Movies and television shows are filled with images of advanced labs populated by technicians typing away on keyboards to solve cutting-edge technological problems. These scenes are familiar, as are job titles like “computer programmer.” But what are those people actually doing?
Most people don’t know that coding and programming are not interchangeable.
Whether you’re already an HTML expert or you’re just starting to think about a career in computing, it can be helpful to know the difference between coding and programming. In this short guide, we’ll cover the major similarities and differences between these two skills.
What is Coding?
Code powers our world. But how so? And what is coding used for, exactly? It’s mostly invisible, although you’ve probably seen more than one movie with strings of opaque letters and numbers raining in the background while someone sits typing away at a computer.
But code is much more than letters, symbols, and numbers.
“Code” is any intermediary between human language and machine language. While it’s easy to ask Siri for the weather and get a response, machines, at their deepest level, don’t speak or understand English (or any other modern language). Instead:
- Machine language is binary, a code made up of zeros and ones. In short, these represent electrical pulses, with the 0 representing “off” and the 1 representing “on.” Long, complex strings of binary code direct computers to send the appropriate signals to complete tasks.
- There are also many low-level coding languages that are closer to machine outputs. These are used to communicate with hardware.
- Coding is the process of translating commands from human language into any coding language. Some coding languages are text-based, while others are image-based (i.e. Processing). Either way, if you know one coding language, you’re a coder!
As we noted, code is everywhere.
Code is also behind your favorite application. Someone wrote code to make sure that the software responds to your clicks in the appropriate way.
However, code isn’t the whole picture. Have you ever gotten a 404 error message on your phone or computer? That’s an error in machine code, and someone has to fix it. Surprisingly, that person may not be a coder.
What is Programming?
While code lays the foundation for much of our technology, someone has to figure out when, where, and why to use code, and how to make sure it actually works. This is where computer programming comes into play.
Let’s consider the example of your favorite application once again. It took a number of steps to build that application:
- A company or individual needed to solve a problem—how could they create a well-designed, fast app that attracts users?
- A programmer set out to solve that problem.
- First, they made informed decisions about what coding language to use and what coding environment to work in.
- Then, they created a flowchart or work plan for the necessary steps to design the app and bring it to market.
- Next, they began writing code for the app (or hired one or more coders to write the code).
- They eventually developed a beta-version of the app, then tested and debugged the code in its intended environment (i.e. on a smartphone) to find any errors or problems in the markup language.
- They fixed all issues, from 404 errors on down, until the app was completely ready, and the final result was your favorite app.
While coding was a piece of the puzzle, it was only a small step in creating and executing a program to solve the original problem. To put it another way, all programmers are coders, but not all coders are programmers.
Coding and Programming in the Workplace
As you can see, coding is part of programming, but it’s not the entire process. Coders and programmers may have distinct roles in the workplace, and a “programmer” can also be called an engineer or software developer.
Programmers generally oversee coders.
To understand the workplace dynamic, you could think of the difference between coding and programming as similar to the difference between editing a newspaper and writing a column.
- A writer’s responsibility is simply to write their own column. While the editor may give them a little feedback for revision, they’re only responsible for the text on their page of the newspaper—not the arts section, not the sports section, and certainly not the paper’s front page.
- Meanwhile, the editor-in-chief is responsible for choosing what to cover, assigning writers work, and reviewing and approving each article and column. They have the final say on what gets printed, and they take responsibility if they made an error in judgement or execution.
In this scenario, the coder is like the writer, while the programmer is like the EIC. Coders are only responsible for the snippets of code they’re writing. When they’ve completed one task, they can move on to the next without necessarily worrying about how or whether it will fit into the final product. Programmers carry more responsibility for the planning and execution of a given app, webpage, or software product.
If you’re running your own start-up, you might be the coder and the programmer all-in-one. In this case, you’re responsible for your products, from top to bottom.
So how much time will you spend coding?
Programmers use around half their time to test and debug, so coding is only a small part of the job. However, at a larger corporation, you might be one of many coders who executes work for a lead programmer or software engineer.
While both skills are desirable, there are more job opportunities for programmers.
Job Skills: Coding vs. Programming
If you’re just starting to wade into the world of computer science, you’re probably wondering how your career path would differ as a coder vs. programmer. Let’s take a look at some of the necessary skills:
- Both coders and programmers start by learning coding languages.
- Both coding and programming require logic and focus. You’ll need to understand how to write code that works in the real world, as well as troubleshoot issues when clear errors arise in your coding environment (i.e. 404 errors).
- Programming and coding also require creativity. As a programmer, you need to come up with original solutions to problems, and see your solutions through to completion. While coders have less responsibility, they still need to create work from scratch, and take steps to make sure their code runs smoothly.
- Both programmers and coders need strong communication skills. Coders need to make their work transparent to other people who may step in to read, edit, or build on their code (including programmers). Programmers need to communicate with stakeholders. They also need managerial skills to help their coders achieve their goals.
- Because testing and debugging is central to programming, programmers need tenacity. Troubleshooting and fixing the problems in complex code—sometimes from several different coders—can be time-consuming and frustrating. To be a programmer, you need to be resilient in the face of setbacks and issues.
As you can see, the basic skills for these roles are very similar. However, while a coder may know just one coding language, programmers need a broad skillset to effectively solve problems.
Disney Codeillusion: The Journey Begins
Are you hoping to start a career as a coder or programmer?
Whether your long-term goal is building your own website, honing your critical thinking skills, making a career transition, or just having fun, you can start by learning just one coding language.
Disney Codeillusion does one better. The curriculum introduces newcomers to four accessible, practical coding languages:
Designed as a roleplay game (RPG) style adventure, you’ll develop skills through projects in web design, media arts, and game development.
Benefits of Disney Codeillusion
Our curriculum has the following benefits:
Thanks to Disney Codeillusion, you’ll have the coding practice needed to create your own web design and media arts project. Once you understand the logic of coding, you’re prepared to take a deeper dive into coding and programming.
Disney Codeillusion is your gateway to the magical world of coding. Take advantage of our free trial and start your adventure today.
Lifewire. “What is Programming?” https://www.lifewire.com/is-programming-different-than-coding-4169510
Old Dominion University. “Coding Versus Programming.” https://www.cs.odu.edu/~zeil/cs333/website-s12/Lectures/codingVsProgramming/page/codingVsProgramming.html
Buildfire. 14 Programming Languages for Mobile App Development. https://buildfire.com/programming-languages-for-mobile-app-development/