I didn’t go to college for programming (well i attended college for a short while but it wasn’t for me and I didn’t get a degree). I am self taught; at this point I believe the total number of languages I know is 23. I started with a free internship for a .net shop building websites for a large group of clients. Shortly after I had proved myself at that company and was offered a paid position I was contacted by a head hunter looking for .Net developers for a larger company paying twice what I was getting at that time. I took the job and continued adding experience to my resume.
I now work for a background screening company and I am making decent money. I would say the starting pay depends greatly on the cost of living where you are looking to get a job and what the local economy is like. But it is not unheard of for developers to get 35/hr or more. It largely depends on your skill level and ability to produce good code while meeting your deadlines.
Java is an object oriented programming language, a good one to start with. From there you will be able to pick up the C languages with relative ease. In order to recommend a language for you to learn I would need to know more about the type of job you are looking for; web development, software development, server programming, robotics / chip programming etc… But no matter what you decide to do learning an object oriented language will be helpful. It will teach you many basics that you will see in many other popular languages. That is unless you get into something really proprietary, but I digress.
I didn’t want you to get the idea that it is normal for companies to require you to know many languages. Many of my peers working in some sort of software development field rarely use more than 2 languages. If you are going for web application development you will likely only need to know one language if you are solely working on the code behind and not other aspects of the job. However unlike that scenario I am doing many different things at this job because I excel at doing them and it helps the team. So please don’t take my job as an example of the norm.