When humans talk, they use different languages — for example, English, French, or Chinese. These languages have words and sentences which we can combine in different ways to express our thoughts.
But when computers talk, they use a special language that only consists of ones and zeroes. Its words and sentences look like this: “1001 1010 1100 1001”.
Whenever we talk to computers, we have to use the language they understand. But it would take us a million years to type out all our commands in ones and zeroes. That’s why computer scientists invented computer languages that would be halfway between human languages and this “gibberish”.
C++ is one such language and it allows us to communicate with computers.
A brief introduction to C++
C++ is a programming language used in creating fast, efficient, and scalable applications for a wide range of industries. The first versions of the C++ language were created in the early 1980s by a Danish programmer from AT&T Bell Labs, named Bjarne Stroustrup.
Back then, programmers only had a few languages — the dinosaurs of programming that didn’t have many valuable features. So whenever some complex functions were needed, one had to code them from scratch.
Bjarne Stroustrup combined previously-existing languages and adapted them to create new capabilities. Basically, C++ is a superset of C. The main innovation brought to C is the possibility to create blueprints for groups of items. These blueprints contain data about any new item in that group, which helps shorten the code.
These blueprints or groups are called "classes". It’s such a distinct feature that previously, C++ was called "C with classes" or "the new C". But in 1983, it got its final name. In this programming language, "++" means "add one", so you can decipher the name as "C with one more feature".
Q: Sometimes I see different numbers after C++, for example, C++11 or C++20. What does it mean?
A: These numbers refer to the different versions of the C++ programming language and indicate the year of release.
There are 6 versions of C++:
Each new version of C++ is designed to address issues and limitations in previous versions while also introducing new features.
Key features of C++
If you want to understand how C++ works, read this whole section. And if you are only interested in whether you need to learn this language for your future job, jump to the next headline: “Best way to learn C++ as a beginner”.
C++ creates classes with predefined settings for new items
Remember fantasy MMORPGs? When you create a character, you can choose a class. Each class has a set of unique properties, such as skills and weapons, as well as its own methods of interaction with the game. For example, rogues can sneak up on mobs without provoking them. Amphibians can breathe underwater.
C++ allows you to create classes. A class is like a template for creating objects. Each object generated within its class receives a class-specific set of data containers and commands that one can apply to this object.
For example, if you created a “User accounts” class, you could define its settings. As such, you could specify that each new user account would automatically:
- Have fillable data containers like “ID”, “E-mail”, “Login”, “Password”, etc.
- Respond to actions like “Delete/Ban account”, “Change password”, etc.
Since classes allow programmers to create objects, languages with classes (including C++) are called object-oriented. Object-oriented programming makes it easier to write and maintain complex programs by breaking down code into smaller pieces that are more manageable.
With C++, you can have deeper control over PC hardware
As one YouTube commenter put it: when working with C++
“...you really feel like you are controlling a computer down to the bare metal for the first time.”
The reason behind it is that software based on C++ can interact directly with a computer’s low-level functions. These are fundamental, basic operations that the machine needs to perform to carry out any task. Regular users usually can’t access them.
For example, low-level functions include:
- Reading and writing data to memory
- Sending and receiving data to/from drivers
- Controlling the flow of data in programs
- Managing the PC’s resources for efficient performance
C++ allows programmers to fine-tune how their code interacts with the machine. Because of it, C++ is especially useful for tasks like writing operating systems or device drivers.
C++ executes lots of simple math operations simultaneously
Rather than doing the big task alone, it’s always faster to break it into micro-tasks and delegate them to your colleagues, right? C++ shares the same view! With this language, you can divide a big program into smaller chunks that can be executed simultaneously on different processors.
This is called parallel programming, and it enables faster performance for computationally intensive programs. It makes C++ a perfect language to develop and run performance-critical software.
For instance, programs like search engines, trading robots, database management systems, and network traffic routing are written with parallel programming. Without it, they would run much slower and ruin the user experience.
Best way to learn C++ as a beginner
C++ is a big programming language that is known for its complexity. That’s why people sometimes recommend learning a different language first.
Let’s figure out why C++ is so widely critiqued and whether you should learn it as your first programming language.
Why C++ is commonly misunderstood
Many people find C++ a bit hard to learn, especially when you have no prior programming experience. As the language inventor has said,
“C makes it easy to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes it harder, but when you do, it blows your whole leg off.” — Bjarne Stroustrup
While C++ does offer more features than C, this comes with a much more complicated syntax that can be hard to read. For example, look at this error message:
Some features make a code difficult to structure. Mind you, it’s not because they are hard themselves but rather because they give you a tool to very easily create very bad code.
When you should (or should not) learn C++
If you want to start writing programs quickly, you might want to choose another language like Python or Ruby. But some careers specifically require C++ programming skills. So, whether you choose to learn C++ or not should align with your career goals.
However, beginners often underestimate how many options they have when choosing a programming language. For example, if you want to write games, C++ isn’t the only language used for it. So the recommendation would be to research all the possibilities and see what sparks the most interest.
By the way, some people admit that after they learned C++ as their first programming language, other languages were a breeze. So if your career choice pushes you towards mastering C++, rest assured knowing that everything will seem much simpler after it.
Useful resources for C++ learning
Unfortunately, almost all online C++ tutorials have serious flaws and will teach you harmful coding habits. Currently, the best way to learn C++ is to get a good book. You can check Stack Overflow’s Definitive C++ Book Guide or just trust the creator – he’s written two really good books:
- Programming: Principles and Practice Using C++ (for beginners)
- A Tour of C++ (for people with previous programming experience).
Also, on your journey to mastering C++, you are more than welcome to utilize the resources below. Please note that these are not tutorials but supporting materials for learners and professional coders.
- ISO C++, and especially resources to get started, is a go-to hub for everything concerning this programming language.
- C++ FAQ is a place where you can find answers to all your questions regarding C++.
- C++ Reference is a comprehensive collection of articles, code samples, and references.
Careers that require C++
C++ is a high-performance language, applicable to virtually any field. Here are just some examples of industries that widely utilize it:
- High-performance computing (HPC) specialist: The language helps with building and optimizing performance-intensive applications that need to get the most out of the user’s hardware.
- Operating systems developer: Programmers apply C++ to create core components of operating systems, such as MacOS, Windows, iOS.
- Embedded systems developer: Some devices (cars, planes, refrigerators, robot vacuum cleaners, etc.) have mini-computers built into them. These embedded systems are often written in C++ as performance is important when you have limited system resources.
- Financial software developer: This language is used to develop financial analysis software and trading platforms where microseconds matter since users need fast trade execution. For example, MetaTrader 5, Bloomberg Terminal and FIX Protocol utilize C++.
Still, one of the most prominent use cases is the game development industry. Many games are written in C++ as it helps programs run faster. But it’s not only that. Game-building engines, such as Unreal Engine and Unity, and even operating systems of Xbox and PlayStation gaming consoles are also based on C++!
Thanks to its object-oriented features, C++ enables swift calculations for graphics and animation. For this reason, C++ is also widely used in graphic editors (such as Adobe Photoshop) and in the animation industry.
To summarize: C++ is challenging, but C++ specialists are in demand
C++ is a powerful programming language that has stood the test of time. With its ability to offer high performance, it remains a popular choice for developing game engines, operating systems, and other performance-critical software. However, it does come with a steeper learning curve than some other languages, which can be daunting for beginners.
Mastering C++ is your way to get a rewarding, high-salary job. It’s a complex programming language, but C++ professionals are in high demand. So you can rest assured that your effort will be worth it.
Another option to get into any tech-related industry is joining a program to obtain the needed knowledge and skills. For example, Practicum offers beginner-friendly bootcamps for those who want to work in IT. Even absolute newcomers who start from scratch end up impressing employers with their expertise. It’s because Practicum’s students work on real-life projects, building a full-fledged portfolio as they learn.
You won’t need any extra resources, books, or programs to start moving towards the new profession. Instead, the learning process occurs right on Practicum’s website within its interactive platform. Reading materials, tutorials, and homework are all gathered in one place, designed for your convenience.
Note: Right now, Practicum doesn’t have the option to learn C++, but it covers other programming languages. (Thankfully, most of them are easier than C++!)
Now it’s clear: the future lies in tech. Be it C++ or any other programming language, casting in your lot with IT is one of the most beneficial decisions you can make. So good luck on your career journey!