Python vs C++: Which to Learn First and Where to Start

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Deciding whether to learn Python or C++ first is a matter of preference for most people. Learn more about the pros and cons of each before you make a decision.

[Featured image] Someone coding in python sits at a desk and works with a python if-else statement.

Python and C++ are popular and efficient programming languages for beginners, and choosing the one to learn first may come down to personal preference. For one thing, these languages share some similarities. They also have many users, extensive support, and portability, making them useful in multiple situations.

If you're deciding which programming language to learn first, explore the advantages and disadvantages of each language. You can make an informed decision about which program best meets your current needs.

Python: Beginner-friendly

Python is more than just an excellent programming language for beginners. It's one of the most popular programming languages worldwide because it’s versatile and efficient. This high-level language combines built-in data structures with dynamic binding and typing to create a powerful language that can allow you to write code faster than you imagined possible.

Advantages

Python offers several key benefits that make it a viable option for anyone wanting to learn a programming language. These advantages include the following characteristics:

  • Easy to comprehend: Python reads like English, making it easy for new users to pick up and write code.

  • Simple to debug: Python executes code line by line as an interpreted language and stops running as soon as an error appears. You will spend less time tracking down and correcting errors in the code.

  • Free and open-source: You can use and distribute your version of Python.

  • Library support: The extensive Python library reduces your dependence on external libraries. If you need to import a package from another library, you have more than hundreds of thousands of third-party Python libraries to choose from as you write code.

  • Portability: The code you write in Python will work on other machines or operating systems.

Disadvantages

Python is popular, but it has its negatives, like other languages. It won't work for all applications, and it has other drawbacks listed below:

  • Execution speed: Python executes code line by line, which can slow the process. When speed matters, Python may not be the best programming language.

  • Memory usage: Python requires a considerable amount of memory, which can limit its use for particular projects.

  • Usability in mobile computing: Python can take too much memory to make it usable for mobile devices.

  • Database access: The Python database must be more developed than similar technologies and can be cumbersome.

C++: The faster option

Released in 1985, C++ has been around longer than Python. Despite its age, it remains one of the most efficient programming languages and is one of the top 10 languages used worldwide[1]. Check out the advantages and disadvantages of C++.

Advantages

So many developers use C++ because of its portability and speed. More advantages of this language include:

  • Portability: C++ codes you write on one platform can quickly transfer to other platforms without producing an error.

  • Speed: As a compiler-based language, C++ is faster than Python. The same code running in both programs simultaneously will generate in C++ first.

  • Mid-level language characteristics: C++ is a mid-level language, which allows the developer to use it as both a low-level and high-level language.

  • Memory management: C++ does not support garbage collection, so the developer controls the memory.

  • Similarity to other programming languages: If you also know C, C#, or Java, you may find it easier to learn C++.

  • Extensive community of users: C++ is such a popular program that you'll find a vast network of support to help you solve problems with your code.

Disadvantages 

It is helpful to know the disadvantages of working in C++. The more you understand the language's limitations, the better you will be prepared to make necessary accommodations. Here are some of the programming language's drawbacks:

  • Memory management: Since the user has complete control over the memory, there's a risk of storing redundant data that increases the memory used.

  • Flexibility: C++ can feel less flexible because of its strict syntax. Minor errors lead to a series of errors that take time to correct.

  • Functions: C++ lacks first-class type functions like passing and returning values without restrictions and creating functions without restrictions.

  • Complexity: As a multi-paradigm language, C++ is useless for platform-dependent apps.

Ways to learn either language

Although you can learn programming languages independently through trial and error, it may be easier to take a class. You should know basic programming concepts in a class and have opportunities to practice writing code. You can try shorter learning opportunities through bootcamps and certificate programmes to avoid enrolling in college.

Bootcamps

A bootcamp is a coding school where you learn a programming language in a condensed time frame. Many boot camps run for eight to 12 weeks, and some can take as long as seven months. By completing a Python or C++ bootcamp, you should be able to write code well enough to practice independently or apply for an entry-level coding position.

Certificate programmes

Like bootcamps, certificate programmes typically take 12 weeks or more to complete. These programmes may be available on a college campus or online, so you can find one that fits your schedule. Many certificate programmes focus on one sub-topic; you should get plenty of introductory knowledge and practice opportunities. When you finish, you receive a certificate of completion.

Next steps

You have options if you still need to decide which programming language is the best to learn first. You can make available introductory courses that teach you the fundamentals of how to use the languages and can be helpful in your decision-making process. Check out some beginner-oriented recommendations below, like the Python for Everybody Specialisation or Programming in C++: A Hands-on Introduction Specialisation.

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