You cannot learn the “wrong” language

A friend of mine is considering a career change. After his Ph.D. in Physics, he thinks of becoming a developer. As he has a thorough grounding in mathematics and algorithms and some programming experience in C and Fortran, this is certainly a sound idea. He can make the jump with a little discipline and devotion. His only problem is that he is overwhelmed with the plethora of programming languages and technologies out there. He is agonizing over which one to choose, lest he puts a damper on his new career in IT from the start.

When he asked me about his conundrum, I laughed outright in his face. I told him: “You cannot learn the wrong language. Just pick one and give it a go.” Huh?

Consider how we learn: we learn something new best when we can relate new information to something we already know. The new piece of information might confirm or contradict our previous knowledge. Doesn’t matter – either way it gives us a frame of reference, an anchor which helps us reason about it and absorb it. You can also compare this to training a muscle. The more often you train your brain by learning something new, the easier it gets. What this means is that learning a new programming language gets easier with each new one you learn. Moreover, learning something gives us a sense of accomplishment and content, and it even benefits our brain.

So if you are like my friend and want to choose the “right” language or technology to learn, rest assured that you cannot go wrong. You should just pick something and get your feet wet. Even if it should turn out that this might not be the “right” language or technology in today’s market, it will only help you learn another one.