PHP is a good start, as the language is simple enough to let beginners get their feet wet while powerful enough to build world-class websites like Facebook. And with over five million PHP developers on the planet, new programmers would be joining perhaps the largest cohort of developers around, with plenty of code help, sample, code, and forums to help them progress beyond the basics.
And with Andi Gutmans and Co. at Zend focusing on bringing the power of PHP to blended mobile applications, PHP skills are helpful not only on the server but also in cloud-connected native app development.
While many are learning Python, Django and Ruby on Rails, I think it makes sense to spend time getting up to speed with PHP for the simple reason that the two dominant, open source Content Management Systems that many of us use personally or professionally, WordPress and Drupal, are PHP-based. Learn some skills and you can hack your way to new features and functionalities within them.
The Codecademy course starts with the basics, moves into If/Else statements, spends time with arrays and loops before heading into functions and object oriented programming. In total, there are 11 modules and 86 lessons. For free. — Michael