Programming: Getting Started

So, what exactly is programming, what is it good for? Esentially, programming is just writing a collection of words (most of the time they're words, not always) that, when rendered with the right software, produce software. This page you're reading, for example, would be the software: I typed it all out, along with HTML code, the result being this page. If in your browser you click and/or right-click and choose "View Source" you can see the HTML for this page. Anything in the 'source' of this page with <> around it is HTML. The HTML isn't too helpful as just text, it's only useful when rendered in a browser. This is the basics of programming: You write 'source code' that translates into some sort of software.
HTML is probably the simplest, and least powerful, language out there. It generally only produces wepages. Depending on what you want to do, there are different languages for the task: General purpose language for making any type of software, other wepage-oriented languages, languages for controlling hardware such as microcontrollers, etc.
So, what exactly should YOU learn? That depends. What do you want to do?

If you want to...

Design Webpages - learn HTML. I said before, this is probably the easiest language in existance. You can learn it quickly and easily, and be making a webpage in minutes. It starts off easy and never gets very complicated. if you intend to make a webpage, you don't really have much else choice; there are other web-oriented languages, but they supplement HTML, they don't replace it.
With HTML you can make quite complex pages, but if you want to add any sort of interactivity or dynamic content whatsoever, you'll have to learn another language in addition: some examples are Java, JavaScript (java and javascript are very different. These two names are not interchangable), Perl, VBScript, PHP, and there are many others.

Write all other kinds of software - Learn a traditional, general purpose language. Of these I would recommend either BASIC or C. BASIC is good for beginners because it shields you from much of the inner workings of the computer. However, ultimately, you'll probably move on from BASIC as it's not too powerful. And, ultimately, you'll probably migrate to C, so, why not just start there. Certainly, there's no reason not to. C is almost as simple, more powerful, more widely supported, and just makes more sense. Once you master C you can move on to C++, and extension of C with many more features. There are tons of other languages out there, I'm only speaking for ones I've programmed in.

So, what It all comes down to is: read up on the different languages out there, and be aware of the limitations of each. Some links to helpful information and tutorials, as well as tutorials I've written, are provided below. For whatever language you choose, you'll need to obtain proper software in run your code. Most languages are "compiled" - a compiler is a program that turns your code into code the computer can use and execute. You'll find that some languages are slowly dying - BASIC, for example, its most popular dialects are QBASIC and Visual Basic. QBASIC is DOS-Based, and since DOS is all but dead, QBASIC is slowly disappearing. Visual Basic, which is considerably different, is windows based, and is still quite alive.
Browse through the links and find a language that suits your needs