Most useful Programming language for a Mechanical Engineer
There are 4 main classes of computation that mechanical engineers are involved in.
- Computer Aided Design (CAD),
- Finite Element Analysis,
- Data Acquisition, and
- Numerical Analysis.
You will do well to be competent with the relevant tool in your industry for each one of these, but know that their domain is deep and that people have made entire careers being experts on just one of them.
That said, your question asks about programming languages, and neither CAD nor FEA is a programming language. I mean, most of them offer API’s of some sort (accessible via either visual basic, python, or perhaps a home-grown scripting language), but you won’t be “programming” at least in the traditional sense.
When it comes to data acquisition, LabVIEW is really the only game in town. Strictly speaking it is a programming language, but it’s domain is relatively niche and it is unlike all other programming languages in that programs are written graphically as opposed to in a text editor. In my experience, this value of this language has been inversely proportional to the size and complexity of a program, as well as my desire to reuse code.
MATLAB is probably the most common language that you will find mechanical engineers using. It is geared toward scientific calculations and is based on matrices. One advantage of MATLAB is that it is fairly quick to get started — it comes packaged with a development environment, and you can fire it up and start programming immediately. One major disadvantage is price. It is quite expensive, and if you like to program at home (as I do) then you might find this to be a bit of a roadblock. Your company also may or may not pay for a license for you. This is a hugely powerful tool though, and is a great language to know.
Python is an excellent alternative to MATLAB. Python is open-source, and you can achieve comparable functionality to MATLAB by installing NumPy, SciPy, and Matplotlib (there are other packages such as Pandas that you may also want). Python is a widely respected language and has a major following in the scientific and academic community. There are tons of packages available for Python that you can download for free, including packages that allow interaction with Excel and Word — these packages are useful for outputting data and for automated generation of formatted analysis reports. One major advantage of Python (besides the price of free) is that it is a general purpose programming language (i.e. it is not specifically tailored to scientific programming, although it is excellent for that). This means that you can use it to do many other things that you may want to do, such as work with your file system or build a website. Because of this versatility, Python will probably give you the most “bang for the buck” in terms of value versus time invested.
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