A person coding on MacBook pro

Coding vs Programming: The Key Differences

In the history of computing, perhaps one of the most popular debates centers around coding vs programming. What’s the difference between the two? More importantly, is there even a difference at all? 

Coding and programming are both big words in computing, without which the creation of any software product would not be possible. Due to the interconnectedness of both, it’s no wonder why coding and programming are often used interchangeably in the software development industry. Read on to find out what sets each other apart.

What Is Coding?

Coding is the translation of human language to a machine-level language for a computer to understand and decipher. Put simply, it’s the act of writing a set of instructions, in the form of code, for a computer to perform. 

Computers are quite powerful machines but they only comprehend machine code, scripted in binary language. With human code, scripted in programming languages, the interaction between human beings and computers becomes possible. This is where coders come in.

Coders convert the commands provided to them into a language comprehensible by the computer. To ensure that software runs smoothly, coders spend countless hours perfecting their code and making it efficient. 

The general constituents of coding are:

  • Syntax. As the name implies, syntax refers to the order of the words or symbols that make up a code.

  • Compiler. A compiler is a software program that translates code written in a programming language into machine language.

  • Code execution. This is the process whereby the machine interprets and executes the instructions set by a program.

What Is Programming?

Computer programming refers to the overall development of a software program, from creating an algorithm to writing, debugging, testing, and deploying a code. The process of programming involves the testing and implementation of codes, comprehension of data structures, and elimination of bugs and errors. It is a step-by-step process of creating different sets of computer programs to carry out precise computing outcomes.

Because they oversee the entire program lifecycle, computer programmers must be sharp, analytical, inquisitive, and creative. In this sense, the difference between coding and programming becomes obvious.

Coding vs Programming: The Most Important Differences

Coding and programming are at the heart of software, application, and web development. Though both appear to have similar functions, both are distinguished by key differences. Let’s look into these.

Difference: Nature and Scope

The primary difference between coding and programming lies in their scope. Programming is the process of developing a program using a defined set of rules called codes to carry out a specific task. Coding, meanwhile, is a component of programming that involves the actual writing of error-free codes that can be comprehended by the machine. 

Put another way, coding is a subset of programming. A coder writes the code that a programmer polishes, develops, and maintains. A coder creates the set of instructions for the software and a programmer ensures the software works as intended. This makes programming a far more sophisticated and complex process than coding as it focuses on the bigger picture of software development.

Difference: Tools Required

Coding requires simple text editor tools like WordPad or NotePad for its implementation. These days, integrated development environments (IDE) and debugging tools like BlueJ, GNAT Studio, AWS Cloud9, and NetBeans are utilized.

Unlike coding, programming requires complex tools that can analyze and review code. These include:

  • GUI designer tools like InVision Studio

  • Performance analysis tools like clock-based profiling

  • Linkers like NinjaOutreach

  • Code editors such as Sublime Text 3

Additionally, programming requires a profound knowledge of Github, MySQL, Apache Spark, and cloud management and monitoring tools.

Difference: Essential Skills

Coders are required to have fluency in at least one programming language, although being a multilingual coder is preferred. Among the most-used and easy-to-learn programming languages are JavaScript, Python, Java, and C. Falling under complex programming languages are C++, Haskell, and Malbolge. 

Programmers, on the other hand, need more than just the ability to write code. They also need to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of algorithms, data structures, databases, the operating system involved, and the fundamentals of testing.

Programmers also need project management skills to ensure a seamless development process. Although one can be a computer programmer without years of experience, some employers do show a preference for this due to the skills and responsibilities the role demands.

Difference: Approaches Used

Coding generally moves through a trial-and-error approach. This is because it’s the first step in computer programming so it doesn’t require as much planning as programming. Programming, as a whole, is methodical. It entails a proper system for a program to run properly.

Difference: Outcomes

Coding delivers functional lines of code. Programming results in a ready-to-use software program, application, or website.

Learning Coding vs Learning Programming: Pros and Cons

A person coding on laptop
Programming is a broader aspect of coding.

Now that you know what coding and programming are, the question that arises is what to choose as a career path. Let us look into the pros and cons of both.

Coding Pros

  • It’s a commodity. Coding literacy is quickly becoming a commodity for the future of work. Learning to code allows you to understand, and even develop new tools and technologies.

  • Coding skills increase your relevance in the workplace. As everything becomes digitized, proficiency in coding is becoming a sought-after skill in the workplace and across industries.

  • It hones attention to detail and analytical thinking skills. Coding is a finicky affair that involves a lot of problem-solving. Because of this, coders eventually grow to be creative and linear thinkers with a keen eye for details and patterns.

Coding Cons

  • It can be boring. While coding is usually fun, it can lead to boredom especially since it requires performing routine tasks. Sometimes, coders can also get stuck on the same project, working on the same dataset with the same tools.

  • Coding requires a comprehensive understanding of languages. Because technology evolves so often, so do programming languages. Coders always need to be aware of programming language trends and their purposes.

  • Coding requires accuracy. Incorrect entry of codes may cause issues that, in turn, slow down the work.

Programming Pros

  • Programming helps with memory skill development. You will develop problem-solving skills and can incorporate your creative skills with technical skills. 

  • It has a wider scope. Opportunities in this field are limitless. You can work for tech companies, such as Google, Microsoft, or Amazon. Or you can opt to start your business. 

  • You can make websites, software, and much more. It provides you with the ability to turn your ideas into reality in the form of an application, a website, or software.

Programming Cons

  • It requires a deep understanding of codes. It requires fundamental knowledge of each element or object embedded in a code to understand how it works and how it can be developed.

  • The work is time-consuming. It takes a lot of time to code and to create software. In addition, it requires utmost attention as even a missing semicolon can create a bug.

  • There’s not a one-size-fits-all programming language. Different features in the software require different programming languages like JavaScript, CSS, HTML, Python, and Ruby.

Should You Become a Coder or a Programmer?

Two women looking at the code at a laptop
Computer programmers remain in high demand and are well-remunerated, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So, should you be a coder or a programmer? While both differ in scope, they do play essential roles in the tech industry. Let’s look at the advantages of each career.

Advantages of Coding

  • It’s rewarding. Coding entails the creation of a working solution for any computing issues.

  • You can work remotely. You can work from the comfort of your home or anywhere you want while making good money as a coder.

  • A professional career in coding does not require a four-year degree.

  • A career in coding provides a new outlook for problem-solving.

Advantages of Programming

  • There is no limit to developing an app or a website. All you need is your imagination and the right programming skills to turn your ideas into reality.

  • Programmers earn good money. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers earn $86,550 on average.

  • Learning never stops in programming. To ensure your app is up to date, you must always keep abreast of any technological developments or changes in industry trends.

  • Computer programming develops logical and creative thinking skills.

The key takeaway from this article is that coding and programming, while quite distinct, are interdependent. Coding is an essential part of programming. Programming can’t exist without the latter and coding can’t grow without the former. 

If you’re just starting in your web or software development journey, consider focusing on coding. Learn as much language as you can and gain tons of experience. Afterward, try expanding your career to computer programming and be more involved in the software development lifecycle. 

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