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What is Coding and What is it Used For? A Beginner's Guide

Becoming a programmer takes time and persistence, but it pays off with lucrative job opportunities in tech and other fields.
Written by Nalea Ko, Contributing Writer

Coding makes it possible to access and interact with websites –– even this one. But how does coding work? 

Software programming or computing programming involves writing instructions to communicate with machines. All devices –– laptops, desktops, phones, and tablets –– rely on code to operate. 

Coding also runs cities. Computers operate traffic signals that have been programmed to perform certain operations. Even astronauts on the International Space Station need to know how to code. Coding offers many career opportunities in technology and elsewhere.

What is coding?

Coding is the process of transforming computer instructions into a form a computer can understand. Every website and app operates because programmers write code. However, you do not have to work in technology to use coding. In fact, job hunters can find most coding jobs outside of the tech industry. What can you do with coding?

Learning to code serves as the foundation for lucrative career opportunities. Graduates of bootcamps may need to gain experience as junior developers before securing six-figure salaries. 

What coding career you secure depends on your work experience, education, and knowledge of programming languages. Coding prepares you to launch a career as a web developer, game developer, computer network architect, and computer system analyst. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects computer information and technology jobs to grow at a rate of 13% from 2020-2030. 

However, job growth varies by specific occupation. Computer programmers, who make a median annual salary of $89,190, will see a projected 10% decline in jobs. Candidates who hold bachelor's degrees or higher will have a better chance of securing employment.

How does coding work?

All code tells a machine to perform a specific task. Whenever you use the Internet, your device uses binary code –– a sequence of "1s" and "0s" that tells your computer what switches to turn on or off. This serves as a reliable way to store data and process information. 

This process works quicker with high-level programming languages, such as Python, Java, and JavaScript. Each programming language serves a different purpose, but they all take code that reflects human speech and translate it into machine code, or a low-level language. Programmers and developers write instructions for computers using high-level programming languages. 

What are the benefits of coding?

When bootcamps first opened in 2011, only tech junkies learned to code. Now industries outside of technology recognize the benefits of coding, and it's even taught at elementary schools –– from Alabama to Florida. Coding can teach important concepts applicable to a career in technology or to an entirely different field. 

Why learn coding?

Learning to code provides the training needed for well-paying tech jobs. The most common career routes after bootcamp are: junior web developer, junior web designer, or data analyst. Coding teaches problem-solving skills, critical thinking, creativity, and persistence. These skills also prepare you for jobs outside of tech, such as healthcare, finance, and marketing.

Careers where learning code is helpful

  • Software developer
  • Web developer
  • Cybersecurity specialist
  • UX/UI designer 
  • Machine learning engineer
  • Front-end engineer
  • Instructional designer
  • Digital marketing analyst

What types of coders are there?

Front-end, back-end, and mobile developers all write code that serves different functions. 

Front-end developers handle a website's layout and functionality. They use front-end programming languages –– such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript –– to write code to design a website. Their responsibilities also include optimizing SEO by improving a webpage's load time and mobile performance. 

Back-end developers work on server-side development. They write code for web apps that control a website. Without this code, you could not log into a website such as LinkedIn or Facebook and create a user profile. Programming languages such as Python, JavaScript, Java, and Ruby allow back-end developers to write code that allows browsers to communicate with databases. 

Mobile developers learn programming languages such as Java, C++, C#, SQL, and Python. The specific language used depends on if developers build apps for iOS or Android devices. Mobile developers often work with graphic artists and data scientists.

What are the most popular coding languages? 

Name of languageWhat is this language used for?ProsCons


Scripting system applications

Efficient and portable, with built-in functions that combine high- and low-level languages

Does not support object-oriented programming 


General purpose programming language used for back-end development 

Easy to learn and read, versatile, and portable with vast libraries

Can be slower than C or C++ 


Client-side and server-side programming language used to create interactive websites

Easy to learn and understand, powerful, popular, and flexible programming language that works with other languages

As a client-side script, users can view the code, which poses a security threat


Creating web applications, web development, web servers, web scraping, DevOps, and automation

Widely used open-source programming language with a user-friendly syntax, a fast development speed, and powerful community

Limits on customization and runtime lags


Popular in game development, but also used for operating systems, web applications, and browsers

Fast programming language with quick image processing and object-oriented features 

Security issues, relatively slow, complex programming language with obscure rules


Server-side scripting language embedded in HTML that serves interactive websites such as e-commerce webpages

Versatile, easy-to-learn programing language with a vast online community; compatible with various operating systems

Common open-source security issues cannot support large applications and weak type causes bugs


Created by Microsoft, this back-end, object-oriented programming language is used for game development, Windows applications, and website development

Versatile and efficient programming language used for many types of software and applications development; similar to C++

This complex language takes a long time to master and requires code to be compiled. 

Low-Level vs. high-level

Programming languages come in two forms: low-level and high-level languages. Low-level programming languages, or binary code, look like a sequence of "1s" and "0s". Computers understand low-level programming code and can process it quicker. However, programmers can learn and use high-level programming languages faster since it looks like a human language. 

How can you learn coding?

People learn to code through different paths. Some are self-taught, and others go to college or bootcamp. Each route has advantages and disadvantages. 


Websites such as Treehouse or GitHub offer the opportunity to learn to code for less money than bootcamps. Websites also offer limited free courses for a short time. Students can watch videos for free during a trial period to learn Python, front-end web development, full-stack JavaScript, and UX design. 

You can also teach yourself to code for free with free tutorials on websites. This helps beginners to gain the foundation needed before enrolling in a full-time intensive bootcamp.


You can also learn the basics of coding through your smartphone. Apps available through Codecademy and Mimo allow beginners to practice coding through video and online exercises. Many apps can be downloaded for free. 


Coding bootcamps train both beginners and advanced students. Popular bootcamps –– such as Flatiron School, Fullstack Academy, Bloc, and Thinkful –– require intensive training. Bootcamps run for weeks or up to six months, and often students must study full time. 

Bootcamps require a large investment of both time and money. However, bootcamps, unlike apps or websites, also offer career services. Some bootcamps even provide job guarantees.

How do I start coding?

You can begin learning to code by reading and studying coding. Podcasts, YouTube videos, apps, and websites can provide the foundation needed to learn how to code. You will also need to have the software required to code. 

How difficult is coding?

Learning to code requires persistence and passion for technology. Mastering any new skill requires time and practice. Some programming languages are harder than others to learn. But you can learn to code, even if you do not like math. 

How much do coding jobs pay?

Computer programmers earn a good living after they put in the time and gain work experience. Junior developers, a common position held by inexperienced coders, make an average annual salary of $53,803, according to PayScale. Computer programmers with 10-19 years of experience make an average annual salary of $79,000. 

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