Python, PHP, and Ruby: Deciding which language to learn first as you prepare for a mid-career switch

You’ve had it with your current job. You want to throw in the towel and pursue something you’ve always liked: programming. So it’s time for that much needed mid-career switch – but you’re stumped on at least one thing. Which programming language should you pick up first as you take your first step into a whole new world? There are three main back-end languages out there that developers favour: Python, PHP, and Ruby. Before you make a hasty decision, let’s take look at each and take them apart.

PYTHON

Created in 1991 by Guido van Rossum, Python is a popular programming language that’s perfect for beginners. This awesome language is well-loved because of how readable and simple it actually is. And having a readable syntax means it’s pretty easy to write with, too! If code intimidates you a little (or you’re someone who hates reading complicated stuff, ever since primary school), Python is the best entryway into your new career in software development.

Python comes with its own large, standard library – so don’t worry about feeling lost with this language. And if you’re the type to miss errors and the little details, Python’s got your back: its data types are very dynamic, and the language is built to detect exceptions. What does that mean? Your mistakes will be highlighted and caught easily.

It runs on every platform available out there, including Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, and Unix! Did you know that some of your favourite websites were built with Python, such as the Google search engine and YouTube?

Want to create your own website or application with Python? Take a look at some simple programmes written with Python, and check out how easy it is to read the code – even if you’re a beginner.

PHP

Born in 1995, this programming language is pretty much as millennial as the rest of us.

Rasmus Lerdorf built PHP to cater towards more intensive web development works and the creation of dynamic web pages. Web pages that have a lot going on were probably built with PHP – examples include Wikipedia, Facebook, and Udemy. If you’re familiar with any of these websites, you’ll know what we’re talking about – and you’ll also note the speed of these websites. PHP-built web pages load fast, which is good news if you want to be an awesome web developer.

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PHP is a classic programming language that was inspired by the likes of C, C++, and Java. If you have prior experience with these languages, picking up PHP won’t be too painful.

You’ll be able to build things with PHP on every platform out there, much like Python, so don’t worry about not being able to experiment in different environments. It also isn’t as dynamic as Python, which means you’re able to use variables more freely when it comes to declaring data types. (On the flipside, the weak type aspect of PHP means you probably shouldn’t build large apps with this language.)

Curious about what PHP code looks like? Here’s a whole library of examples to explore.

RUBY

Ruby is yet another 23-year-old programming language, this time inspired by the likes of C and Python. It’s the language behind popular web platforms such as Twitter, Groupon (hello awesome discounts!), and Hulu.

Something distinctive about Ruby is that it builds web pages and applications that seriously minimise confusion for its users. One prime example is Twitter, with its sleek interface and simple navigational buttons. You’d lose your way faster around Facebook!

As for the code itself, Ruby is often described as an expressive language. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to build things with Ruby, but developers are able to better guess each other’s intent when reading this language. Its syntax sometimes reads like regular English – good news for those of you who get easily confused by strings of code.

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Again, this doesn’t mean Ruby is an easy language to pick up. However, if you’re coming to this mid-career switch equipped with prior experience with one or two other programming languages, you’ll have an easier time grasping Ruby. Check out these example programs written in Ruby and see if it’s your cup of tea.

HOW TO PICK YOUR POISON: PYTHON, PHP, AND RUBY

So now you know more than you did 10 minutes ago about Python, PHP, and Ruby. Only one question remains: which one should you pick first?

The answer really depends on you – and your prior experience in programming, if any. If you’re a true blue beginner, Python might be a better place to kick-start your new career from. However, if you’ve got some experience and you’re willing to push yourself, Ruby could be a good fit for you.

PHP is a classic language, much like C or C++, and it’s been well-maintained by teams of developers over the years. If you’re looking at a bright future in web development and you dream of creating the next Facebook, consider picking up PHP first.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to approaching a career in software development and programming. Figure out your interests, what you really want to learn the most, and get to work on! There are loads of online resources and certification courses out there for Python, PHP, and Ruby just waiting to be clicked on by you. Pick a path and follow through on it – and create awesome programmes for us!

Already decided between Python, PHP, and Ruby? If you’re looking for an entry-level computer programming job, look no further. Check out our listings and see if there’s a glove that fits you.

Sophia Lee

I used to freelance exclusively for Glints - now I'm a content marketing intern working furiously in the backdrop. Talk to me about writing any time! (Or we could have a serious discussion about video games and e-sports... that's cool too.) Find me on Instagram (@pxtrx)!

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