What Is Programming? And How To Get Started

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn the definition of programming, some common programming languages, and steps to begin building programming experience.

[Featured Image] A developer in a blue, collared shirt works on some basic computer programming at a desk with a laptop and desktop monitor.

Computer programming is becoming increasingly important across many industries and a crucial skill for professionals of all ages. According to a research study by KX, a UK-based software company, nearly half of all students between the ages of 16 and 23 interviewed are planning to learn software programming skills [1].

What is programming?

Programming is a technological process that tells a computer which tasks need to be performed to solve problems. It can be considered a collaboration between humans and computers, in which humans create instructions for a computer to follow (code) in a language computers can understand. 

Programming enables so many things in our lives. Here are some examples: 

  • When you browse a website to find information, contact a service provider, or make a purchase, programming allows you to interact with the site’s on-page elements, such as sign-up or purchase buttons, contact forms, and drop-down menus.

  • The programming behind a mobile app can make ordering food, booking a lift share service easy, tracking your fitness, accessing media, and more. 

  • Programming helps businesses operate more efficiently through different software for file storage and automation and video conferencing tools to connect people globally, amongst other things. 

  • Space exploration is made possible through programming.  

How does computer programming work?

At its most basic, programming tells a computer what to do. First, a programmer writes code—a set of letters, numbers, and other characters. Next, a compiler converts each line of code into a language a computer can understand. Then, the computer scans and executes the code, performing a task or series of tasks. Tasks might include displaying an image on a webpage or changing the font of a section of text. 

Most used programming languages

Different programming languages enable programmers to write code that computers understand. According to a survey by Statista, the top five programming languages that developers use as of 2023 are [2]: 

  • JavaScript, used by 63.61 percent 

  • HTML/CSS, used by 52.97 percent

  • SQL, used by 48.66 percent 

  • Python, used by 49.28 percent 

  • TypeScript, used by 38.87 percent

Explore below what you can do with these programming languages: 


This language is used on every major web browser. JavaScript allows you to add complex features to a web page, such as content updates, interactive maps, and animated graphics, develop games and more.   


These languages are used to create web pages and web applications. You would use HTML (HyperText Markup Language) to build web page structure, while CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) would enable you to determine the page’s styling.   


SQL stands for Structured Query Language and is used to communicate with databases, including updating and retrieving data.


Python programming is most used in machine learning, web development, and desktop applications. Python is a popular language amongst beginners, as the syntax is relatively easy to learn. It is known as an object-oriented programming language.


TypeScript is a free, open-source programming language developed by Microsoft as a superset of JavaScript. It’s used for creating large applications. 

Types of programming languages

While hundreds of programming languages (if not thousands) exist, and there are many ways to classify them, they typically can be grouped into five main categories:

  1. Procedural programming languages

  2. Functional programming languages

  3. Object-oriented programming languages

  4. Scripting languages

  5. Logic programming languages

How to get started in computer programming 

Follow these steps to embark on a journey in the growing programming field. 

1. Identify your programming goals. 

An important first step is to reflect on your goals and motivations. With clarity on what you want to achieve and why, you can align your actions with the desired outcomes. Here are some examples of programming goals:  

  • Launch a new programming career in a specific industry. 

  • Explore programming in your current role and create new projects that combine programming with what you already do.

  • Pursue programming as a hobby and complete projects that match your interests.  

2. Enroll in an introductory programming course.

Once you know your goals, it’s a good idea to find a course on programming to introduce you to popular programming languages and different avenues for applying programming skills. You can also use an introductory course to refine your goals and focus your efforts. 

Watch this video to practice coding in an easy-to-learn programming language, Scratch.  

3. Build essential programming skills.

As you’re taking courses, you’ll want to ensure you’re developing essential programming skills, mainly if your goals are to pursue a new career or enhance your current one. While a course you’re enrolled in may provide an overview of important programming skills and then structure the learning experience accordingly, you may find it helpful to find out what employers are looking for. 

4. Connect with other programmers. 

When you build a network and connect with other programmers, you can gain exposure to programming trends, opportunities, and solutions to common challenges. Ways to connect with other programmers include: 

  • Attending tech conferences and networking events 

  • Signing up for a coding bootcamp

  • Subscribing to programming influencers and thought leaders

  • Joining an online community

5. Complete projects. 

Completing projects is a great way to apply your skills and discover your programming potential. Find tutorials online to complete beginner projects such as: 

  • Creating a mobile app 

  • Creating a calculator app

  • Building a simple game

  • Building a basic website from scratch 

6. Explore your future in programming.

The more you learn about programming, build skills, and complete projects, the closer you will achieve your goals. On a routine basis, reflect on the future you’d like to have in programming and explore the possibilities, including job listings in programming, freelancing as a programmer, building apps for friends and family, and advancing your education. 

Start programming with Coursera. 

Online courses can be a great way to build programming skills and explore your possibilities. If you are new to programming, consider completing Code Yourself! An Introduction to Programming, a free beginner course offered by the University of Edinburgh on Coursera. For those with more experience, you can expand your programming skills in back-end development with tailored Professional Certificates on Coursera, such as the Meta Back-End Developer Professional Certificate by Meta.

Article sources


KX. “Nearly half of UK students see coding skills as vital as foreign language skills for future career prospects, https://kx.com/blog/nearly-half-of-uk-students-see-coding-skills-as-vital-as-foreign-language-skills-for-future-career-prospects/.” Accessed June 7, 2024.

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