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What Is the First Programming Language?

04.07.2023 • 7 min read

Outlier Staff


Learn about the first programming language and who made it. Go through a history timeline of coding and find out which programming languages are popular today.

In This Article

  1. What Is the Oldest Programming Language?

  2. Who Invented the First Computer Language?

  3. A Brief History and Timeline of Programming Languages

  4. What Computer Languages Are Still Used Today?

  5. The Most Used Programming Language Today

  6. Computer Science Today

  7. Careers in Computer Programming

What would the world be like without computers?

Think how many times a day you consult Google or how many hours you’re on a computer at work. What about on your phone? How about driving your car?

The reality is, we use software more times than we can count on any given day.

All of these applications and programs use programming languages to function.

Since we've seen widespread accessibility in the use of tech devices in a relatively short time, many think ‌programming languages are entirely new. But that isn't true.

Let's look back more than 150 years ago to see when and how the oldest programming language came into existence. We’ll also run through the timeline of when other languages started and which we use today.

What Is the Oldest Programming Language?

The first programming language was created through math. In 1833 Ada Lovelace created an algorithm to automatically solve numerical problems using Bernoulli numbers, which are the terms of a sequence of rational numbers. This algorithm became the basis for computer programming and software development.

But if you want to know the first language developed for commercial computing processes, that honor would go to FORTRAN. John Backus invented FORTRAN in 1957 and is responsible for making the programming process much more streamlined, accessible, and capable of leaps and bounds in developmental growth.

Who Invented the First Computer Language?

The mathematician Ada Lovelace is credited with creating the first programming language in 1843. Ada and her friend, Charles Babbage, shared a passion for math. This passion fueled a lifelong friendship and produced the beginning of programming languages.

Babbage devised an idea for a calculating machine called the Difference Engine. He then developed a more advanced project, which inspired Lovelace to begin putting her thoughts onto paper. The Ada Programming Language that she created was a mathematical algorithm to compute numbers.

Lovelace recognized she could use her programming language for complex math sequences like the Bernoulli numbers. This became the force behind the development of her programming language, making Lovelace and Babbage the inspiration for programmers throughout history.

A Brief History and Timeline of Programming Languages

Programming languages didn't come into existence instantly. The path to success hasn't been linear or straightforward. There had to be many successes and failures to be where we are today.

Fortunately, all the work done by historic programmers has led to incredible breakthroughs that form the basis of computer science today. Some of the biggest achievements in programming languages include:

1843: The Analytical Engine, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage

Ada's friendship with Charles and their passion for mathematics led to writing the world's first programming language.

1949: Assembly Language

Assembly language might look simple by today's computing standards, but it was cutting-edge technology at the time. Assembly language expedited programming by converting human language into a machine's language.

1952: Autocode

At this point in the evolution of programming languages, the British computer scientist Alick Glennie created Autocode. This allows the programming language to adapt to a machine's code. As a result, Autocode is given credit for being the first aggregate computer programming language.


John Backus saw the need for a programming language specific to mathematical, scientific, and statistical work. FORTRAN sped up programming while making it more user-friendly. It was also the first commercially available language.

1959: COBOL

Grace Murray Hopper designed Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) as a language that functions with any brand of computer.

1959: LISP

John McCarthy, a computer scientist at MIT, created LISP for AI research and it's still used today with Ruby and Python.

1964: BASIC

BASIC was created by John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz at Dartmouth College and enabled students to use computers while studying math and technology. This was later modified by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, becoming the first product created by Microsoft.

1972: Smalltalk

Smalltalk was developed at Xerox for constructionist learning led by the work of Alan Kay. This programming language allowed programmers to alter or change code fast.

1974: SQL

IBM's Raymond F. Boyce and Donald D. Chamberlain were behind one of the first commercial programming languages: SQL. In fact, it’s still used today and is considered the definitive language for relational database communication.

1983: Objective-C

This is the primary language programmers use to write Apple software.

1983: C++

Bjarne Stroustrup developed this to be used as an extension of C programming. To this day, it's one of the most commonly used languages.

1987: Perl

This scripting language, developed by Larry Wall, allows for simple report processing.

1991: Python

Guido Van Rossum developed this easy-to-read, simplified language.

1995: Java

Developed with handheld devices in mind, Sun Microsystems created Java.

1995: Ruby

Programming jobs got easier when Yukihiro Matsumoto created Ruby. It's often used in the creation of web applications.

1995: JavaScript

Brendan Eich created JavaScript to boost web browser synergy.

2000: C#

Microsoft combined C++ and Visual Basic to create C#. This high-level programming language is able to support multiple paradigms so developers can build more robust applications.

2003: Scala

Created by Martin Odersky, Scala combines parts of functional programming making it more concise than its predecessors.

2009: Go

This software was created at Google to provide solutions to problems that arise on large software systems with web applications and cloud services.

2019: Bosque

The goal of Microsoft's free and open-source programming is to improve software quality and productivity.

What Computer Languages Are Still Used Today?

Every computer language has played a significant role in where technology is today—even if not all have survived the test of time. Yet some original programs have elements that remain relevant in modern tech and are still very useful. They include:


This alternative to assembly language in programming is beneficial when working with supercomputers and in mathematical and scientific calculations.


Artificial intelligence is on the rise, making LISP still relevant and used today. In fact, you can count big companies like Genworks and Boeing as current users.


Since COBOL was designed to be able to regulate and process, it makes sense that this is still the benchmark programming still used today. From phone calls to processing credit cards, COBOL still holds its own.


As Smalltalk works to modify code, it’s still valuable today. Python, Java, and Ruby are built on the fundamentals of this programming language.


If you've shopped at Groupon, you've seen Ruby still in use today. Large platforms still benefit from the Ruby programming language daily.

The Most Used Programming Language Today

While elements of many original programming languages can be found in more modern applications, some programming languages from the past are still widely used today. Some of the most commonly used ones are:


Video games and mobile apps would be much different without Java! This programming language is portable and flexible making it easy to use. Learning Java has so many advantages.


Python is one of the most popular programming languages because it's the easiest to learn. It's taught in schools all across the US today. Not sure if you've seen Python in action? Take a scroll through Pinterest or Instagram.


his programming forms the foundation of other languages like Ruby and Perl. It's also thought of as the "common language" of programming. C is flexible enough to be used across multiple operating systems like Windows, Android, iOS, Mac, and Linux.


Anyone into app creation knows that Ruby is what you want for its ease of use and power.


Any iOS app you have used will likely have Objective-C behind its programming! It’s the gold standard and the first choice when creating an Apple app.

Computer Science Today

Anyone interested in computers or mobile technology should seriously consider studying computer science. Your job options are almost unlimited with this degree. People in all kinds of businesses, nonprofits, and public services have found success with a computer science degree.

A computer science degree isn’t just versatile—it also leads to high-paying jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the highest-paying jobs in the field include:

Job TitleAverage Annual Salary
Computer Support Specialist$57,910
Web Developer$78,300
Computer Programmer$93,000
Computer Systems Analyst$99,270
Information Security Analyst$102,600
Software Developer$109,020
Computer Hardware Engineer$128,170
Computer and Information Systems Manager$159,010

This is a small selection of jobs that are high-paying computer careers. If none of these suit your tastes, there's sure to be a position on the market that meets your passion and desired income. Remember, you can always go after jobs in other fields. You’re not limited to a specialty.

Careers in Computer Programming

Deciding to pursue a career in computer programming can be an exciting and rewarding journey. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers earn a median annual salary of $93,000!

Of course, many jobs in the tech industry involve computer programming skills. Data scientists use programming to extract meaningful data that helps companies function more efficiently. The great news is data science jobs are in high demand, with 36% growth expected by 2031.

The first step toward a career in computer programming is to earn a degree or a certificate.

Golden Gate University (GGU) offers an Associate Degree in Applied Computing powered by For 66% less than the national average tuition, you can learn the fundamentals of programming and earn your associate degree in just 2 years. Plus, you’ll earn a career certificate from a top tech company like Google or IBM to boost your resume.

As a Degrees+ student, you learn online, on your schedule, through Outlier’s award-winning digital platform. All courses include an industry-leading curriculum taught by GGU’s experienced instructors. In as little as 19 months, you could be on your way to a high-paying and rewarding career in the tech industry.

Whatever path you choose, learning one or more of these powerful languages will help you build some amazing projects!

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