What Is Coding? 3 Things You Should Know

You may be wondering What is coding anyways?, How does it work?, or Why does any of this matter to me? Maybe you want to get as far away from technology as possible. But here’s the thing: If you’re reading this blog, chances are your world runs on technology and coding surrounds you — powering your media, your modes of communication, and perhaps even your business. And not understanding the basic mechanics of programming languages is like undertaking a massive road trip without first learning a thing or two about cars: It’s possible but also a debatably silly thing to do. So let’s break down the three most important things to know. I promise, you’ll grasp the basics of coding a lot more easily than you may think.

What Is Coding and How Does It Work?

Like most professional fields, you could spend a lifetime learning about code. Understanding the basics, however, happens fairly quickly. I won’t be going into too many of the technicalities (I’d highly suggest Codecademy, freeCodeCamp, or Skillcrush for beginner-friendly intro courses) but I will be listing three things that are helpful to know. Think of these as the equivalent to understanding that you’ll need to have your oil changed, keep your engine from overheating, and know how to find a mechanic. So let’s get started!

1. There Are Many Coding Languages and Different Types

Because there are so many different things that you can do with code (from making websites to making software like PhotoShop) there are also many different coding languages. For instance, coding an Android app would require different knowledge and tools than coding an iPhone app. In practice, this means that someone who makes video games won’t necessarily be able to help you with that website error you’ve been getting. Someone who speaks Spanish probably wouldn’t be able to help you translate something in Japanese, would they? However, that same person could more likely assist in understanding Portuguese or Italian since these languages are closely related to Spanish. In the same way that romance languages can be grouped together, coding languages can be segmented. Understanding two languages in the same group is easier than understanding two languages in different groups. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Computer Languages Are a Lot Like Human Languages

Programming and spoken languages were both created (and continue to be shaped) by people, and we use a lot of the same thinking in setting the rules. Developers discuss the “syntax” of each language. The vocabulary, punctuation, and specific grammatical rules differ between languages, but many have common elements. For instance, I started by learning JavaScript, a language that’s used to make websites respond to clicks and other user interaction. Not long after, I read a program file written in Ruby, another programming language that’s better suited for doing tasks like retrieving information from databases. These two languages perform two different functions but when looking at the Ruby file, I could make out its skeleton — an experience similar to reading something in another language and understanding words here and there as well as the structure. Why? Because I was reading another language and understanding words here and there as well as the structure.

3. Coders and Developers Are Polyglots

Like meeting someone with just one tattoo, it’s uncommon to meet a developer who only knows one language. Why? Unlike human languages, a fair number of computer languages were built to work with or enhance other languages. They’re the social creatures in the world of linguistics. Most developer end up specializing in a particular language or two (or three or four), but it’s crucial for them to understand others as well. Different developers will know different “stacks” or language sets dependent on their particular field. Websites and other applications are usually built by, well, stacking these languages on top of each other to create the final result.

In Case You’re Still Wondering, “Okay, but What Is Coding?”

To give an example, WordPress sites consist of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and SQL. How do these work?

HTML, CSS, and JavaScript

HTML is what’s called a mark-up language. It’s like a house that’s just been built but doesn’t even have paint on it yet; all the pieces are in place but it doesn’t include anything showy. CSS works hand-in-hand with HTML to add styling to the website; it’s the paint on the walls and the tiles on the roof. JavaScript, which I mentioned earlier, would be the doors, windows, facets — the more sophisticated moving pieces. Unlike HTML and CSS, it’s considered a programming language, which basically means it uses algorithmic logic. JavaScript states rules like, “If X is true, do Y.” For instance: If the button is clicked, change its color from blue to red — HTML creates the button, CSS sets its color, and JavaScript waits for someone to click it, at which point it modifies the color by tweaking the CSS.

PHP and SQL

So what are PHP and SQL? Sticking with the house analogy, PHP would be the plumbing in the house and SQL would be the sewage system outside the house. PHP retrieves information from databases, which are sorted by SQL, and then displays that information — PHP takes information from a database and adds it to the HTML, which CSS styles. To put it another way, SQL organizes packages at the post office before PHP delivers the mail. In this case, HTML is the paper (letter and envelope); CSS determines the handwriting or font and the color of the ink; JavaScript is the mailbox and its little red flag; as mentioned, SQL sorts the mail; and PHP delivers it. For instance, this blog post is stored in a SQL database and pulled into the web page before your with just a few lines of PHP code (in this case, skipping the mail box and going straight into the house).

Conclusion

So there you have it! You now can answer the question: “What is coding?” with a solid understanding of the basics. Do you have any follow-up questions? Feel free to leave a comment below. And if you want to share your new-found knowledge you can forward this to a friend or share it on social media.

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