What programming language should I learn first? The answer to this question depends on who you ask. If you ask Ben Collins, he’ll tell you to learn Google Apps Script.
Even if you haven’t heard of Google Apps Script before, there are some compelling reasons to make it your first programming language. In today’s special guest post, Ben is here to explain why.
Take it away, Ben!
Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for Ben's courses. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!
Google Apps Script is a cloud-based scripting language for extending the functionality of Google Apps. It also happens to be a great first programming language to learn.
You write Apps Script in your web browser and it gets executed on Google’s servers.
I started learning Apps Script in 2014 and it’s given me a sense of accomplishment and degree of coding confidence that I never experienced with other languages.
I’ve had fun building tools that have saved me from hours and hours of tedious work. I’ve built programs for clients that connect Google Apps to third-party marketing tools. I’ve built automated dashboards that have reduced reporting workloads to almost nothing.
In this post, I’ll share seven reasons why you should consider Apps Script as your first programming language. Hopefully, you’ll be persuaded to give it a try and see for yourself how rewarding it can be.
An Apps Script tool to automatically import MailChimp campaign data into Google Sheets
#1. You start from familiar territory
If you use Gmail, Google Sheets, Docs, or other G Suite apps, then you’re already familiar with the look and feel of Google tools. Apps Script is no different and seamlessly extends the possibilities of what you can do with G Suite tools.
I found it super helpful when learning Apps Script to start with scripts attached to Google Sheets (known as container-bound in Apps Script parlance), so that I could toggle back and forth between the script editor and the Google Sheet and see the effects of my code immediately.
If you’re comfortable with formulas in Google Sheets, then you can definitely crack Apps Script. It may take a little longer than learning a new formula but stick with it and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
#2. No configuration or setup required
One of the best reasons to learn Google Apps Script as your first programming language is that it’s very, very easy to get started. There’s no risk of you getting lost in the terminal installing packages or configuring programs.
There are only three steps to get started: 1) Open your browser, 2) Create a new Apps Script project, and 3) Start coding.
Similarly, when you’re ready to run your Script, it’s very simple. You just press the Run button!
(You’ll have to authorize your script the first time you run it, or whenever you add additional services like other G Suite products. What you’re doing is setting the scope for your script, so that it only has access to what you’ve specified.)
#3. Build cool and useful tools immediately
This is my favorite reason why you should choose Google Apps Script as your first programming language.
Once you know a little bit of Apps Script, you can immediately start to build useful tools.
It’s the main reason I was able to stick with it when I hit the inevitable hurdles.
It’s really motivating to see early wins when you’re learning a new subject. Especially when you’re learning something that’s technical and potentially challenging.
With Apps Script, you have a chance to build something useful, rather than random Fizz Buzz algorithms. When you automate a tedious task or a colleague pats you on the back because your script saved her an hour a week, it’s a really good feeling.
For example, you could easily write a script to automatically import a CSV file into a Google Sheet on a daily basis, saving you the time and pain of doing it manually.
Another example, and one I use myself, is to automatically email a PDF copy of your business reporting Sheet to the relevant people on a set schedule. In my case, I get a fresh email every morning, sent by my Apps Script program, with a detailed business report with the latest data. This all happens automatically with no intervention on my part.
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#5. Good documentation and resources
Learning a new language is challenging. Good documentation and a helpful support group can make the difference between sticking with it and mastering the language, or giving up just when you’re on the cusp of a breakthrough.
The documentation and resources available today are excellent, much better than when I started learning Apps Script in 2014.
There are plenty of Apps Script questions on Stack Overflow and an increasing number of people creating dedicated Apps Script tutorials online.
In December 2018, I launched a free, introductory course teaching Apps Script from scratch. Over 4,000 students have since signed up and seen how easy and rewarding Apps Script can be.
#6. You learn important concepts
You can add menus to your Google Docs, Sheets, Slides or Forms, so you can execute your Apps Script code without having to open up the editor window.
For example, you might add a custom menu to execute a function that creates a PDF invoice from your Sheet and emails it directly to your client (without you having to even open Gmail).
You can also add alerts and pop-ups to create a richer experience for anyone using your script.
Custom sidebars can be used for more complex scripts that might require the user to make choices, select data, etc. You can add forms, buttons, and CSS styling to these sidebars, and all of this code lives inside your Apps Script project.
Apps Script has triggers built in so you can run your script on a particular schedule, or when a specific event happens such as a Google Form submission. For example, I have a trigger that runs a script every time a student submits a course evaluation form. It kicks off the feedback loop automatically for me.
#7. It's free
Apps Script is free to use, and all you need to get started is a Google account.
So, if you use Gmail, you can start coding in Apps Script in your browser, for free, right now. If you use Sheets, you can start. If you use Docs, you can start.
It’s literally only one more click to open up the Script Editor and start coding.
Apps Script is supremely useful in its own right. It’s worth learning so you can automate tedious parts of your G Suite workflows, or build useful tools for yourself or colleagues at work.
It’s challenging enough that you’ll never run out of ideas or avenues to explore, but friendly enough you can make inroads pretty quickly.
I love that it’s hassle-free to set up and get started, and I’m sure you’ll come to love that too.
If you’re ready to start your Apps Script journey today, check out Apps Script Blastoff—a free, introductory Apps Script course that over 4,000 other folks have used to begin their coding journeys.
About the author
Ben Collins is an educator, data analyst and Google Developer Expert focused on G Suite Technology, specifically Google Sheets, Apps Script, and Data Studio. He is the founder of The Collins School of Data.
He creates online courses and writes about working with data, with a particular focus on tutorials for data analytics, automation, and dashboards.
Ben previously taught Data Analytics for General Assembly and began his career as a forensic accountant.