code from old programming languages

A Brief History of Programming Languages: Part I

Computer programming has long since stopped being something only “geeks” and movie hackers did and has matured into a respected profession that has its own history. And while being versed in the history of computer programming languages isn’t a prerequisite for attending a full stack programmer course in San Diego and becoming a full stack developer, it’s still something every aspiring computer programmer should know.

In this article, we’ll take a break from contemporary topics such as front-end vs back-end comparisons and how to become a coder in just a few months. We’ll go back to where it all began. And if you think the history of popular programming languages only stretches back a few decades and is therefore not much of a history at all: well, you’re in for a surprise.

Table of Contents:


What was the first programming language?

It’s generally accepted that Ada Lovelace’s “Algorithm for the Analytical Engine” is the first computer language ever created. Its purpose was to help Charles Babbage with Bernoulli number computations and Ada designed it in 1883. Lovelace describes her machine as different from previous calculating machines because of its ability to be programmed to solve problems of any complexity. Her contributions to the computer programming world are important because it showed the capabilites of computed devices almost 100 years before the thought of a modern programming computer was realized.

Ada Lovelace

What was the first widely used programming language?

Assembly Language appeared in 1949 and soon saw wide use in Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculators. The Assembly was a low-level computer language that simplified the language of machine code ie. the specific instructions necessary to operate a computer.

What was the first compiled coding language?

Early computer languages came in many variants, all of which were covered under a generic term: Autocode. Autocode appeared in 1952 and, as the first compiled programming language, it could be translated directly into machine code through a program called a compiler.

old computer

What old computer languages are still in use today?

Created in 1957 by John Backus, Fortran (short for Formula Translation) is possibly the oldest programming language that’s still in use today. It’s designed to do complex statistical, mathematical, and scientific work.

Other crucial languages from this period include:

  • Algol (1958), which stands for Algorithmic Language, was designed by a committee for scientific use and provided the beginning point for the development of Java, C, C++, and Pascal.
  • COBOL (1959), ie. Common Business Oriented Language, was made by Grace Murray Hopper as a language that could run on all types and brands of computers. Today, this popular programming language is used in credit card processing, ATMs, government and hospital computers, telephone systems, traffic signals, and automotive systems.
  • LISP (1959) was first created to help with AI research. LISP is the second oldest high level programming language and can also be used to this day in situations where Python or Ruby are used.

microsoft and apple buildings

What early languages were used at Microsoft and Apple?

BASIC, designed in 1964, was modified by Paul Allen and Bill Gates and soon became the very first product ever made by Microsoft. Apple developers, on the other hand, used Pascal (1970) during their early years due to how powerful and easy to learn it was.

In addition to that, the 1970s saw the development of numerous important languages:

  • Smalltalk (1972), which enabled a computer scientist to make changes to code on the fly, and introduced things that are now present in vital languages such as Java, Ruby, and Python.
  • C (1972) was the very first high-level language. The C programming language made it possible for Unix to be used on a broad variety of different computers. Its influence can be seen in many popular coding languages today.
  • SQL (1972) revolutionized databases and made it possible to add, view, or remove data using queries.
  • MATLAB (1978) remains one of the top coding languages for writing mathematical programs. It’s primarily used in research, mathematics, and education.

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Where can I attend a top-notch full stack programmer course in San Diego?

Located in East Village, Learn Academy is the top coding academy in San Diego. We’re especially famous for our intensive four-month bootcamp which not only teaches you everything you need to kick off your new programming career as a software developer, but also gives you a one-month internship at a reputable company.

Enlist in one of our bootcamps today, or reach out to us if you’d like to learn more about what we do. We can’t wait to meet you.