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Coding terminology & definitions for beginners

hand reaching for laptop with code in the background with turquoise and red colours

Before we jump into the coding terminology, think back to when you were learning how to drive. (Unrelated, seemingly, but stick with me.)

The basic instruction on how to operate a vehicle included things like putting the key in the ignition, turning the key to start the car, shifting gears to drive or reverse, accelerating, putting on your blinker, etc.

As a young 15 or 16-year-old, you might have not even known the meaning of words like ignition, gear shifter, or e-break. They were familiar terms that you had heard or read about, but when it came time to use them, you felt rather helpless.

Luckily, the person teaching you to drive could easily help you through. “Stick the key in that hole,” “Grab this knob and pull it towards you or away,” and so on. Meaning, there was a lot of pointing and physical gesturing to help you understand.

Now, think about computer coding for kids, and teaching them how to go about it: Pick a programming language like Java, C++, or Python; open your Integrated Development Environment; write a statement; debug.


Coding not only doesn’t lend itself to someone just physically showing you to “do this” or “do that” but most of the terms that come with it is new terminology, and are words never seen before—or words that have been seen, but now have different meanings.

So, we wanted to define some coding terminology! This is a living, growing list, but already full of useful terms your child will come across at some point in their coding journey.

And an important note—context is everything. Meaning, reading through this list as a single blog post in a vacuum won’t do much good. But, consulting the list once your child has begun their coding journey can be helpful.

Coding terminology

Here are some popular coding terms and words to become familiar with.


An algorithm is a set of instructions that are followed to solve a problem. It’s a computer’s thought process.


An argument is a way to provide more information to a function. The function can then use that information as it runs, like a variable (For more info on variables, see below.)


Arrays are containers that hold variables; they’re used to group together similar variables. You can think of arrays like shelves at a pet store. The array would be the shelf, and the animals in cages are the variables inside.

API (Application Programming Interface)

A set of protocols and tools for building software applications. APIs allow different software applications to communicate with each other.

Arithmetic operators

Arithmetic operators are essential in almost every application, especially in games. If a game character earns experience, it needs to be added to the total earned. If an arrow hits an enemy, the damage the enemy takes needs to be calculated.

Assignment operators

Assignment operators (+=, -=, *=, /=) are operators that combine variable assignments (=) with arithmetic operators. They serve as a shortcut when coders have to perform an operation that changes the value of a variable. If a rock falls on a game player’s head, health needs to be subtracted from their total, and so on.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience where digital objects are placed in a real-world environment in real time. While virtual reality creates a completely artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing real-world environment and overlays new information on top of it. Pokémon Go is a popular example, blending the real world captured through your phone’s camera with virtual characters overlaid on top.


Autonomous robot, self-driving car, and delivery bot are all terms used to describe robots that navigate their environments using sensors with little to no human interaction.

Binary numbers

A binary number is a computer’s way to represent information. Computers process millions of 1’s and 0’s a minute using different rules to interpret them as numbers, letters, operators, and everything else put into a computer.


The individual 1’s and 0’s you see in binary are called bits.

Block Coding

With block-based coding, programming “blocks” fit together like puzzle pieces. When you code with blocks, you take the first block you want the program to execute and attach it to another block, and so on.


C++ is a low-level yet versatile programming language. Beginners who master this language will be able to solve complex problems and understand how programs work.Camel case

Variables should be named using camel case, meaning the first word of the name is lowercase and each new word after that is capitalised. It’s called camel case because when it was originally written as CamelCase, the capital Cs look like the humps on a camel. iPhone, eBay, YouTube, and of course, iD in “iD Tech” are real-world examples of camel casing!


A blueprint for creating objects in OOP. It defines a data structure (attributes) and methods (functions) to manipulate that data.


Coding is how people create instructions for computers to follow. Just like people speak different languages, so do programs. For instance, Roblox uses the coding language Lua while Minecraft was built with Java.

Coding languages

Computers use coding languages to understand what people want them to do. Just like how people communicate with each other in English or Japanese, people communicate with computers in languages like C++ or Java. Some of the best coding languages for kids include JavaScript, Scratch, and Python.

Computer program

A computer program is a group of instructions given to a computer to be processed. These instructions are typically used to solve a problem, or make long problems for humans shorter and easier.

Conditional statements

Statements that perform different actions based on whether a condition is true or false. Examples include if statements, switch statements, etc.

Data Type

An attribute of data that tells the compiler or interpreter how the programmer intends to use the data. Common types include integers, floating-point numbers, strings, and booleans.


The process of finding and resolving defects or problems within a computer program.

Else statements

Else statements are used to do something else when the condition in the if statement isn’t true.

Else if statements

Use an else if statement to do something when the if statement’s condition isn’t true but before the else statement. Else if statements also check a specific condition.


A control structure that repeats a statement or a group of statements while a given condition is true. Common loops include for loops, while loops, and do-while loops.

Function / Method

A self-contained block of code designed to perform a specific task. Functions are often used to break down programs into smaller, manageable pieces.

Header files

A header file allows you to write code for other files to use, making it possible to share code between files and organise your code as projects grow.

IDE (Integrated Development Environment)

A software application that provides comprehensive facilities to programmers for software development, including code editor, compiler/interpreter, and debugger tools.

If statements

An if statement runs a block of code based on whether or not a condition is true.

Increment and decrement operators

Increment (++) and decrement (–) operators add or subtract one from the numerical value of the variable they’re adjacent to. They’re useful for situations when you only want to change a value by exactly one, like leveling up or using a life.


Input is any interaction from the user to the program. In video games, this includes using the keyboard to move or using the mouse to look around.

Integrated Development Environment

Software such as Visual Studio is known as an Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which is where you type your code and run your programs. Basically, an IDE is software that makes coding simpler.


A mechanism in OOP that allows a new class (subclass/derived class) to inherit properties and behavior (methods) from an existing class (base class/parent class).


To start writing code in Java, you can use IntelliJ, an IDE created for writing and running code.


Java is a powerful multi-platform programming language. It’s used for many professional and commercial applications, including every Android application and even the Android operating system itself!

Minecraft was completely developed in Java by Markus Persson. Gmail was created in Java because Java has a great performance rate and a good framework for web.

When it comes to Java for kids, they can use Java to make a wide range of games and programs.


There are a lot of different text programming languages programmers can use, and JavaScript is one of the most popular programming languages. It is used in 95% of websites and can be used for programming phones and robots.

Jupyter Notebook

Jupyter Notebook is a type of Integrated Development Environment. Jupyter handles Python specifically.


A library is a collection of code made by other programmers for you to import and use.


Linux is an open-source operating system designed to run on multiple types of devices, like laptops, phones, tablets, robots, and many others. In fact, the Android operating system is based on Linux!


Loops check a condition and then run a code block. The loop will continue to check and run until a specified condition is reached.

Main function

For a program to run, it must have a main function, which runs first each time you start your program. The main function is where the bulk of your code will go.

Machine learning

Machine learning is getting a computer to act without explicitly being programmed to do so. It’s an application of artificial intelligence where we give machines access to data and let them use that data to learn for themselves. Learn more about machine learning for kids.


The micro:bit is a small programmable computer more formally known as a microcontroller development board.

Neural networks

Machine learning is all about training an algorithm. In order to train an algorithm, neural networks are needed, which are sets of algorithms that are inspired by biological neural networks. A neural network is the “brain” of the program.


In machine learning, a neuron is a simple, yet interconnected processing element that processes external inputs.

Obejct-Oriented Programming (OOP)

A programming paradigm based on the concept of “objects,” which can encapsulate data in the form of fields (attributes) and code in the form of procedures (methods).


A pointer points to a specific value stored at a specific address in a computer’s memory. You can think of it as a variable for another variable’s address.


Programming is creating a set of instructions for a computer to follow. Think of it like a language between people and machines. Programming is most commonly used to make long and repetitive tasks quick and easy.

Programming Languages

Programmers use programming languages to communicate instructions to computers. These languages include Python, C++, Java, JavaScript, and more.


PyCharm is an integrated development environment made specifically for Python programmers.


Python is a programming language that’s currently becoming more and more powerful with every new library added to its collection. It handles everything from web development and game design, to machine learning and AI. Python is known for having syntax that’s simpler and easier to write than many other languages like Java and C++.


Scratch coding is an MIT-developed graphical programming language, where beginners can learn drag-and-drop programming basics to create interactive stories and comics.

Learn more: What is block-based coding?


In programming, a series of scripts, or sets of steps, are written for a computer to follow. Computers process the steps line-by-line from top to bottom. Each step is created by writing a statement.

Get started: Roblox scripting & Lua coding


The Simple and Fast Multimedia Library (SFML) is a library that, with C++ for example, allows you to create images, generate sound effects, and even connect multiple computers


Sprites are computer graphics that you can move via code; a 2D player that walks is an animated sprite. For kids, Scratch sprites provide a fun intro to coding.


The way you tell a computer to perform an action is by giving it instructions or writing statements to explain a desired action. Again, it’s similar to writing sentences in English, but with words, numbers, and punctuation added depending on the programming language.


Variables can hold data besides numbers, including words. Programmers refer to variables holding words as strings.


TensorFlow is a library developed by Google to facilitate the creation and training of machine learning models and neural networks.


Terminal is a text-based interface for sending commands to a computer.

Text Coding

Text coding uses letters, numbers, and punctuation to create lines of code and programs. Text coding allows for more freedom than block coding, and is what professional programmers use.


Training is the process of feeding huge amounts of data into an algorithm so the algorithm can adjust and improve, as if it’s learning.


Ubuntu is one of the more popular distributions, or versions, of Linux.


A variable is a container that holds a single number, word, or other information that you can use throughout a program. A variable is like a chest you can fill with different values. You name the chests so you can find them later. Variables have three parts: type, name, and value.

Variable types

Once a variable is declared, a variable type is specified. Basic variable types include: string (words and phrases), char (short for “character;” a single letter or symbol you can type), int (short for “integer;” for whole numbers), double or float (for decimal numbers), and bool (short for “boolean;” for true or false values).

Visual Studio

Visual Studio is used to program in C++. It’s an industry-wide platform with many tools and features to help you!

While loops

While loops are set up just like if statements. They check for a condition and run the code in them until the condition is no longer true. A while loop will run forever (until the condition is false).

This article was published on IDTech.

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