Hello, im going to throw in my 2 cents, im still a noob in linux but ive played around with a few different distros, and im currently learning all the administrative techniques of linux.
my favorite distro is Debian, partially its the first i heard of, its got a large package base, large amounts of documentation that ive found, and its a very reliable and stable distribution. at first i was afraid of debian because it had a lot of options and i didnt know how to read the man pages and such, so i picked an easier distro that set the options out for me, like ubuntu. once i found out ubuntu was a debian based distro, i started to poke around with the limitations of ubuntu and now im making the transitiion back to debian. but with linux making new releases every so often, it becomes a pain to upgrade every so often. so i chose to look at arch.
arch linux, i was able to set up how i wanted it and edit what i want. i was also able to learn more about how the linux operating system works internally with some safeties. it took me a bit and a lot of reading to get the arch linux thing down, but every now and then i have to refer to the documentation or post a question on a forum. arch linux also has a considerable package base and somewhat easy to use even though i find myself putting in apt-get a lot. arch is a "rolling-release" which means that you dont have to upgrade to a new name of arch each time, it'll just upgrade the kernel, or other parts and keep running.
but if youre going to compile a program or some code, most linux systems have the same compilers and such, you just need to know how the files are set up in your "/". its ultimately up to the person to find out what they like, different distros have different base options but you can set it up to do what most other distros do. the graphical user interface also has a role to play in it for the newbie looking for a linux distro, like (in no certain order) gnome, fluxbox, blackbox, lxde, kde. i try to stick with slim and small GUI's, like fluxbox, or LXDE.
for an ultra noob looking to explore and test, i would recommend using a virtualization program like Virtualbox (free program), VMware (some versions are free), or QEMU. there are plenty of other virtualization programs but i dont know them all. im currently using Virtualbox on my windows system to test new distros i discover, and im tinkering with FreeBSD on my linux box too. it also helps if you have two sets of hardware, so you can get one up and running and experiment on the other.
well, good luck to the person who started this thread and anyone who reads this, hope you find that linux is more than just a mystery, its an operating system that can do a lot of things for you.