What Is Coding and What Is It Used For?

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by Christina Payne
Published on October 29, 2021
Reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico

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You are not alone if you have ever wondered, "What is coding?" and "How does coding work?"

Coding, also known as computer programming, is how we communicate with computers and tell them what to do. Through coding, professionals can build programs, including websites and apps. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual pay for a computer programmer was $89,190 in May 2020.

The following sections will answer the questions, "How does coding work?" and "What are some benefits of learning how to code?" Readers will also learn about potential coding careers and where they can learn to code.

What Is Coding?

Coding creates a set of instructions for computers to follow. These instructions determine what actions a computer can and cannot take. Coding allows programmers to build programs, such as websites and apps. Computer programmers can also tell computers how to process data in better, faster ways.

How Does Coding Work?

To speak with computers, programmers learn different coding languages. Binary code is the primary language of all computers. Binary code consists of only two numbers: one and zero. In the binary coding language, zero represents "off" while one represents "on."

Binary is still used with electronics and computer hardware. Programmers can use binary to control the flow of electricity and the positive and negative poles of a magnet. Binary code allows programmers to create simple instructions and procedures for computers.

Low-Level vs. High-Level

Computer programmers split coding languages into two groups: low-level and high-level.

Low-level languages, like binary, are considered "machine-oriented." Machine-oriented languages write instructions that must be specified in terms of the capabilities of the processor in question. Coders also refer to low-level languages as assembly language or machine code.

High-level languages are user-oriented. Most of the popular coding languages, such as Python, fall under this category. Programmers designed high-level languages to convert an algorithm into program code more easily. High-level coding languages are closer to human language — they include more nuance and adaptability than low-level coding languages.

What Can You Do With Coding?

Computer programmers can specialize in different types of coding, such as front-end, back-end, and mobile development.

Front-end development refers to the part of the website or app that users can see. Front-end developers create code for the visual elements of a website. Everything a client sees and interacts with on a website falls under the category of front-end development. Common front-end development coding languages include HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Back-end development encompasses all parts of a website that users cannot see. Programmers call this kind of coding "server-side development." Back-end developers work on databases, servers, and scripting. These developers typically use coding languages such as Java, Python, and Ruby.

Mobile developers create new applications or modify current websites for mobile devices. Not all websites and apps are originally designed for mobile use. Mobile developers develop code to transfer websites and apps to mobile devices without losing the look and functionality of the original application. Common coding languages for mobile developers include Swift and Objective-C for iOS and Java for Android.

Careers Where Learning Code Is Helpful

Readers can find many different kinds of coding careers, including computer programmer, web developer, and database administrator roles. Learn more about potential software developer careers below:

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers write and test code for applications, software, and websites. These professionals typically know multiple coding languages. They may work individually or as part of a team. Computer programmers earned a median annual salary of $89,190 in May 2020. The BLS projects a 10% job decline between 2020 and 2030.

Computer Network Architect

These professionals build data communication networks, including wide area networks and intranets. These networks may be small-scale — such as a connection within an office — or as large scale as cloud computing. The BLS found that computer network architects earned a median annual salary of $116,780 in May 2020. This career is projected to grow 5% between 2020 and 2030.

Software Developer

Software developers create new software and upgrades for existing programs. These professionals also oversee software testing and development, sometimes consulting with other tech professionals to create a streamlined product. Software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers earned a median annual salary of $110,140 in May 2020. The BLS projects 22% job growth between 2020 and 2030.

Web Developer

Web developers work with their clients to create websites and apps. These professionals can work on front-end and/or back-end development. Web developers may also consult about the functionality of existing websites. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $77,200 in May 2020. The BLS projects 13% job growth between 2020 and 2030.

Database Administrator

These professionals create and/or manage computer systems that store data. Administrators also ensure that user data remains secure, either from external attacks or internal data loss. Database administrators and architects earned a median annual wage of $98,860 in May 2020. The BLS projects 8% job growth between 2020 and 2030.

Coding Careers Outlook

Professionals with coding skills can work for tech companies, in IT departments, and as independent consultants. Almost every industry needs computer programmers to create and maintain websites and other critical online infrastructure.

The BLS projects 13% growth for careers in computer and information technology between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than the average 8% growth projected across all occupations.

The median annual wage for all tech careers was $91,250 in May 2020. By comparison, the BLS found that the median annual wage for all occupations was $41,950.

Many professionals in coding only need a bachelor's degree, although some, like computer and information research scientists, need a master's degree. You may be able to start your career with just an associate degree, professional certification, and/or a bootcamp training program.

Learning additional coding languages can also help current computer programmers advance their careers. By adding coding languages to their portfolio, computer programmers appear more desirable to employers.

What Are the Most Popular Coding Languages?

Most Popular Coding Languages
Name of Language What is this language used for? Pros of language Cons
C/C++ General-purpose; can be used as both a high-level and low-level coding language Fast and powerful; multi-paradigm coding language Less flexible and not as safe as other coding languages
Java General-purpose; web applications Simple and secure; object-oriented code Java consumes a lot of memory and runs slower than other coding languages
JavaScript General; front-end and back-end development Fast and simple; also works well with other coding languages Not as secure as other coding languages; not as efficient at debugging
PHP General-purpose; back-end development Fast and flexible; offers more options for database connectivity Not as secure as other coding languages; lack of specialized libraries
Python General-purpose; back-end development Short time to learn; can be used in various disciplines Can be slower than C or C++
Ruby Full-stack web development Fast; follows web standards Not very flexible
SQL Data management User-friendly and standardized Complex interface; only partial control given to the database

Where Can I Learn to Code?

You can attend a postsecondary program, such as an associate degree program and/or bachelor's degree program, to learn to code. However, there are additional options to learn to code that do not require enrolling in a degree program. Prospective programmers can learn to code through bootcamps, websites, and apps.

Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps are intensive, short-term training programs that teach students the skills they need to pursue coding careers. Readers can find bootcamps run by universities or independent organizations. The average bootcamp lasts four months. Students can either enroll in a full-time or part-time program or possibly find a self-paced bootcamp.

Some popular coding bootcamps include Coding Dojo, General Assembly, and Flatiron School.

Websites

Some websites also provide opportunities for people to learn coding skills. Students can learn to code through videos, hands-on practice, or individual courses in specialized coding topics. You can find some free videos and courses in addition to paid options.

Some popular websites for learning coding include Treehouse, Khan Academy, and freeCodeCamp.

Apps

Readers can also use apps to learn how to code. Coding apps use similar methods as websites to teach coding, including pre-recorded videos and hands-on practice. These apps may offer free and subscription content, allowing users to decide how much they want to spend on their coding lessons.

Some popular coding apps include Mimo, Codecademy, and Programming Hero.

Frequently Asked Questions About Coding

What is an example of coding? true

Coding allows programmers to tell machinery, computers, websites, and apps what to do. The ability to log in to a website or click on a link is determined by code. Coding also lets programmers create databases and introduce security measures into programs. Code makes the apps on phones work and is used to create computer and video games.

How difficult is coding to learn? true

Like all languages, some coding languages are easier to learn, while others are more complicated. The ease or difficulty of learning to code also depends on how students choose to learn. It may be easiest to learn to code with others. Consider a coding bootcamp or a coding degree program if you want to learn to code.

How much do coding jobs pay? true

The BLS found that the median annual income for computer and information technology professionals was $91,250 in May 2020. Readers should keep in mind that salary will differ depending on the location of the job, the employee's level of experience, and the specific job title.

Reviewed by:

In 2019, Monali Mirel Chuatico graduated with her bachelor's in computer science, which gave her the foundation that she needed to excel in roles such as a data engineer, front-end developer, UX designer, and computer science instructor.

Monali is currently a data engineer at Mission Lane. As a data analytics captain at a nonprofit called COOP Careers, Monali helps new grads and young professionals overcome underemployment by teaching them data analytics tools and mentoring them on their professional development journey.

Monali is passionate about implementing creative solutions, building community, advocating for mental health, empowering women, and educating youth. Monali's goal is to gain more experience in her field, expand her skill set, and do meaningful work that will positively impact the world.

Monali Mirel Chuatico is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

Whether you're looking for an online, in-person, or hybrid coding bootcamp, we've compiled a comprehensive list of the best bootcamps around. These are the top 10 most important programming languages to learn. Read on to see which one you should learn first to launch your tech career. Explore common computer coding jobs, including entry-level coding jobs and remote coding jobs, and learn about how much coding jobs pay.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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