How to Start Learning Java: A U.S. News Guide


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Java is a general purpose programming language, which means programmers can use it to solve many different types of problems. Other popular general purpose programming languages include Python, Visual Basic, C++ and JavaScript.

Java doesn’t require a specific hardware, operating system or network. It will run the same way, no matter the type of computer it’s on.

“You can write it once and run it anywhere,” says Tyron Foston, co-founder of Appchemist, a development company that fills demand gaps on the HubSpot platform. “Java is a very broadly-used application language that has a lot of commercial and community support because it’s been around for so long.”

One of the most common uses of Java is for building large enterprise-class applications because it scales well. For this reason, global corporations such as Google, Amazon, Netflix and Goldman Sachs rely on Java.

Java can be easy to write, compile and debug because of how it was designed. It’s also free to download and is updated regularly.


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Skill Level

A Short History of Java

Java got its start at the cusp of the internet revolution in the early 1990s. It was created by James Gosling and his colleagues at Sun Microsystems, who wanted to use a virtual machine and language that had similar notations to C, but was easier and more consistent than languages like C and C++.

Java was intended to be simple to use, have built-in network support, utilize object-oriented programming methods, and perform functions remotely and securely.

Java vs. C++, What’s the Difference?

Java is greatly influenced by C++. C and C++ are where Java gets its syntax. But Java was designed to be fully object-oriented, unlike C++. C++ fuses together the language’s syntax for structured, generic and object-oriented programming, but with Java, every item is an object. The deviation from this is atomic datatypes, which includes things like ordinal and real numbers, Boolean values – which can have two choices, such as true and false – and characters.

Everything a programmer writes in Java is written inside a class, which is a fundamental building block of an object-oriented language.

Also important: Java is platform-independent, meaning it doesn’t require a specific hardware to run. C++ is not platform-independent.

“Every time you run C++, you have to compile it specifically for the hardware you’re using,” says Samuel Lopes, a senior software engineer at Forerunner. “If your career goal is to write a microcontroller for a Tesla computer or a controller for a nuclear power plant, you’ll use C++,” he says. “It has direct access to the machine’s hardware.”

C++ is a low-level language and a foundation of programming. Operating systems like Windows are written in C++. While C++ depends on someone’s individual programming goals, Foston recommends aspiring programmers learn Java first, since there are more opportunities to use it.

“If you want to build something with a high performance and has zero latency, then you would want to use C++,” Foston says. “If you want to build a small application and get it out the door quickly, go with Java.”

Java vs. C#, What’s the Difference?

C# was developed by Microsoft and is a general purpose object-orientated programming language similar to Java. Both languages are open-source, which means they’re free and other people can add to the code libraries.

Java is platform-independent and is compiled to bytecode with Java Virtual Machine, or JVM. JVM allows Java to be run everywhere, so programmers only need to write code once to run it on multiple platforms. C# runs on Common Language Runtime and can run on Windows and Unix-based operating systems.

To run Java, programmers need Java Development Kit, or JDK, while C# uses the .NET framework.

These two languages are used for different purposes. C# is popularly used for video games, mobile development and virtual reality applications because of its high functionality, while Java is commonly used for building messaging and web applications.

Whether you choose to use C# or Java will vary on factors such as the platform, your preference and which language has the best applicable libraries for your project.

C# is a more technical language than Java, which is used in web development, a rapidly growing sector of programming.

“There are jobs in C#, but you’ll be competing against programmers who may have 20 to 25 years of experience using the language,” says Speros Misirlakis, vice president of instruction at Coding Dojo. “Jobs in web development are skyrocketing, so Java would give beginners more opportunities.”

Learning the language-agnostic fundamentals of programming, such as conditionals, loops, functions and declarations can help you start thinking like a programmer.

“You have to understand the fundamentals before you proceed because you’ll need a good foundation to build on top of,” Lopes says. “Explore your understanding of things before you move on to the next thing.”

It’s possible to jump right into learning Java because it doesn’t require you to know other programming languages, or to have a degree or expensive equipment.

For Java, you’ll need a functioning computer – it doesn’t require a specific operating system or hardware to run – an internet connection to download Java and to access documentation and resources, and a free text editor, such as Notepad.

“There are no prerequisites to learn Java,” Foston says. “The barriers to entry are super low. Anyone can pick up the fundamentals.”

However, the learning curve can be steep with Java. When you learn Java, you’re not just learning the programming language; you’ll also need to learn the packages, frameworks and applications. If Java seems too challenging to start with, it could help to learn another programming language first.

“It may be easier for you to start with a lighter language like Python or JavaScript instead of just going straight to Java,” Misirlakis says. “Once you know one of those, it will be a lot easier to go back and learn Java.”

Before You Get Started with Java…

When you’re beginning to learn Java, it’s easy to search for answers on Stack Overflow, an open community for people who code to ask and answer questions. Forums and online communities can be a good resource, but spending a lot of time on them can be a bad habit when you’re trying to truly understand a new language, Misirlakis says.

“People learning Java should prioritize Oracle’s core documentation,” Misirlakis says. “Sometimes things change, so you’ll want to have the official documentation instead of just trying to search for answers.”

Resources and References to Get Started

Are you ready to start coding? Here are some resources to help you get started in your journey of becoming a Java developer:

  • Text editors. You’ll need a text editor to begin programming. Some text editors you can download for free. Find one that suits your preference here.
  • Java Documentation. Oracle houses the documentation for how to get started and is an authoritative source for the language.
  • Install Java. If Java isn’t already on your computer, you can install it for free here.
  • W3Schools Java Tutorial. This free tutorial is a rundown of the basics of Java syntax, comments, variables, loops, arrays and more. You’ll be able to practice basic Java exercises and take quizzes to test your knowledge.
  • CodeGym. This online Java course is all about practice. Users can choose a free account or pay for a premium subscription for $49 per month or a premium pro account for $99 per month to access more features. This program boasts more than 1,200 tasks to help you learn the essentials of Java.
  • Codecademy Learn Java. This beginner-level class can give you exposure to fundamental programming concepts. You’ll build seven Java projects in the course with the Pro plan, which costs $19.99 per month, billed yearly.

Step 1: Learn Java Syntax and Do Some Tutorials

Syntax is the style in which a programming language is written. Java has a syntax common to other popular programming languages such as JavaScript, C# and C++. Here are some elements you may encounter in Java:

Identifiers. Class names, method names, variable names and labels are examples of identifiers in Java. Identifiers can only contain letters, numbers, $ or _. They are case-sensitive, meaning if your identifier is “myelement,” then “MyElement” would result in a compile-time error.

Literals. In Java, a literal is a value specified to the variable. Literals can be numbers, characters, strings and Boolean values.

If you want a literal to be a year, you would write it as:

Keywords. Some words can’t be utilized as variables, identifiers or classes, as they are part of Java’s syntax. Examples of keywords include: abstract, boolean, byte, class and interface. They are 52 predefined keywords that programmers can’t use in the language.

Variables. There are three types of variables in Java: local variables, class variables or static variables, and instance variables or non-static variables.

Local variables: Within the body of the method, these variables are designated. Local variables are only applied within that method. Other methods in the class are not impacted by it.

Instance/non-static variables: Instance variables are declared within a class, but outside the body of the method. The value is unique to the instance.

Class/static variables: These variables use the static modifier. A static variable can be shared across instances of a class by creating a single copy.

Variables are used as containers that store data. When you code a variable, it needs a specific and unique value or name.

The syntax for a variable looks like this:

Main() shows up in all Java programs. Code that is inside the parentheses here will be run.

System.out.printIn() is what you’ll use to show text for the end user. It lives inside of main().

Case sensitivity. In Java, an identifier of “Hello” is not the same as “hello.” These are two separate identifiers. Every character matters.

Here are some resources to further understand Java syntax and terms:

Step 2: Practice Java Basics

Once you’re familiar with Java syntax, you’re ready to start diving deeper into the language.

Functions and Methods. Every function in Java, also known as a method, needs to be inside a class. Every class is composed of functions or methods. You can call on that function to perform operations. Learn more about this essential element of the language from Oracle’s The Java Tutorials on Defining Methods.

Classes. Classes are the major building blocks in Java. This is the template in which objects are made. Classes can have local, instance and class variables. Within a class, a method may have one or more ways of accessing its value. This GeeksforGeeks article contains an expanded look at classes and objects and how they function in Java.

Arrays. These are ordered collections using square brackets. Arrays can be integers or an array of strings. For example, different types of dog breeds could be represented as an array like this:

String [] dogs = {“Bulldog”,“Dachshund”,“Poodle”,“Beagle”};

LearnJava has an expanded resource to help aspiring developers understand arrays.

Generics. These allow types to be passed around as parameters when you’re specifying classes, interfaces and functions. Some advantages of using generics include having stronger type checks when it’s time to compile code. Java issues compile time errors to generic code by using strong type checking. This is done to check for safety violations.

Check out these intermediate tutorials and resources to dig deeper into Java:

  • Udemy Intermediate & Advanced Java Programming. This $19.99 course is meant to further enhance your Java skills. You’ll learn to create real applications.
  • Stack Overflow Questions Tagged [Java]. As you’re building your Java knowledge, use Stack Overflow to find answers to common questions for free.
  • Oracle University. Course participants can earn a Java certificate from Oracle to add to their professional experience. Free and paid learning paths are available.
  • Java Code Geeks. In these free tutorials, created by Java developers, users can learn more about Java classes and functions.

Step 3: Put Your Knowledge of Java Into Practice

Once you have some Java skills under your belt, one way to keep yourself focused on the language is to start a passion project.

“Go beyond the online courses and do something that interests you,” Lopes says. “Solve a meaningful real-world problem that will keep you going.”

Another way to build your competency in Java is by attempting to replicate a website or application because it will force you to do a deep dive into the language.

“You should have a graveyard of personal projects,” Foston says. “It’ll force you to problem solve and become more familiar with the language.”

Here are some repositories, communities and publications to further your Java knowledge:

  • Virtual JUG. If you’re interested in being part of a community of Java developers, Virtual JUG is a Slack group where you can learn from Java programmers throughout the world.
  • GitHub’s Trending Java Repositories. View other repositories and learn from projects that other developers have created using Java with this free resource.
  • 10 Free Java Projects for Beginners to Know in 2020. This article gives novice programmers ideas to practice their coding skills.
  • Java Magazine. This free publication by Oracle gives readers in-depth lessons, tricks, tips and resources on Java.
  • HackerRank. Once you feel confident in your Java knowledge, put your skills to the test and practice coding to prepare for job interviews with this free tool.

Step 4: Dive Into Intermediate and Advanced Java Learning

Intermediate and advanced Java programming refines the fundamentals and gives programmers a variety of tools and frameworks with which to expand their knowledge.

Advanced Java developers may have knowledge of multithreading. Multithread programming is a parallel process that allows you to execute multiple functions at once to make programs run faster and more efficiently.

Those looking to dive into more advanced Java topics may consider using frameworks such as Spring, Maven and Gradle. Knowledge of these frameworks might help developers set themselves apart when trying to land job opportunities.

The following resources and classes are meant for programmers who have a strong knowledge of Java:

Two of the biggest things that will help you learn Java are time and patience. No one becomes a master developer in a day.

“Using resources and staying involved with the Java community will be paramount because if you get stuck on something small, it can hinder you from understanding other concepts,” Misirlakis says.


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