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Your First Programming Language: Python vs. C++

You’ve decided to learn computer programming! It’s a great idea, but which programming language should you learn? This article will compare two of today’s most popular languages, Python and C++.

In this article, I will help you decide which programming language to learn by comparing two of the most popular: Python vs. C++, and if you do not believe me, the TIOBE index ranks the popularity of programming languages. As you can see, Python is the most popular; C++ comes in fourth, behind C and Java. Either enjoys strong demand in the job market, so which should you choose as your very first programming language?

After having provided some historical background on both C++ and Python, we will discuss the pros and cons of each as a programming language for beginners.

Let's get started!

Historical Background of Python and C++

Python and C++ are very different programming languages, partly due to their historical background. After discussing the origins of C++, we’ll dive into Python's history.

The Origins of C++

C++ was developed by Danish computer scientist Bjarne Stroustrup at Bell Laboratories in 1979. The initial idea was to add object-oriented features to the C programming language. In fact, C++ means "C incremented" – ++ is an increment operator in C. This name was given to the language in 1983 and C++ was made available outside Bell Laboratories in 1985. C++ has gained a lot of popularity and is still one of the most important programming languages, especially for embedding systems.

C++ is a lower-level programming language compared to Python. This means that the language is closer to the machine and it can manipulate the hardware directly. It is also very fast, making it the language of choice for low-latency applications such as high-frequency trading or autonomous driving.

The Origins of Python

Python is a younger language; it was first released in 1992. It was created by Guido van Rossum, a Dutch programmer who needed to keep himself busy over Christmas break. Yes, you heard right – one of the most widely-used programming languages started as a hobby project!

Python was popular as a scripting language in the 1990s and early 2000s. It's increasingly popular now with the growing importance of data science and machine learning.

The Python programming language was created to make code more readable and development faster. In Python, you can quickly experiment with something in a few lines of code. As a result, its syntax is more accessible, and the development time is faster, as it avoids the compiling issues you might encounter with C++.

In C++, an error will prevent you from compiling the program and running it; in Python, the program will run until it encounters an error. This makes Python easier to debug and prototype, but as a higher-level language, it comes at the expense of speed.

Next, let's talk about what C++ and Python are used for.

Python and C++ Use Cases

If you haven't yet, read Kateryna's article that explains what Python is used for. In a nutshell, Python is a general-purpose programming language, a scripting language, and a testing language. It also has a lot of traction in data science and machine learning; I would say that whatever comes to your mind, you can find a way to bring it to life with Python.

Because development and experiments in Python tend to be faster, it benefits from extensive community support. It has a lot of easy-to-use libraries that are optimized in a lower-level language. This partly explains why Python is so popular.

When we talk about a general-purpose programming language, we’re talking about a language designed for software development in a wide variety of domains. For example, you can use Python to develop web apps, robotics, or desktop applications. This makes Python an excellent choice for a beginner – unlike a domain-specific language such as JavaScript or PHP that requires you to specialize in one domain right away.

Python is also a great testing language. In other words, Python is used to test software components and verify that they meet the product requirements.

Thanks to a lot of efforts in the community to build robust and efficient libraries for data science and machine learning, Python is widely used in artificial intelligence.

Because of Python's scripting nature, it is easy to quickly experiment and analyze results, as it requires less code and no integrated development environment, or IDE. It is also a suitable programming language for automation tasks, regardless of your operating system.

On the other hand, C++ is most commonly used for programs and applications that need to run quickly and reliably on limited resources, such as a robot. C++ can directly manipulate the hardware, which is why it is often used to create the base layer of many applications. C++ is used in operating systems, game development, IoT devices, databases (such as MySQL and MongoDB), web browsers, machine learning tools, scientific research, search engines, and flight software. And if Python is not so slow anymore, it is also because of the many C and C++ optimized Python libraries now available.

Because C++ is very fast compared to Python, it is an excellent choice in production settings where speed is critical. For example, speed might not be vital to a home robot, but it is for an autonomous vehicle or a plane, as it deals with human lives. In the financial industry, high-frequency trading software must be very fast to be profitable; therefore, speed is essential. But even in this case, you might find a Python binding to make C++ easier to use and manipulate. For example, with pybind, data can communicate between C++ and Python.

You see, even when discussing C++, it is difficult to remove Python from the picture altogether. :-) And I also like to work with C++.

Ultimately, if you need to deal with devices or applications where speed is critical, you are better off using C++. However, this language needs to be compiled before running, which makes development slower. And its lack of flexibility compared to Python makes C++ more difficult to handle.

Python vs. C++ as a First Programming Language

Python has a good reputation as a programming language:

  • It's well thought out.
  • It enforces good coding practices, such as proper code indentation.
  • It's strongly typed.
  • It has a huge and friendly community.

Python also gives more opportunities for beginners: you can choose many different career paths with Python, and you don't have to commit to being a software developer. Data analysts, for example, use Python. Another benefit – probably one of the most important – is that it allows you to focus on learning programming without constantly dealing with syntax errors, compiling crashes, and other tough problems that you might encounter with C++. Even running the C++ debugger can be a challenge!

C++ is considered to be a very complex language. It has many different features, and even experienced C++ programmers find it hard to use them all with confidence. Writing well-optimized C++ code can be rewarding, but is far from easy.

C++ is a difficult language to master; because of that, it may not be the best choice for your first programming language. But it is also a low-level language, making it a good programming language to learn if you are interested in understanding computer architecture and hardware at a deeper level. Its typical usage is also in low-level layers of applications, so it's the best choice for people who want to work in this area.

Python and C++ Language Features

This article would not be complete without talking about the technical differences between C++ and Python. C++ is statically typed; Python is dynamically typed and requires an interpreter. This means that the Python virtual machine executes the source code of a Python program after the code is converted into bytecode.

This also explains why Python is slower than C++. But because Python is not required to compile and build the program before running, it means that Python code can be readily changed and executed. Finally, regarding speed, it is important to note that Python is becoming faster with every new Python version.

Another point to note is that memory management is done automatically with Python. In C++, memory management is done manually and uses pointers, which can lead to memory leaks.

Overall, we can say that Python is more flexible than C++. For example, when you declare a variable in C++, you need to add its type (e.g. integer, character, etc.) In Python, you just have to declare the variable and Python will take care of its type.

Your Choice:  Python vs. C++

In this article, we discussed the features, uses, benefits, and drawbacks of the Python and C++ programming languages.

I believe that by now, you know which one you should learn as a first language (hint: it starts with “P”). If you haven't started yet, you can learn how to write your first programs with our Python Basics Course.

Feel free to check out our other articles at, such as Python vs. Java for beginners, to learn more about Python.