What Is Coding? Coding Definition and What Coding Is Used For


The definition of coding is the process of creating instructions for computers using programming languages. Coding is used to program the websites, apps, and other technologies we interact with every day. But, what is coding and why is it important?

Most people in and out of the tech sphere have heard the terms coding and programming. Many of the best tech careers require the ability to code. If you want to work in a high-paying field like software engineering, web development, or data science, understanding and using code is essential. Keep reading to find the answer to the question: what does coding mean?

What Is Coding Used For?

Coding is used for communicating with computers. People use coding to give computers and other machines instructions on what actions to perform. We also use computer code to program the websites, apps, and other technologies we interact with every day. It might sound simple, but how does coding work?

What Does Coding Mean? Coding Definition

Computer coding is the use of computer programming languages to give computers and machines a set of instructions on what actions to perform. Coding is how humans communicate with machines. It’s what allows us to create computer software like programs, operating systems, and mobile applications.

How Does Coding Work?

Coding works by creating instructions in a language that computers can understand and implement. Computers are electronic machines made with transistors, which are simple solid-state, on-and-off switches. For the sake of brevity, when you combine tens of thousands of these on/off switches, you get a computer.

This is how coding works in basic terms: binary code (also known as 1s and 0s) instructs these switches whether to turn on (1) or turn off (0). Each transistor will receive a 1 or a 0, and with thousands working at once, a computer can perform a multitude of actions.

Unfortunately, attempting to make an entire computer work by manually typing a number for each transistor would take an incredible amount of time. So, engineers developed high-level languages to help speed up the process. Rather than addressing individual transistors with machine code, we address entire sections of them to perform a specific task.

What Is Coding Used For?

Computer code is used for tons of different purposes, such as building websites or creating software. The rapid technological advancement we’ve witnessed over the last few decades has a wide-reaching effect on how everything works. You have to look below the surface to see where the most significant changes took place.

Computers replaced millions of working hours and warehouses of analog machines with faster, safer, and more reliable systems. Since computers run on code, it’s apparent why you can find it anywhere. Computers will continue to replace technology in everything from microwaves to power plants, and the presence of code in our daily lives will increase.

Why Is Coding Important?

Coding is important because it is the bedrock upon which modern applications and software programs are built. Without coding, we couldn’t have some of the digital products that we enjoy today and that make our life much easier, such as the payment application Venmo or the ride-hailing app Uber.

Coding is also essential for web development, so the very act of reading this article on a website wouldn’t be possible without coding. In fact, coders are needed in every industry, from insurance to finance and from data analysis to marketing. Coding makes possible the development of the digital systems that support these industries.

The benefits of coding are extensive. If you learn to code, you will have access to a wide range of well-paying jobs in whichever industry you prefer. Because apps and software programs power modern society, coding will remain a critical skill for the future. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that careers in software development will grow by 22 percent. This means that if you learn to code, you are likely to enjoy great job security.

There are many reasons to learn to code. Below, we examine some of the most prominent coding benefits:

  • Coding is an in-demand skill that will open many professional doors and help you achieve job security.
  • Employers highly value coding skills and are willing to pay top dollar for employees who know Java, JavaScript, Python, and other popular languages.
  • Learning to code in itself is a challenging endeavor that will test your grit and determination.
  • Learning to code nurtures your math and problem-solving abilities.

What Is the Difference Between Coding and Programming?

The difference between coding and programming is that coding refers to a very specific task: writing code that can be understood by computers. Programming, on the other hand, is a term used to describe a wider set of processes that enable the development of complex systems.

In other words, coding is part of programming, not the other way around. Programming is a high-level process, whereas coding is a very specific activity. We can define coding as an essential component of the programming process.

What Is Coding?

Coding is the act of translating instructions from human language to a format that can be understood by machines. It is a very specific task that can be performed with just a code editor like Notepad.

What Is Programming?

Programming is a method used to develop complex digital systems. It goes beyond the simple act of writing code to devise a logical solution to a given problem. Unlike most definitions of “coding,” programming involves things like data structures and algorithms. It requires a much wider set of tools, including software for team management, design, and testing.

Coding vs Programming

As you can see from the definitions above, coding is a subset of programming, which is another way of saying that programming “contains” coding. The difference between programming and coding is subtle and can be hard to grasp, so keep reading to better understand exactly what we mean by coding.

What Are Programming Languages?

Programming languages are sets of rules defining how to write code. These rules bring machine language closer to human language. It’s easy to think of them as languages computers can understand. Computer languages are used to create web pages, applications, and computer systems.

There are many types of coding languages used in programming. Programmers and coders tend to choose one computer language over another based on factors like its applications, its popularity in a given field, or its adaptability to a particular project.

Below, we list the top 10 most popular programming languages. We show you their most common applications, the companies that are currently using them, and their difficulty level for complete beginners.

Programming Language Common Applications Used By Learning Difficulty
C General purpose, app development, systems, low-level operations Apple, Meta, Google Easy to medium. It has a simple syntax.
Python General purpose, app development, web development, scripting, artificial intelligence, scientific computing Intel, IBM, Pinterest Easy to learn. Difficult to master.
JavaScript Web development, client-side, server-side Microsoft, Netflix, Paypal Easy. JS is generally considered one of the easiest computer languages to learn.
Ruby App development, scripting, web development Airbnb, Shopify, Instacart Easy. Ruby is considered a beginner-friendly IT language.
C++ App development, systems Adobe, Blizzard, Evernote Difficult. Among the popular computer languages, this is considered one of the hardest to learn.
C# General purpose, app development, RAD, business, client-side, server-side, web development, game development Accenture, Aristocrat, City National Bank Easy. Its well-defined class hierarchy makes it easy to read.
Java General purpose, app development, business, client-side, mobile development, server-side, web development Spotify, Uber, Instagram Easy to medium. Compared to other computer languages, Java is not hard to learn.
Scala App development, distributed, web development LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare Medium to difficult. If you already know Java, Scala is much easier to understand.
Perl App development, scripting, text processing, web development Amazon, Booking.com, ROBLOX Easy to medium. This computer language is not considered hard for writing simple programs.
PHP Server-side, web development Century 21, ScienceSoft, Skillshare Easy. PHP has a robust ecosystem and easy syntax.
Swift General purpose, app development Coursera, Eventbrite, Khan Academy Easy. It was designed by Apple so that anyone can use it.

How Many Coding Languages Are There?

There are 274 defined coding languages, according to the TIOBE Index. The list is based on the function and notability of a language, and other sources place the number of coding languages much higher. Anyone can create a programming language, so there are thousands of languages out there that just aren’t used enough to be significant.

To get a good idea of the number of coding languages actually in use, we can turn to GitHub, a popular software development platform. This site hosts open source projects that are written in over 300 different languages, with the most popular languages being JavaScript, Python, and Java.

What Makes a Programming Language Unique?

The functions and features of a programming language make it unique. Many programming languages are relatively simple, but they do different things. For example, one of the most popular languages, JavaScript, is used primarily for web pages and front end development. On the other hand, Python is used for both complete software programs and websites.

Whichever a software developer chooses is usually up to their discretion, as more than one programming language can often work for the same purpose. Most people choose a language that balances functionality and ease of use.

Low-Level vs High-Level Programming Languages

There are many ways of classifying programming languages. One of the main classifications is a language’s level. Low-level languages are closer to binary code, while high-level languages are closer to human language. Typically, learning to code is easier with a high-level language, while low-level languages offer more freedom.

What Coding Languages Are the Easiest to Learn?

The easiest languages to learn are HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. These computer languages form the foundation of web development and, as such, their importance cannot be overstated.

Most web development courses and programs begin with HTML, which allows you to structure websites. Then, they move on to CSS, which is a computer language used to format and style web pages. Finally, JavaScript, the most complex of these three computer languages, is all about making websites interactive.

What Is the Hardest Coding Language to Learn?

The hardest coding language to learn is C++, though there are many difficult languages out there. C++ is considered one of the hardest coding languages to learn due to its complex syntax and its flexibility, which allows the coder to program pretty much anything that’s technically possible.

Other contenders for the hardest coding languages to learn are Prolog, LISP, Haskell, and Malbolge. These computer languages are tough, and they are best approached if you already have some coding experience. For example, learning C++ is much easier if you already know the C programming language.

What Is the Most Common Coding Language?

The most common coding language is JavaScript, according to the popular coding hub and research platform Stack Overflow. Its 2021 survey shows that 69 percent of professional developers use JavaScript. Other common coding languages are HTML/CSS, used by 56 percent of professionals, and SQL, used by 51 percent. Python, TypeScript, and Node.js are also on the list.

Is Coding Hard to Learn?

No, coding is not hard to learn. Coding is everywhere, and so are learning materials for it. Because of this, it has become extremely easy to learn how to code. On average, most people take three to six months to learn programming languages. This is usually possible by attending coding bootcamps, which offer short but intensive training.

What Are Computer Programs?

A computer program is a text file that serves as an instruction manual for a computer. When you launch an application, you’re telling the computer to read the text file and execute the commands therein. Computer programmers use different programming languages to create software programs.

Depending on the processing power of the computer, a system can scan an enormous amount of instructions and follow them amazingly quickly. A human couldn’t read through thousands of lines of code and discern which steps to take as quickly as a computer can.

What Is an Algorithm in Coding?

An algorithm in coding refers to a set of rules that takes inputs to produce an output. An algorithm in coding is also defined as a procedure detailing the concrete steps needed to solve a problem or achieve some other goal.

If you have a list containing a large number of items, you can use an algorithm to search for a specific entry, sort the list, or add new entries. These days, algorithms are everywhere. Every time you use your phone to order food or turn on your computer to do a Google search, you are using an algorithm.

Think of an algorithm as a cooking recipe: you start with the ingredients (input), follow the instructions (procedure), and end up with a nice pie, soup, or some other dish (output). An algorithm needs to meet a set of criteria to be labeled as such. These are the qualities of a good algorithm:

  • Clear. A coding algorithm should be completely unambiguous, with each step clearly presented without room for error or misunderstanding.
  • Simple. An algorithm should be as straightforward as possible. It should have a start, a middle, and an end. The key is to include only what’s absolutely necessary.
  • Language-independent. The programmer should be able to use the algorithm in any computer language.

Where Is Coding Used?

Coding is used in digital systems like phones, calculators, laptop computers, and smart TVs. While computer science deals with high-level theoretical ideas, almost every aspect of modern life relies on coding. Virtually every new car uses it to control everything from air conditioning systems to fuel injectors. Cities employ computers to operate traffic signals.

Systems that used to be analog are now streamlined using computerized systems. This allows engineers to build a more efficient and less expensive system, structure, and machine. Further, some of the most advanced technical fields, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, use coding.

How to Learn Coding

A laptop and a monitor displaying lines of code.
A simple coding definition is that coding is just telling a computer to flip a number of switches very quickly.

These days, your options for learning to code are practically limitless. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a majority of computer programmers hold a bachelor’s degree. However, some employers are open to hiring programmers who have other degrees or proficiency in specific programming languages.

From enrolling in a coding bootcamp to practicing with a coding app to joining a free course online, there is a multitude of ways to get started in coding. Below, we take a look at some of the best ways to learn coding.

Coding Websites

There is a staggering number of websites to learn and practice computer coding. For example, you can pick up programming skills from websites like Treehouse. Or, you might prefer text-based lessons, like those from W3Schools. With these and similar resources, you can master the basics of coding and become conversant with your computer language of choice.

Coding Apps

The best coding apps are a portable, fun way to learn to code. There are also many mobile apps that allow you to practice your programming skills and complete lessons no matter where you are. Some of the most popular coding apps include:

  • Enki
  • Codehub
  • Programming Hub
  • Grasshopper
  • Encode
  • Programming Hero

Coding Bootcamps

Another great option, if you have a serious mindset for learning to program, is one of the best coding bootcamps. A bootcamp is a short-term program with a curriculum designed around practical applications. You’ll find expert educators and plenty of opportunities to practice your new skills. Some of the best coding bootcamps are listed below.

Degree Programs

One of the best ways to get started in coding might just be the traditional route: getting a bachelor’s degree. In fact, 80 percent of professional software developers have completed a higher education program, according to Stack Overflow’s 2021 Developers Survey. Employers like to hire software developers that have at least some form of undergraduate education.

Most aspiring programmers and developers choose to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or in a related field like mathematics. At school, they learn the basics of the trade, including writing code, testing programs, and fixing bugs.

MOOCs

Another efficient way to learn computer code online is to enroll in a massive open online course (MOOC). These are courses offered by some of the world’s leading higher education institutions, such as MIT or Harvard, that are made available to everyone online. MOOCs are generally free, although you’ll have to pay if you want a certificate of completion.

A MOOC is one of the best ways to learn coding if you want curricula designed by renowned professors. To get started in coding, a good option would be Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science available on edX, or MIT’s Introduction to Computer Science and Programming in Python.

Self-Guided

Studying on your own is a completely viable way to learn computer code online. In fact, many professional programmers are self-taught. The best way to learn coding on your own is to familiarize yourself with the myriad resources available on the Internet, choose a couple that meet your needs, and hack away at it every day.

If you looking for a way to get started in coding without joining a course or program of study, we recommend checking out Hackr.io, freeCodeCamp, and Stack Overflow. Once you’ve learned the basics, you can use GitHub to collaborate with other aspiring programmers as well as to post your projects and receive feedback from established professionals.

How to Learn Coding for Free

Learning coding for free is easy today. The Internet is full of resources for aspiring computer programmers and software developers. While some of these learning resources, such as coding bootcamps or online classes, can carry a significant price tag, there are also many that are accessible at no cost.

The list below contains sites that offer at least a few free coding classes and other types of learning resources offered at zero cost. Learning to code for free is easy with these sites. For example, you can learn to build your own website, create an algorithm to sort data, and even build a simple app, to name just a few tasks.

These are the best sites to learn coding for free:

How Long Does It Take to Learn Coding?

Learning to code takes anywhere from three months to four years, depending on the learning method. For example, if you choose to attend a coding bootcamp, you can become proficient in at least one coding language in as little as three months. Those who opt for a bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, take on average four years to finish their programs.

There are a lot of options in between, however, such as self-studying using free resources online or enrolling in a MOOC. Whichever you choose, you can master the basics of any given coding language in as little as three months if you apply yourself and remain focused. The table below shows you the average time it takes to learn coding using different learning methods:

Learning Method Average Time to Learn Coding
Self-study 6 months
Coding Bootcamp 6 months
College Degree 4 years

What Is a Coding Class?

Coding classes are short-term lessons where you can learn to code. A coding class is a great option if you want to learn some basic coding concepts or focus on one advanced topic and upskill. The best thing is that there are tons of free coding classes where you can learn the basics of coding. The vast majority of these are offered as online courses.

Is Coding a Good Career?

Yes, a coding career is an excellent professional path. With your coding skills, you can become a computer programmer, software developer, software engineer, or cyber security expert, to name just a few options. These are all professions that pay well above the national average, so choosing coding as a career makes plenty of financial sense.

A career in coding is very secure, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This agency estimates that the number of open positions for software developers will grow by 22 percent from 2020 to 2030. The job outlook for information security professionals is even more impressive, with open positions expected to grow at a rate of 33 percent.

Additionally, a coding career is fulfilling. Your coding skills will probably land you in a fast-paced working environment where you will collaborate with like-minded colleagues. A coding career is also an excellent option because it will always keep you on your toes. You will have to study constantly to keep up with the latest tech, which will help you stay mentally sharp and alert.

Careers Where Learning Code Is Helpful

A coding career path is not limited to software development. There is a slew of in-demand and high-paying jobs where you can apply your coding skills. Below, we take a closer at several unconventional coding career paths:

Job Title Average Salary Job Outlook
Product Manager $133,380 10%
Data Scientist $131,490 22%
Game Developer $110,140 22%
Cyber Security Engineer $102,600 33%
UI/UX Designer $77,200 13%

Coding Career Paths: A Closer Look

Programming skills open the door to a wide range of coding career paths, including product manager, cyber security engineer, and data scientist. Below, we take a deep dive into some of the best-paid coding career paths. We tell you the main tasks each profession involves and the programming languages that are required.

Product Manager

As a product manager, you’ll take ownership of a given digital product and ensure its successful launch and positive reception. You’ll define what success look like and take the higher-level decisions that will help your team get there. Although coding skills are not an absolute requirement, having them will help you better understand the product and the work required to make it stand out from the competition.

Data Scientist

Fluency in programming languages is necessary to become a data scientist. These professionals use their coding knowledge to create algorithms as well as clean and sort data. Different employers demand different languages, but common ones used in this coding career path include Python, R, Java, and Scala.

Game Developer

A game developer’s job may involve tasks as varied as coming up with attractive character designs and choosing atmospheric sound effects. Writing the code that forms the base of the game may also be in the job description. If so, you’ll probably be required to know C++ or C#, which are the most common languages in the field of game development.

Cyber Security Engineer

Cyber security is a fast-growing coding career path. To become a cyber security engineer and master the art of protecting computer systems against cyber threats, you will need to learn at least one programming language. Common programming languages in the field include C, C++, and Python.

UI/UX Designer

The twin roles of user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design have taken off in recent years. In essence, a professional in UX or UI design takes care that the resulting product is as user-friendly as possible. It requires a spectrum of skills, from wireframing to research. While coding is not a must in many cases, it is always a plus as it will smooth out the collaboration with developers.

Coding Jobs: What Can You Do With Coding?

With coding, you can do everything from computer programming to data analysis. The number of jobs that you can do with coding is very high. Coding skills are required to build the digital products that we enjoy today, whether they are video games, team management software, or food delivery apps.

Coding jobs can be found in nearly every industry. Even sectors like insurance, healthcare, and hospitality employ coders. The non-exhaustive list below can give you an idea of the sheer number of jobs in coding:

  • Computer programmer
  • Web developer
  • Web designer
  • Front end developer
  • Backend developer
  • Full stack developer
  • Software developer
  • Mobile applications developer
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Computer systems engineer
  • Network systems administrator
  • Database administrator
  • Computer support specialist
  • Product manager
  • UI designer
  • UX designer
  • UX researcher
  • Data scientist
  • Computer research analyst
  • Information technology manager
  • Cyber security engineer

How Much Does Coding Pay?

Computer programmers earn an average salary of $93,000, according to BLS data. This equals $44.71 per hour, which is an enviable hourly rate. Meanwhile, salary aggregator PayScale puts the average salary of a software developer at $73,691 yearly, while senior developers earn over $121,000 a year.

As you can see from this data, a coding job salary is well above the BLS national average salary, which is $58,260. However, how much a coding job pays really depends on a wide variety of factors, location among them. Washington, California, and Virginia are the top-paying states for computer coding salaries.

What Is Coding FAQs

Is there a difference between coding and programming?

Yes, there is a difference between coding and programming. The difference is often rooted in scope. While coders are only concerned with writing code for software development, programmers deal with the bigger picture. For a more in-depth discussion, check our guide to coding vs programming.

What is coding in simple terms?

In simple terms, coding is the act of feeding commands to a computer in a language it can understand. The computer uses these commands to fulfill a task or a variety of tasks set by the person.

What is an example of coding? 

A good example of coding is when computer programmers write the source code for a simple mobile phone application. This source code will then be compiled or assembled into a computer program that the phone’s system can execute.

What is a program in coding?

A program in coding is a set of instructions used to manipulate information so that a certain input results in a particular output. Programs allow the user to create a wide range of digital items, from an essay written in a word processor to an infographic created in Adobe Illustrator. Some popular programs include Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, and AutoCAD.

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