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Programming Languages with Staying Power

March 26th, 2021

Learning a new programming language takes time and money.

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With fewer employers springing for the cost of training that isn’t immediately and directly necessary, developers understandably want to ensure that their investment will pay off.

No sense learning a language like Matlab, which had fast rise in popularity when it came on the scene in 2013 only to have a decline almost as quick. That’s what the latest rankings from RedMonk show.

No one is saying Matlab has disappeared. Just the contrary. It’s still being used in a variety of specialty areas. But as far as being discussed and referenced on Stack Overflow or code created on GitHub, it’s popularity has waned.

The chart RedMonk prepares shows that a few languages have strong staying power. JavaScript has held the top spot in all but two of the years between 2012 and 2021. Java, PHP, C# and Python have all been in the top five for years. Python unseated Java a couple years ago to take 2nd place in the rankings.

Explaining the methodology, RedMonk says, “The idea is not to offer a statistically valid representation of current usage, but rather to correlate language discussion and usage in an effort to extract insights into potential future adoption trends.”

That said, an article on the tech careers site Dice.com says the RedMonk rankings are a useful guide to languages that have staying power. “It’s always worth looking at the latest updates,” the article says.

Discussing the top ranking languages, Dice says, “Employers have an incredible hunger for technologists skilled in these languages, both to build new applications and maintain mountains of legacy code.”

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Based on an analysis of millions of job postings last year, the five most frequently mentioned languages in order are SQL, Java, Python, JavaScript and C#.

Citing data from Burning Glass, another Dice post explains that “SQL developers earn a median salary of $92,504, with the profession projected to grow 11.5% over the next decade. Database administrators, who utilize SQL quite a bit, make nearly as much ($89,561) with exactly the same projected growth.”

The RedMonk list, like so many other rankings, is just one bit of intelligence. However, it does show the endurance of legacy languages.

“You can feel safe learning an older language such as Python or JavaScript today, because it’s not going anywhere soon,” says Dice. “Newer languages such as Kotlin attract a lot of buzz, but it might take years for them to become as ubiquitous.”

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