Best Programming Languages for Software Engineering

Published September 26, 2022

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Explore the best programming languages for software engineering, what they do, and which languages you should learn.

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Programming languages are the foundation for careers as computer programmers, software developers, and software engineers. Typically, the more languages software engineers know, the wider their job opportunities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects computer and information technology jobs to grow 15% by 2030. This percentage is twice the average growth for all other occupations, making now an ideal time to learn programming languages. JavaScript, HTML/CSS, SQL, and Python were among the most commonly used programming and markup languages in 2020, according to a Stack Overflow study.

Explore the most in-demand programming languages and which are best for software engineering.

Coding vs. Programming in Software Engineering

Software engineers use coding and programming languages in their jobs. Coding is the part of programming that focuses on writing code used in programs that instruct computers. Coding involves translating instructions from human languages to a language that machines can understand.

Programmers plan, design, develop, and test the program's structure. Programmers may learn to code or use code created by others. But they need to know how to create and work with algorithms, data structures, and other components.

How Are Programming Languages Used in Software Engineering?

Software engineers plan and design software functions by applying engineering principles and methods to software development. They also analyze and modify existing software programs using various programming languages.

Software engineers need in-depth knowledge and experience with programming languages. They also work alongside computer programmers and coders as part of a software design team.

Programming Languages for Software Engineers

Python and Javascript are two of the most in-demand programming languages software engineers use. Programming languages have different applications, properties, and uses, all of which have value in a software engineering career.

Python


As a general-purpose programming language, Python is among the most versatile and powerful languages. Python's readability and concise structure make it a popular choice for beginner, intermediate, and expert programmers.

Developed during the late 1980s, Guido van Rossum implemented Python in 1989. Python is open-source and features a standard library that programmers use worldwide to create websites, software, task automation, data analysis, and data visualizations.

Software engineers use Python to support and collaborate with software developers. Major companies like IBM, NASA, and Pixar use Python.

Java


Java first appeared during the 1990s as a high-level, object-oriented programming language. Designed with a syntax that resembles C and C++, Java is simpler and considered easier to learn and use.

Programmers use Java for web and mobile applications, embedded systems, and big data technologies. Java has fewer dependencies than many other languages and uses classes to define attributes and behaviors. This allows Java to inherit attributes and behaviors from classes without being recreated.

Because Java includes strong security protocols and has no ties to a specific platform or system, it is among the most commonly used programming languages in software development.

JavaScript


With applicability in front-end and back-end development, JavaScript is widely used in the development of web applications. Web users encounter JavaScript while playing games, making presentations, and during comparable interactive activities.

JavaScript is more of a scripting language than a programming language because an existing system interprets its code. JavaScript is one of the most popular software engineering languages, especially for those who work with web applications.

JavaScript, which has syntax much like C++ and Java, is fast and simplifies upgrades and application maintenance. When paired with Node.js, programmers can use Javascript outside a web browser and in network applications.

HTML/CSS


Computer science professionals use HTML and CSS to create web pages, often together. First written in 1993, HTML is a markup language more than a programming language because it contains no inherent logic. Invented in 1996, CSS is a style sheet language used to describe the presentation of information written in HTML or any markup language.

Learning HTML gives you a better understanding of web principles. Because HTML serves as one of the cornerstones in web development, keeping up with changes and evolutions of the language is essential.

CSS allows users to make a web page look a certain way. Fundamental to web design, CSS is a basic requirement for web application developers and software engineers who work with them.

C++


Powerful and versatile, C++ is an extension of the C programming language. C was developed during the 1970s, while C++ appeared in 1985.

Created by Bjarne Stroustrup, C++ is largely used to develop operating systems, web browsers, desktop applications, and games. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe use C++ in their products.

C++ is one of the most difficult programming languages to learn. It has an advanced syntax and multi-paradigm nature, making it more complex than Java and Python. C++ uses pointers to store memory addresses, which you can reference to. The advantages of C++ include its speed, large template library, and proximity to hardware.

SQL


Short for Structured Query Language, SQL is a domain-specific programming language designed to manage relational databases. Standardized in 1986 by the American National Standards Institute, SQL handles data using a syntax made up of clauses, expressions, predicates, queries, and statements.

SQL can store, retrieve, manage, and manipulate data within a database management system. Especially useful in big data analytics, SQL is built into database management systems like MySQL. Additional SQL database management systems include Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, and Microsoft Access.

Ruby


Open-source and dynamic, Ruby is a high-level programming language designed to maximize productivity and simplicity. The syntax of Ruby is easy to read and write, thanks to its natural flow. Concise and consistent, Ruby was developed during the 1990s and builds upon predecessors like Perl and BASIC.

Because Ruby sees everything as an object, its versatility and portability find use in web development, automation, data processing, and DevOps. While its ease of use resembles Python, Ruby is best used for commercial rather than educational purposes. Major companies that use Ruby include GitHub, Airbnb, and Shopify.

Ruby, written in C language, is often confused with the web development tool called Ruby on Rails. Ruby on Rails was programmed in Ruby when it was developed during the early 2000s. Ruby on Rails is primarily used for server-side scripting and building web applications.

PHP


As a general-purpose scripting language, PHP is ideal for web development. Nearly 80% of the websites use PHP. Considered fast, flexible, and pragmatic, PHP was created in 1994 and works well with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and databases.

PHP code operates on a server where they open, read, write, delete, and close files. PHP can also send and receive cookies, encrypt files, collect form data, and control user access.

PHP is free and includes many free and open-source libraries built by users. Developers can add functionality to PHP by writing extensions in C. PHP is especially useful in writing, testing, and troubleshooting computer code.

Swift


Developed by Apple Inc., Swift is a general-purpose programming language for iOS, iPad, macOS, and comparable technologies.

Because Swift is fairly easy to learn and read, it is considered a good beginner language for coders. Using Swift is simple and fun, mainly because the results are immediate. Graphics, lists, and graphs appear instantly, and the timeline assistant allows for experimentation and debugging in real time.

Released in 2014, Swift resembles C, is known for its speed, and is compatible with Linux. Considered a successor to Objective-C, another iOS programming language, Swift may soon render its predecessor obsolete.

Go


Simple, reliable, and efficient, Go (sometimes called Golang or Go language) first appeared in 2009. Designed by Google, Go resembles C in syntax and has cross-platform applications comparable to Java.

Go compiles quickly, has a small feature set, and provides automatic memory management capabilities. Go is portable, interfaces with external libraries and native systems, and is supported by Linux, macOS, and Windows.

Go is ideal for cloud-native applications, distributed network services, and stand-alone tools. Major companies that use Go include Google, Uber, and Dropbox.

Which Programming Language Should You Learn?

The right programming language for you is the one that fits your career goals and interests.

Learning multiple languages advances your expertise in software development and engineering. Python, JavaScript, Java, SQL, and HTML all have different uses and functions and sit atop the list of the most popular programming languages. Enrolling in free coding classes can help you try out different programming languages with very low risk.

Coding bootcamps are another way to learn one or more programming languages and gain hands-on experience, but these can be costly.

These intensive programs offer self-guided and structured formats, online options, and short timelines. Bootcamps can be an alternative or entryway to earning a degree in a computer-related field.

Become a Software Engineer

FAQ About Software Engineering Programming Languages

What are the main programming languages a software engineer uses?

While no one programming language meets the needs of every software engineer, the most popular languages are JavaScript, HTML/CSS, SQL, Python, and Java.

Is coding required for software engineering?

Software engineers code, test, and deploy their code to create various applications and programs. These professionals must know programming languages, coding principles, and fundamentals.

Which programming language for software engineering should you learn first?

Python is considered an accessible, readable, and versatile language. Often the choice of beginners, Python is a good one for software engineers to learn first.

Where can you learn software engineering programming languages?

You can learn software engineering languages as part of an undergraduate degree, certificate, or diploma. Additional options for learning programming languages include bootcamps, online courses, and self-study. Books, manuals, online tutorials, podcasts, and online forums also serve as resources for learning programming languages.

Reviewed by: Monali Mirel Chuatico

In 2019, Monali Mirel Chuatico graduated with her bachelor's in computer science, which gave her the foundation that she needed to excel in roles such as a data engineer, front-end developer, UX designer, and computer science instructor.

Monali is currently a data engineer at Mission Lane. As a data analytics captain at a nonprofit called COOP Careers, Monali helps new grads and young professionals overcome underemployment by teaching them data analytics tools and mentoring them on their professional development journey.

Monali is passionate about implementing creative solutions, building community, advocating for mental health, empowering women, and educating youth. Monali's goal is to gain more experience in her field, expand her skill set, and do meaningful work that will positively impact the world.

Monali Mirel Chuatico is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Page last reviewed Sep 20, 2022

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