likely study several over the course of your career, though, it makes sense to prioritize them, starting with those relevant to the projects you’re most interested in.

In this article, we’ll discuss the primary programming languages you’ll need to know for creating WordPress products. Then we’ll provide you with three tips you can use for choosing which you should learn next. Let’s get started!

An Introduction to the 4 Primary Languages of WordPress

WordPress powers over one-third of the internet. If you’re looking to explore possible careers as a web developer, working with this platform is certainly a strong place to start.

WordPress is a flexible, open-source platform that presents a wide range of opportunities. Whether you’re interested in front end, back end, or full-stack development, getting involved with this Content Manage System (CMS) can be a rewarding and dynamic learning experience.

If you’re interested in creating WordPress sites or products, there are four primary languages to learn:

  1. HyperText Markup Language (HTML). The fundamental language of the web. It’s a declarative language, rather than a programming language.
  2. Cascading StyleSheets (CSS). Another declarative language that controls the style and appearance of HTML.
  3. JavaScript. A programming language commonly used for front end scripts.
  4. PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP). The core, server-side programming language of WordPress.

All four of these types of code play unique and essential roles in WordPress development. While HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are critical client-side languages, PHP is paramount to creating interactive websites.

How to Decide Which Programming Language to Learn Next (3 Key Tips)

Most developers start their development education with HTML and CSS, since other languages rely on them. However, once you’re ready to move beyond the basics, you’re tasked with choosing whether to learn JavaScript or PHP next. Here are three tips you can use to decide between the two.

1. Understand the Differences Between JavaScript and PHP

Both JavaScript and PHP are important languages to learn if you want to work with WordPress. However, they serve different purposes. Understanding how they compare can put you in a better position to decide which is most relevant to your immediate goals.

JavaScript is a client-side scripting language that primarily executes in the browser window (unless using Node.js). It doesn’t involve server interaction, which means it can create websites that are faster than those that rely on PHP.

JavaScript turns static HTML into dynamic content. For example, if you hover over a menu item on a webpage, the drop-down effect is created using this language.

PHP, on the other hand, is a server-side programming language. It’s embedded in HTML and used to build custom web content, transfer cookies, and update files on a server. It takes information from databases such as SQL and MySQL and outputs it.

Both are platform dependent. JavaScript can run in any browser while PHP can run on any major OS and web server.

As we discussed in a previous post, there are some specific differences when it comes to coding in each of these languages. For example, unlike JavaScript, PHP variables are prefixed with a dollar sign ($).

Commenting is quite similar. Both use the double backslash (//). However, whereas JavaScript uses the slash-star (/**/), PHP uses the octothorpe (#).

There are many ways to discover more about each language. Consider checking out our list of resources for learning JavaScript and our post on PHP fundamentals.

2. Consider Your Current Skill Level

To decide which programming language to learn next, it’s also important to consider your current skill level. Be honest with yourself about your present capabilities and coding knowledge, as trying to get ahead of yourself won’t offer any favors in the long run.

Typically it makes more sense to start with a foundational language and build upon that. In that sense, JavaScript might be the better option if you’re a beginner.

JavaScript allows for quicker interactions, which is why this foundational language is becoming more intertwined with WordPress themes as well as Core. For example, blocks are built using the React JavaScript library.

Plus, with JavaScript, you don’t need to install a server environment. You can write and test your programs within your browser.

On the other hand, PHP offers more advanced options for coders with a little more experience. As we discussed, WordPress relies on this language, so it’s something you’ll likely have to learn at some point. Some also argue that JavaScript is easier to pick up after studying PHP.

3. Think About Your Interests and Career Goals as a Developer

When making the decision to learn a programming language, it might help to consider what types of projects interest you the most, as well as your career goals and aspirations as a developer. JavaScript most commonly deals with front end development, whereas PHP makes more sense if you’re interested in back end development.

If working on WordPress products is a definite interest or goal of yours, there’s an argument to be made that PHP is the better option to start with. While JavaScript is an important programming language for WordPress, it’s not necessarily a requirement. In other words, while it’s certainly useful to learn, you can get by without it.

On the other hand, if you’re unsure about whether you want to pursue back end or front end development, JavaScript might be the answer. You can’t write front end code with PHP. However, thanks to runtime engines like Node.js, you can now tackle both areas of development with JavaScript.

Conclusion

Starting a career in web development can be incredibly exciting. However, deciding which languages to learn, and in what order, can be a bit overwhelming.

In this article, we covered three tips you can use to help you decide which programming language to learn after HTML and CSS:

  1. Understand the differences between JavaScript and PHP.
  2. Consider your current skill level.
  3. Think about your interests and career goals as a developer.

Do you have any questions about which programming language to learn next? Let us know in the comments section below!

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