Home > Articles > Programming > General Programming/Other Languages

What Programming Languages Should You Know?

  • Print
  • + Share This
David Chisnall posits that the more programming languages you know, the better. The point is not to stuff your head with language rules. Rather, he explains how being able to read multiple languages, even if you never code in them, can help you to select the best possible tool for each coding need — and understand the limitations of the tools you're using.
Like this article? We recommend

Learning foreign languages helps to broaden your mind because some concepts are much better expressed in one language than another. German, for example, really has no word for "fluffy," although it does have words for "furry" and "fuzzy." Similarly, English has no elegant way of expressing the difference between libre and gratis in Spanish. Natural languages adopt concepts from each other over the years and tend toward the same expressive abilities.

Programming languages are different. A programming language may be defined by a specification, but is always limited by the abilities of the compilers and interpreters that execute it. If a particular language doesn’t support a given feature, you can’t just steal a few words from another language and use them, as you might with a natural language. While you can combine languages in a single project, you typically have to do this across well-defined interfaces, rather than by just stealing some syntax from one language and using it in another.

This kind of thing isn’t just an abstract problem. If you’re writing code that queries a database, you’re probably going to be using at least two languages. Because most general-purpose languages don’t have semantics that map clearly onto a database, you’ll need to embed something like SQL or XPath. Now, imagine that you want to express a transitive closure in your query. SQL isn’t expressive enough to implement a transitive closure (although some vendor-specific extensions permit this), so you might have to implement it by using a stored procedure in a third language.

The ability to use different languages when they suit the task at hand is a sign of a good coder. The more languages you learn, the easier it is to pick up a new one. Eventually, you start thinking of every new language as just a set of modifications to a language you know already. So what languages should you learn that will help you to quickly build up the set of basic concepts and let you pick up other languages easily? The rest of this article contains my answer to this question. Note that I’m not necessarily advocating using any of these languages for a real project, but I believe that learning them will make you a better programmer in whatever language you do use.

C: Portable Assembly

Whatever language you choose for writing code, eventually that code will be turned into a set of very simple machine instructions. These instructions will be executed more or less sequentially (superscalar architectures notwithstanding). A good programmer needs to be able to think at multiple levels of abstraction simultaneously, and the best way of accomplishing this goal for the lower levels is to use a language that closely mimics processor operation.

A decade or two ago, the most sensible way of achieving this objective would be by learning assembly language. These days, however, few processors actually execute machine language instructions directly, so a language like C isn’t much different in terms of abstractions. A modern x86 CPU, for example, typically has some hidden registers used for storing items on the stack, so the items that an assembly language programmer believes are stored in registers are not quite the same as those that the CPU actually stores.

Being one layer of abstraction higher than an assembly language, C has the advantage that it’s not tied to a particular CPU architecture. This faculty has helped C to gain widespread use; even if you never write a line of C code, you undoubtedly will have to read C code at some point or other.

On VMS, there was a well-defined ABI for all procedural languages, so it was trivial to call one from another. Microsoft Windows had COM, which allowed all languages to deal easily with objects from other languages (as long as both languages were C++), and now we have .NET, which does the same thing (as long as both languages are C#). In the UNIX world, the standard way of exporting an interface to a library is via C, irrespective of which language you’re using. For a program in language A, calling a function in a library written in language B almost always involves going via C.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020