Like any profession, coders who possess a deeper knowledge base and broader understanding of the tools of their trade can build more complex projects and get better jobs -- no surprise there. Often, becoming a more versatile programmer is the result of learning multiple programming languages, since more general purpose languages may have limits in terms of building specific types of projects or niche software.
There are some obvious benefits to learning multiple languages that even newer programmers probably realize:
- You can shift between your languages depending on the needs of a particular project -- for example, when developing a mobile app versus a website
- You can combine the capabilities of multiple languages in some cases, to create a more dynamic product with an enhanced user experience
- You can apply for a wider variety of jobs, since companies and startups often look for developers fluent in a specific programming language (and hence, you knowing more of them gives you more opportunities)
- If you choose the right combination of languages to learn, you can progress toward being a full stack developer - someone who can handle needs and issues on both the front-end and back-end sides of an application, and thus is not as dependent on being part of a development team (or hiring outside developers to build specific functionality)
Because of these benefits and more, often newer coding learners wonder “can you learn two languages at the same time?” The answer to this question is a little bit complicated, and might be best answered as “yes and no” or “yes, but proceed with caution”. It might be best to think about this question in terms of a coding novice vs. a more experienced developer.
Should Beginning Programmers Learn Two Languages At The Same Time?
So you are a new coding learner with dreams for building the next big mobile game or software app. And we think that’s great! You’ve probably heard from fellow coding learners that experienced developers who build these types of projects are fluent in multiple programming languages, and since you are eager to get building toward your big idea, you want to know if you should double up on your coding classes.
Well, the truth is that before you start enrolling to learn Python and Java at the same time, or any other combination of languages, there are a few realities you want to keep in mind:
- Put it simply, mastering your first programming language will not be easy. There are a few skills you’ll need to learn at the same time: syntax, programming language constructs, and problem solving ability
- Since different languages have different syntaxes, specific problems and limitations, and external tools, doubling them up is also doubling up your workload in terms of learning the foundational principles of each language
- Learning a second programming language also requires you to work with more advanced concepts. Complicating things further, you often won’t truly understand the first programming language until you’ve started to learn an additional one, where you can actually see the structural differences. This is due to there being bigger differences in programming languages besides the syntax you actually type in.
- Aside from the challenges of learning any coding challenge, there’s also the human factor -- you have a limited amount of time, energy, patience, and “brain power” yourself. While some coding learners are able to easily motivate themselves, the typical coding learner will experience some frustrations learning any language. The trick is to do an honest self-evaluation of your own learning abilities -- if you have real concerns about staying motivated and engaged, starting with a single language to give yourself some easy accomplishments is probably a better bet for long-term success.
To put it all together, for beginning programmers, the best idea is probably to devote your time and energy to one foundational language, which you can then build off once you have mastered it. For example, learning a versatile and more accessible language like Python or Ruby (which were both designed with ease-of-use in mind) can help you learn the ins and outs of becoming a programmer. Then, you can shift to something like Swift, which is ideal for mobile app development, later in your career.
How About More Advanced Programmers? Should They Learn Two Languages At The Same Time?
For those of you who have mastered your first language, or have already started to develop some work experience and a portfolio of projects, the answer to this question is quite different. The truth is that most successful senior developers are versatile in more than two languages - because of the points we raised above. Versatility and the ability to fill multiple development roles are ideal for larger companies, who would prefer to work with a streamlined and efficient team, as opposed to hiring tons of different developers with specific specialties.
Why is learning multiple languages a better bet for experienced programmers? Here are a few reasons:
- Since experienced programmers know the foundational elements of any language (syntax, logic, the workflow for actually writing code), you won’t need to brush up on those basics. Instead, you can focus on the unique structural and philosophical aspects of the new languages you are adding to your repertoire.
- Experienced developers know their own learning and working strengths and weaknesses far better than a novice programmer. This means experienced programmers have a much better capability for developing a learning plan, or knowing where to find resources to help answer questions or find tools to enhance the language they are learning.
- Learning multiple languages (such as an object-oriented language and a functional programming language) also exposes more advanced developers to differing styles and approaches to building something. This makes you better able to select the right language for a particular project, or shift on the fly if you are running into trouble.
- Because of the ever-increasing array of programming needs in 2021 (mobile vs desktop, data science, machine learning, AI, etc), programming languages are being asked to do more every day. Adding additional languages to your skill set can allow you to shift and evolve along with these new tech trends.
- For programmers who want to build their own app or software (with an eye towards a startup, for example), every language you learn so that you don’t need to rely on hiring another developer can save you valuable money and energy. Startups are limited in their resources by nature (especially if it’s just going to be you), and so the more you can handle yourself, the less you need to rely on others or devote your budget to them.