Techsplaining 101: Coding languages

by Elizabeth Jenike (Parsons), IT Services

When you think about “coding,” what comes to mind? Maybe a terminal screen with green, square-ish letters and a blinking cursor? Maybe a line or two of incomprehensible brackets and shortened words that look like something you might be able to make out if you squint and turn your head sideways?

Well, for developers, those lines are entirely comprehensible – in fact, they work with code all day, and it’s simply another language that they speak… or, more accurately, a language they read and write.

Let’s take a look at some of the basic tenets of coding languages and how we use code to create apps at Miami:

What is coding?

Code is the way humans interact with technology in a way that both can understand – essentially, the coding languages that we use today serve as intermediaries between human language and computer code (which is also called assembly or binary language). Common examples of coding languages include Java, Python, C++, C, Visual Basic, and HTML.

Two computer screens showing green code text

Coding languages can be either compiled or interpreted. What does this mean?

A compiled language is manually written text that you run through a compiler program. This means that you write all of your lines of code, cross your fingers, and run it through the program, which reads the code all at once and then produces an executable binary program. This makes the language more efficient, since it is only “compiled” (i.e., built) once.

Interpreted languages are compiled on the fly every time you run them. While this sometimes causes them to be less efficient, because they are built on the fly as a core facet of the language, this allows them to be dynamic and flexible. Often, higher-level interpreted languages are written in compiled languages.

The thing you should remember about compiled and interpreted languages is that they achieve similar results – developers input instructions, and the computer translates that into activity, whether that activity looks like data on a form, colors on a website, or something more complicated on the back end.

What does coding look like at Miami?

At Miami, we use a combination of these languages to maintain the apps you use every day – like CourseList, Registration Override Request, and Photo Roster – and to strengthen our infrastructure on the back end as well. One of the coolest things about cloud computing is that for our cloud-based applications, we don’t have to interact with a physical machine at all – we simply need to know which commands to run on the back end in order to get the technology to respond.

Various organizations also have their own proprietary coding languages that developers can use to create applications to run on that particular technology. For instance, developers who want to create mobile applications to run on the iOS platform need to use a language called Swift. We use a language called Terraform to make changes in our Amazon Web Services (AWS) tools.

The bottom line is that these languages – and the developers behind them – are the way we interact with the technologies you use every day.

Be on the lookout for a deeper dive into the world of full-stack development in a future Techsplaining article!

Full-stack development, n. – An umbrella term that encompasses both front-end and back-end development (i.e, client-facing versus on the servers themselves) in a given computing environment.