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David Ratledge 


Choosing a Computer Scripting/Programming Language

David Ratledge

Getting Started

Interested in learning a computer scripting/programming language but not sure where to begin? This is not unusual as it can be a complicated choice to make. There are many aspects that should be considered in addition to the fact it takes time and effort and a certain level of commitment to learn enough to make it worthwhile. The following is a way to think through the decision, narrowing your choices as you go, until you arrive at what should prove to be a good choice for your particular set of circumstances.

The TIOBE Index

A good first step toward choosing a computer scripting/programming language is to take a look at the TIOBE Index. This is updated monthly and seeks to show the current popularity of various languages. The focus is on the top twenty most popular languages according to their ranking methodology, but they do separately extend their main list through the top 100 with lesser amounts of detail provided (especially after the 50th most popular). The data for February 2015 shows that JavaScript is ranked as the sixth most popular. PHP is just behind at seventh. Python, considered by many to be a very powerful but also easy language to learn (relatively speaking), is the eighth most popular. The most popular of all in their rankings is C, followed by Java at second (TIOBE, 2015).

Interest or Need

Next consider whether your desire to learn a scripting/programming language derives from an interest in the subject or if it is because you need to accomplish some specific task or goal. If it is primarily a subject of interest, first learn as much as possible about a variety of different languages and then follow your instincts and delve deeper into whichever of them sounds the most exciting. You can always drop one and pick up another if you find the experience is not providing you with what you want. If it is because you need to accomplish some specific task or goal, however, then learn what scripting/programming languages are commonly used in such cases and narrow your focus to only those.

The Right Tool for the Job

It is important to consider the unique strengths and weaknesses of various scripting/programming languages and where the code will need to run. There is no one “best” language, but some are more effective, efficient, and better suited for certain types of tasks than others. Having an environment already set up and configured to run a specific scripting/programming language is a big plus as it will save a great deal of time and effort getting started. Not all code runs in all computing environments so determining if a language can be used where you want to use it is very important in the final choice.

Personal Affinity for a Particular Language or Style of Programming

While subjective in nature and very difficult to measure or predict, everyone has a better or worse natural affinity for different things and this includes computer scripting/programming languages. Anyone can learn to code well in any language, but sometimes one will just “click” where it suddenly makes perfect sense and feels very natural to work with. This may not always happen but when it does it is significant enough that it should be factored into your decision-making.

Availability of Learning Resources and Community Support

Computer scripting/programming languages have widely varying degrees of available learning resources and active user communities. Regardless of your current level of knowledge and skill there will always be more to learn and new problems that will need solving. Having ready access to plentiful and quality learning resources such as books, tutorials, training classes, or other people that can share their knowledge and experience can really make one language a more attractive choice compared to another.

Decision Made

Congratulations! If you have carefully thought through the decision as outlined above, you should have by this point successfully chosen a computer scripting/programming language that best fits your current interests or needs. Choosing a language can be challenging but very rewarding as writing code provides a level of control and the freedom to customize and create that cannot be realized through any other means. Now it is time to act upon your decision and go code something amazing!


TIOBE Software. (2015, February). TIOBE Index for February 2015. Retrieved from




David Ratledge is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Technology Infrastructure at The University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville. He can be reached at 




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