Why You Should Learn C Programming

May 17, 2021 5:47:23 AM / by Kristen Capuzzo

What is C Programming?

You've probably heard of C programming or you're wondering whether or not to spend the time learning the language. C programming is defined as one of the most powerful "modern" programming language, in that it allows direct access to memory and many low-level computer operations.

C is one of the lowest level languages that is still fairly readable (compared to binary code with 0's and 1's). It allows you to exploit some of the features of a computer's hardware with far more control and precision that higher level languages. A high level language would be something such as JavaScript or Python, where a significant number of libraries and functions are essentially "pre-built" and take care a lot of under-the-hood functionality but very limited precision or control.

It is important to note that today, most people who "learn to code" focus only on learning higher level languages and never understand what's going on at a fundamental level: how a computer treats data structures and types, how it assigns and manages memory, or how it stores data. If all you want to do is build a website, put a few boxes or forms here and there, then you probably don't need to understand the fundamentals of computer programming or software engineering.

However, if you want to become a software engineer, machine learning or AI engineer, a data scientist, or a full stack developer, understanding data structures and types, memory, performance, and architecture are absolutely vital to being a great engineer.


To become a real software engineer, it is important to understand that, in many ways, the core of engineering is to put 0 and 1 in the best possible place with respect to the computer's memory: it's about performance and optimization. To do that well, you need a good understanding of how the computer puts the 0 and 1 in memory as well as how it executes instructions on the processor. Programming in C forces you to learn memory allocation, data structures and types, how a computer treats and stores different kinds of data, and finally how to manage memory. These are things that you won't get to if you learn only a high-level language.

Let's look at an example of how learning C helps you understand foundational concepts that you wouldn't otherwise cover if learning JavaScript. Your task is to add an element to an array. In JavaScript it looks like this:


In C, however, you have to allocate a new space of memory that corresponds to the size of the array plus one, then you have to copy all elements from the previous memory space, then you can add the new element. Clearly, you have to learn about memory allocation and memory management in order to achieve your task, something that was not at all required in JavaScript.

A Foundational Language for Other Programming Languages

C is the foundation that most other languages and programming language creators have built other languages on top of C, including Python, Ruby, JavaScript, and C++. By knowing C, you are setting yourself up for success in understanding other programming languages widely used in the industry.

Other languages are built on top of C language include:

These are built from the C language, so if you have learned some C programming, then your comprehension of these other languages will be deeper such that you can better exploit languages for their strengths.

What is the Process of Learning C?

Here at Qwasar, to help our learners learn C, we start by essentially making "the human understand what is happening inside the computer." It sounds odd, but computers aren't intuitive or creative like humans, and they can't necessarily reason like us: they do exactly what you tell them. We can have trouble understanding this sometimes as humans, but programming in C helps understand how a computer reacts to your code. It will do what you tell it to. It will understand what you have defined and it will not recognize what you have not defined. In some ways, it's about learning to be detail-oriented and systematic.

At the same time, we help learners to understand how a computer treats different kinds of data and allocates different kinds of memory. Qwasar co-founder Kwame Yamgnane commented,

"It is not very easy. It sounds from the outside very easy, you just ask people to put 0 and 1 in memory, which is exactly what we do. It’s a game of life, the rules are very simple, but there are infinite possibilities. It’s a bit like playing chess, the basic rules are kind of easy. I can ask you what you can do with the king or the queen, even if you take go, it’s even simpler, but at the end, the amount of possibilities are endless."

Once you've got the basics down, then we move on to the fun and more challenging part of programming: being able to combine fundamental elements and concepts to create a more complex and advanced application. The challenge is often that the possibilities are infinite: literally the number of combinations and ways of building or doing something are endless, which is where we start to get into software design, architecture, and decision-making when building software applications. This requires both systematic thinking, design thinking, creativity, structure, and being able to break down a complex problem into smaller blocks or functions. 

Eventually, the projects at Qwasar become more complex in C such that you're rebuilding memory allocation or shell. At this point, you're becoming a software engineer and learning how to build software that optimally runs with a computer's hardware, combining your foundational knowledge of how a computer works.

c programming

How Does Knowing C Set You Apart in Industry? What Advantages Do You Gain?

Being able to understand and use C programming gives you an advantage over most other software engineers. It puts you in a group of more advanced and more knowledgable people in the industry.

Kwame notes, "Top-level, respected software engineers usually have at least 2 languages they know like the back of their hand: one higher level language and one lower level language, C or C++ (if not both). Look at 50 job descriptions for a software engineer in the US and you'll notice the trend for experience in C/C++ very quickly."

The point isn't about knowing the language C; the point is that you have a strong understanding of what a computer's capabilities are, how it works at a fundamental level, how to exploit it to achieve your project goals, and where potential problems might lie when troubleshooting. So much of software engineering, data science, AI/ML, and enterprise full stack development is about speed, performance, optimization, which translates into good or bad user experiences, high or low data processing or storage costs, and similar things that are at the core of tech products today.

Confidence to Keep Up With Changing Technology and Languages

Programming languages generally have a life expectancy of 5-7 years, with some exceptions for low-level languages. If you know C, you are able to understand and pick up new languages much faster than those who do not understand C.

Additionally, there is a certain confidence that comes from not being intimidated by having to learn a new language. If you've picked up new languages before fairly easily because of a strong foundation in C, then learning new languages will seem like less of a hurdle or difficulty. This professional confidence will undoubtedly pay off as companies adopt new languages or change languages in order to exploit their strengths for various technical products.

Troubleshooting Problems That Aren't on Stack Overflow

Many software engineers do not code in C for their daily job (outside of those who are specifically employed to work in C, obviously). However, at least one time in your life as a software engineer, you will face a bug or a problem, a big one that is causing a lot of pain or costing a lot of money, and you will be struggling to find or fix the bug. Of course, it will be one that doesn't have an answer or article on Stack Overflow, and you will have to really dig into the code and find the problem. Sometimes that means going into the source code or the very code behind the programming language you're using. On that day on your team of engineers, you will have two groups, those who know C and can truly troubleshoot, and those who don’t. You want to be in the group who can contribute to a company when it matters most.

Kwame remembered working in the banking industry back in 2001 on a team that was dealing a huge bug in their software. Of course, no bank wants a huge bug in their software because chances are, it's costing them thousands of dollars per minute. "It was driving everybody crazy," he said. "In the end, it was two lines of C, one specifically that had a very small error. I fixed it, the problem was solved, and the bank was very much relieved and glad that their systems were working again. I can assure you that if that day comes for you, your boss won't see you the same way afterwards!"

A Leg Up in Technical Interviews

Secondly, when you go for interviews, the fact that you know C, for example, gives you a significant advantage. Having a foundational and fundamental understanding of what a computer is doing and how it works enables you to explain they 'why' behind what you're doing as you solve the technical interview question. This kind of comprehension plus the fact that you explain your thinking process and technical understanding in the interview shows that you are not only a capable engineer, but also someone who thinks and needs to understand the 'why.' This need to understand the why behind a problem or solution means that you are likely a good problem solver, and that is what engineering teams are looking for.

At a basic level, you show to your interviewer that you know how to code, that your comprehension is not surface level. Further, knowing C means that even if you don't know the coding language put forth in the interview by the interviewer, you have the ability to understand what's happening in other language because of your comprehension in C. While it's unlikely that you'll interview for a job where you're expected to code in a language you don't know, we've already seen it come up before multiple times with our learners, and it's in these cases that understanding C gives you a huge leg up over someone else who just learned a language or two.


Why Learning C Programming at Qwasar is Different

We believe that an understanding of C programming is so valuable in today's world. It is kind of difficult to learn C, because it is like chess I say, because you have to really train the mind of the students. And this is something that is kind of amazing to see, students who suddenly discover and understand how things work inside the computer. And at that moment, everything is open to you.

Learning C at Qwasar is not only innovative and hands-on, but we do it in a fun way.

Other institutions give you a course in coding, in which they explain to you this an E, this is an S, this is a Y, this is a function and basically if I train you to learn how to bike, it is showing you what is a bike, this is front this is a wheel and the bike works this way. And at the end, now you know how to bike, and you know exactly what is going to happen. If you take your bike and you don’t know how to bike, you fall. And the way we teach biking to students, is basically we put them on the bike, a tricycle and then we remove the wheel and the second wheel. And suddenly the students, if you don’t know how to bike, you fall, and I am going to ask you how to bike. There is no explanation on how to bike. But, at the end they know C programming.



If you're considering learning C programming, check out our software engineering tracks,

full stack development, or data science.

Kristen Capuzzo

Written by Kristen Capuzzo

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