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Aman Goel | 21 Mar, 2023

What Is Programming? | Ultimate Guide To Programming


Have you heard the term computer programming and found yourself asking questions like ‘what does programming mean’ and ‘what is programming used for’?

In this article, we’ll provide the ultimate guide to explain programming, helping you to answer the question, what is programming?

We’ll also cover the difference between computer programming and coding, explain what a programming language is, the benefits of programming, and some helpful tips to help you get started if you’re a beginner. 

What Is Programming?

Let’s start with a simple programming definition. Programming involves instructing computers to perform tasks. It could be a simple task like displaying the sum of two numbers or solving complex problems like the operation of self-driving cars.

Having defined programming, let’s consider where it fits in the modern world. Well, it’s safe to say that programming intertwines with our everyday lives in more ways than we probably even know.

The use of programming to make life more convenient can be seen in almost all walks of life, from business, entertainment, transportation, health care, agriculture, sports, politics, and so on.

The First Computer Programmer

19th-century English mathematician Ada Lovelace has been credited as the first computer program creator with an algorithm to calculate Bernoulli numbers.

Together with Charles Babbage, they developed what’s regarded as the first computer. It was a primitive mechanical device called the Analytical Engine, and Lovelace wrote her algorithm for this device.

Since then, programming has evolved to become a far-reaching field within the tech industry and beyond.

What Are Programming Languages?

You may be wondering how programmers (humans) pass instructions to computers. This is done with programming languages. 

Human languages like English and Spanish have a syntax to guide the composition of phrases and sentences. Programming languages also have a syntax that guides how programmers compose the logic behind the code written.

When we refer to programming languages, we can usually classify them into four distinct categories.

1. Machine Language

Ever heard the phrase, ‘computers understand only 1s and 0s’? This is machine language (or machine code). It’s a set of binary digits (1s and 0s) used by a computer’s CPU to execute directly. 

A computer has transistors, tiny electric switches with two options, on (for 1s) or off (for 0s). The computer’s CPU can read combinations of these on/off electric signals and create the desired output. In general, machine code is referred to as a low-level language.

And just for fun, here’s an example of machine code for the word ‘Hello’.

Machine Code Example:

01001000  01100101  01101100  01101100  01101111

2. Assembly Language (ASM)

These were introduced because machine code can be tedious and prone to error. So, instead of using binary digits, code is written with commands that include symbols and characters. 

As a computer can only execute 0s and 1s (machine code), programmers must use an assembler to translate assembly language into machine code before execution.

Still, this isn’t human-friendly, and it requires in-depth knowledge of computer memory and CPU processes to make sense of it. Like machine code, assembly language can also be referred to as a low-level language.

We’ve also included an example of assembly language to print the word ’Hello’ to a screen using x86 assembly language.

Assembly Language Example:

org  0x100       

mov  dx, msg     
mov  ah, 9       
int  0x21        

mov  ah, 0x4c    
int  0x21        

msg  db 'Hello', 0x0d, 0x0a, '$'

3. Mid-Level Language

When you move away from low-level languages, you tend to encounter the higher-level languages that most people think of when they hear the term programming language.

And while it’s okay to bundle these all together, it can help to divide these modern languages into two sub-categories, starting with mid-level languages.

These allow you to write in more human-friendly syntax while retaining access to a computer system's abstraction layer. You can still control the underlying hardware directly, making mid-level languages a bridge between lower and higher-level languages.

The Complete Python Bootcamp From Zero to Hero in Python

Mid-level languages use compilers to translate their syntax into machine code, allowing the computers to execute the code. 

Some common examples of mid-level languages include C, Pascal, and Cobol. And to keep up our habit of looking at actual code, we’ve added a small block of C code to output the word ‘Hello’ to the screen.

Mid-Level Language Example:

#include <stdio.h>
int main() {
  printf("Hello");
  return 0;
}

4. High-Level Language

Much like mid-level languages, when you hear the term programming language, these are often what’s being referred to. Most computer programmers use them for their day-to-day activities and work. 

High-level languages use special translators called compilers to translate into machine code, allowing computers to execute the code logic. 

These languages have a human-friendly syntax and include general purpose programming languages like Python, JavaScript, and PHP. You can also count domain-specific languages like SQL and HTML as high-level.

We’ve included a JavaScript code snippet that outputs the word ‘Hello’ to the console screen.

High-Level Language Example:

console.log("Hello")

Trying to choose a programming language? Check out our article on the Best Programming Languages to Learn

What’s the Difference Between Coding & Programming?

You’ll often hear the terms ‘coding’ and ‘programming’ being used interchangeably, but some differences are worth noting.

  • Coding: A core element of programming that involves translating the logic of a program so that computers can understand and execute it. This covers the writing of the lines of code that make up the program, so it is more concerned with using the syntax of programming languages to communicate with computers.
  • Programming: This encompasses more than just writing code. It usually includes other aspects of software creation, like identifying program requirements, translating requirements into code, debugging, testing, creating documentation, and more.

Difference Between Coding and Programming

The relationship between coding and programming can be best described by considering what’s involved in writing a novel.

Coding is akin to writing the sentences and paragraphs that form the novel, while programming involves creating broader elements, like plot, setting, character development, narrative, etc.

What Are the Benefits of Programming?

You may be thinking, okay, this is cool, but why should I bother? Technology is everywhere, and the benefit of computer programming cannot be overemphasized.

For example, you are reading this article because your device is programmed to display it to you when you implement the correct clicks. Let’s see some reasons why you should care about programming.

  • Work faster: Computers are amazingly fast, and with programming, we can utilize their power to solve complex problems that would take us forever. An example is the power of instant messaging applications.
  • Convenience: Most of the convenient ways of doing things in our modern world are due to programming. For example, due to programming, you can be in the comfort of your home, order some food and have it delivered in minutes.
  • Work 24/7: Computers can work 24/7 without getting exhausted or bored! So you can write programs for computers to handle mundane and repetitive tasks, giving you free time to spend on tasks that require creative thinking. 
  • Career opportunities: There are many career prospects when you learn how to program. Most businesses have websites and need programmers to create and maintain those websites. Other prospects include mobile app development, game development, data science, artificial intelligence, and more.
  • Logical & problem-solving skills: At its core, programming is problem-solving. Creating computer programs challenges you to think through problems, consider solutions, and find the most efficient one,  helping you improve your analytical skills. So whether you’re using structured programming, object-oriented programming, or another approach, you’ll be solving problems.
  • Have fun building cool stuff: You can create your own games or applications! Imagine creating your own app, putting it on the AppStore or Play Store, and getting thousands of downloads! Sounds exciting, right? It’s possible when you learn to program.

Ready to build cool stuff? Check out the Best Programming Languages for Games

How to Learn Programming

If you’re interested in learning programming, here’s some advice and steps you can take to ensure a smooth learning journey.

  • Figure out your reasons: Decide why you want to learn to program. You may want to switch careers to game development or software development, build a passion project, or learn as a hobby. Your reason for learning will help you choose the best way to set about this exciting journey.
  • Choose a programming language: Many beginners make the mistake of learning multiple languages at once, but it’s better to pick one to start and learn another later.
  • Choose a learning resource: Learning options include taking an online course, reading a book, joining a boot camp, or a combination of any of these. Identify your preferred style of learning and choose the best option for you.
  • Build projects: As soon as possible, start building projects! This will help cement the concepts you’ll learn through an online course, book, or tutorial. Build stuff, break it along the way, and figure out how to fix things. It’s fun!
  • Join a community: Learning how to code can be hard. But when you join a community of like-minded learners, it can be less intimidating. Make the most of help from programmers with more experience than you.

Conclusion

If you’ve read this far, you have learned the answer to the question, what is programming? 

And with programming explained, we could discuss the difference between coding and programming before covering the different types of programming languages, including lower-level (machine code &  assembly language) and higher-level (mid-level & high-level) languages. 

We also delved into the many benefits of programming, including some tips and advice for you to follow if you’re ready to learn to program.

Undoubtedly, computer programming is a huge topic, and there is a lot to learn and discover! Hopefully, this article has piqued your interest while helping you learn what is programming in simple words. 

And, of course, we hope you’re now feeling ready and excited to explore more.

Excited to start programming? Check out our article on

How to Learn Programming

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Is the Main Purpose of Programming?

It is to maximize the power of computers. Programming allows us to solve problems with computers quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.

2. What Software Is Used for Programming?

Programming requires us to use various software pieces, some of the most essential being an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) or code editors like Visual Studio Code or Atom and a version control system like Git.

3. What Is the Difference Between Coding and Programming? 

Coding is when we use the syntax of a programming language to write computer programs. Programming entails additional processes like identifying program requirements, debugging, testing, etc. 

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By Aman Goel

Entrepreneur, Coder, Speed-cuber, Blogger, fan of Air crash investigation! Aman Goel is a Computer Science Graduate from IIT Bombay. Fascinated by the world of technology he went on to build his own start-up - AllinCall Research and Solutions to build the next generation of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing based solutions to power businesses.

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Hackr User

I know computers but not aware of programming. What is programming in computer?

5 years ago

Hackr User

Where can I learn basic computer programming?

5 years ago

Hackr User

Where to get started with programming for beginners?

5 years ago

Hackr User

Can you define programming?

5 years ago

Hackr Team

This might be a useful article: https://medium.com/@i.oleks/how-to-apply-for-google-summer-of-code-95c1bfcd41a5

4 years ago

S1d33q

it depends on what is your goal .If your goal is to do a job in a specific company as a python developer(a specific field like web dev , app dev , game dev etc) .Then search that company and read their requirements for a job .then according to their requirements complete open source projects and share them with other peoples (python community) on github or other forums .And also read other python programmer's code

4 years ago

Moe Gyi

I'm beginner.

3 years ago