What Is Programming? And How to Get Started

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Programming is a versatile skill that can be applied in many industries. Learn what programming is, how languages differ, and how to get started.

[Featured image] A programmer sits in front of a computer monitor and types code.

Computer programming is growing across many industries, becoming a crucial skill for professionals of all ages to learn. According to statistics published by GitHub, more than 2.5 million programmers in India joined the site in 2022, the country's largest growth. The company predicts that the number of programmers on GitHub India will equal the amount in the US by 2025 [1].

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

What is programming?

Programming refers to a technological process for telling a computer which tasks to perform in order to solve problems. You can think of programming as 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 it possible for you to order food, track your fitness, access media, and more with ease. 

  • 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 the code and executes it, thereby 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 per cent 

  • HTML/CSS: used by 52.97 per cent

  • Python: used by 49.28 per cent

  • SQL: used by 48.66 per cent  

  • TypeScript: used by 38.87 per cent

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 developing 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 field of programming. 

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 outcomes you desire. Here are some examples of programming goals:  

  • Launch a new programming career in a specific industry. 

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

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

2. Enrol 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. 

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, such as the Great International Software Developer Summit (GIDS) India

  • Signing up for a coding bootcamp

  • Subscribing to programming influencers and thought leaders

  • Joining an online community, such as GitHub India

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 get to achieving 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 

Taking online courses can be a great way to build programming skills and explore what’s possible for you. 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 others, 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. Upon completion, gain a certificate to include in your resume, CV, or LinkedIn profile. 

Article sources


GitHub. “A global community of developers, https://octoverse.github.com/2022/global-tech-talent.” Accessed September 1, 2023.

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