2.2. Programming Languages

“It’ll take a few moments to get the coordinates from the navicomputer.” - Han Solo

Given a set of inputs, Han’s computer analyzes the data and returns information about safely navigating a hyperspace jump. The computer does this by running a program.

At the most basic level, a program is how we tell the computer what it needs to do to follow an algorithm. These instructions consist of a set of commands, calculations, and manipulations that achieve a specific result. However, the computer cannot solve the problem on its own. Someone—a programmer—had to figure out a series of steps for the computer to follow.

2.2.1. What Computers Understand

“Computer, scan the surface for lifeforms.”

“Hey Siri, what movies are playing nearby?”

Even though today’s tech makes it seem like computers understand our speech, the devices do NOT use English, Chinese, Spanish, etc. to do their jobs. Instead, computers operate using binary code, which consists only of 0s and 1s. For example, here is the binary version of the text Hello World:

01001000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111 00100000 01010111 01101111 01110010 01101100 01100100

Each set of 8 digits represents one character in the text.

To make things a little easier, data may also be written as hexadecimal values. Here is Hello World in hex:

48 65 6c 6c 6f 20 57 6f 72 6c 64

To run an algorithm, all of the steps must be written in binary or hex so the computer can understand the instructions.


You do NOT need to worry about binary or hexadecimal code to make your programs work!

2.2.2. Languages

Writing code using only 0s and 1s wastes time and energy. To fix this, many clever people designed ways to convert the text humans understand into the binary or hexadecimal forms needed by machines.

A programming language is a set of key words and rules for teaching a computer how to perform a task. Examples of programming languages include Python, JavaScript, Basic, COBOL, C++, C#, Java, and many others.

These languages can be written and understood by humans, and each one has its own characteristic style and syntax. How Computers Run Programs

Since computers only understand binary code, every programming language includes a compiler, which is a special tool that translates a programmer’s work into the 0s and 1s that the machines need.

If we want to print Hello, World! on the screen, we would write the instructions in our chosen programming language, then select “Run”. Our code gets sent to the compiler, which converts our typed commands into something the computer can use. The instructions are then executed by the machine, and we observe the results.

Diagram showing the code getting sent through the compiler.

In the example above, the syntax for printing Hello, World! varies between the Python, JavaScript, and Java languages, but the end result is the same.

2.2.3. How Many Programming Languages Are There?

Ask Google, “How many programming languages are there?” and many, many results appear. Even with all these options, there is no specific answer to the question. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of programming languages available.

Arguments occur whenever someone makes a top 10 list for programming languages, but regardless of the opinions, one fact remains.

Once you learn one language, learning the next is much, much easier.

Once you know two programming languages, adding a third becomes child’s play.

The reason for this is that thinking like a coder does not change with the language. Your logic, reasoning, and problem solving skills apply just as well for Python as they do for JavaScript, Swift and C#. To display text on the screen in Python, we use print(), for JavaScript we use console.log();, for C# the command is Console.WriteLine();. The syntax for each language varies, but the results are identical.