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Do you need to be good at math to learn programming?

mrandrewdear profile image Andrew Dear ・2 min read

It is a question often asked by people considering to learn a programming language. “Do I need to be good at math to learn Javascript, or C, Java, or any other language?” The reason they are most likely asking this question is because they’re either really good or bad at math so they want to know if this instantly disqualifies them or gives them an advantage. As a programmer with over 20 years experience, I’ve seen this asked and been personally asked this very question countless times and I’d love to say that my answer has been consistent but it hasn’t.

Programming is very hard, I don’t want it to sound easy, so when asked a question like this I have the urge to just say yes, to make it sound hard and make myself sound smart. If I were to say no, then I might be trivializing how hard my job is. I’m not alone on this, this question is asked constantly online and the answer almost always is “you should at least be able to calculate X times Y to be able to be a programmer”, or worse, “you should know this formula or that algorithm”.

The fact is that programming is not math, it’s a science. Anyone who says you need to be good at math is gatekeeping. Knowing how to multiply has nothing to do with programming. Though programming is not math, it does contain math sometimes. It’s clear that sometimes people who struggle in programming are really good at general math, and sometimes people who are good at programming are really bad at general math. Every combination of skillset exists in the field and they are perfectly capable of developing different types of software.

With that said, some types of software development do require a lot of math such as some types of 3d game design, graphics, simulators, etc. Also sometimes it can help you to write better code when you know a math formula that can be applied to save on data storage and performance. This is an issue I see from time to time with programmers who are senior level, they will use database tables and do all sorts of manual processing to achieve something that could have been solved by a simple algorithm. But the bottom line is they still managed to become senior programmers without being great at math because they get the job done, which is what matters most.

So the answer is no, you don’t need to be good at math to start learning to program. Knowing some math formulas can help you down the road to write better code or might be required to be able to do a task but you can learn that on the spot when you need it. Obviously, it’s more ideal to know math, you will have an advantage but in no way is it a limiting factor. It might even make you appreciate math more and want to be better at it, so please don’t see it as a limitation any more.

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