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What is the difference between coding and programming?



Considering the rise of AI, along with recent layoffs by companies such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, you might be wondering if a career in the technology sector is a smart move. Despite some of these challenges, jobs like coding and programming are still rewarding and worthwhile. In fact, the average annual wage for a computer programmer is $102,790, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, if you’re interested in pursuing a career in this field, you might be wondering: What is the difference between coding and programming, exactly?


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“Coding and programming are often used as synonyms when, in fact, they are not,” said Dimitry Graf, engineering and program management leader at the software company, Canonical. He explained that when you start a career in software development, you typically begin with coding. That includes writing computer code, testing, and debugging it.

“As you progress in your career, you naturally transition to programming—a more high-level, end-to-end activity that involves planning, designing, deploying, maintaining, and scaling on top of writing and debugging code,” Graf said.

He added that programmers interact more with business departments (marketing, sales, product, etc.) than coders do. “This shifts the focus from tech skills to soft skills such as communication, project management, analytical skills, and leadership,” he noted.

If you’re considering a career in this field, learn more about the difference between coding and programming—and which one might be right for you.

What is coding? 

Coding is the process of translating logic and requirements into a computer-readable language. The primary focus is on writing lines of code in a specific language (like Python, Java, or HTML) to perform a specific task or solve a particular problem.

What is programming?

Programming is a more comprehensive process that may include coding, but it also includes the planning, structuring, testing, and maintenance of software applications and systems. It involves understanding and implementing algorithms, data structures, and system design principles.

Coding vs. programming: Key differences

In terms of careers, coding and programming are closely related and often overlap, but there are some important distinctions, too.

Scope and complexity

Coding usually refers to the process of writing code in a programming language to make a computer perform a specific task. In other words, coding is a specific task within the realm of programming that focuses on writing actual lines of code, according to Edward Kim, vice president of education and training at Code Ninjas.

Programming, on the other hand, involves not only writing code but also the planning, design, testing, and maintenance of software. “Consider programming as a broader superset of activities during the lifecycle of developing software in order to implement a full solution to address specific or an array of challenges and problem sets or needs,” Kim said. 

Tools used

Coders rely heavily on text editors such as Sublime Text, Atom, and Visual Studio Code, which are all popular because of their simplicity, speed, and flexibility. They can also be enhanced with plugins. You might also use code libraries such as jQuery or React to simplify certain tasks. 

In programming, it’s common to use frameworks such as Angular, .NET, or Ruby on Rails, which provide a more structured, standardized way to build applications.

Additionally, coding involves syntax-specific tools, like linters and compilers (ESLint for JavaScript or PEP 8 for Python, for example). Programming involves additional project management and collaboration tools such as Git or JIRA to manage the software development lifecycle.

Level of expertise

For coding, you need a strong understanding of one or more programming languages and their syntax. 

For programming, you not only need to have deep knowledge of the language, but also be able to think holistically about how the software works and how it’ll be used. “It involves multiple categories of tasks to complete: Problem solving, algorithm design, overall architecture and organization of backend processes, implementation of specific code, testing and optimization, and quality control,” Kim said.

Coding Programming
Definition Writing code in various programming languages. The entire process of developing a software application, from planning to implementation.
Scope Narrower focus, mainly on translating logic into a programming language. Broader focus that includes planning, designing, coding, testing, debugging, and maintaining software.
Skills required Basic knowledge of programming language syntax and coding practices. In-depth knowledge of software development, including coding, algorithm development, data structures, and software design principles.
End goal To write code that is syntactically correct and fits into a larger project. To create a fully functional software solution that meets user requirements and is efficient and scalable.
Tools used Code editors, compilers, and basic debugging tools. Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), version control systems, advanced debugging tools, and software testing frameworks.

Which is more difficult to do: Programming or coding?

In terms of difficulty, it can vary depending on your particular skills and interests. Some people might find the logic and problem-solving aspects of programming more challenging, while others might find the syntax and specifics of coding more difficult. Generally, programming is considered to encompass more complex and diverse tasks than coding, which is just one aspect of programming.

It’s actually common for people to start out as coders and then transition into programming. “Employers expect you to progress from a coder to a programmer, learn new skills, and take on more responsibilities,” Graf said. “That doesn’t mean you have to build a vertical career, though. Not everyone wants and needs to be a manager, and that’s fine.” However, he reiterated, companies do expect people in software engineering to constantly upskill.

The takeaway 

Both coding and programming are excellent fields to pursue as careers. They offer high demand, good earning potential, and opportunities for growth. However, while coding and programming are closely related, they have distinct differences in the realm of software development. 

Coding is integral to creating software, but it’s just one part of a broader landscape. Programming, on the other hand, encompasses a wider scope. As a programmer, you not only need to understand coding, but also be skilled at problem-solving, logical thinking, and software architecture and design. 

Whether you decide to pursue coding or programming will depend on your interests, skills, and career goals. But many people start out as coders and then progress to programming or another higher-level position as they gain more experience and skills.

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