Does Programming Language Popularity Matter?

Programming Language Popularity

Programming Language Popularity

The popularity of programming languages is always a fun topic; seeing how new languages are trending while JavaScript and its unending nodes conquer the world is interesting. But should you take such lists seriously? The answer is a bit more complex than you might think.

Quantifying programming languages isn’t an exact science. While a Wikipedia page tries to pigeonhole how it should be done, none follow such a methodology precisely. It’s also dependent on who’s doing the study: TIOBE leans into search results, for example, while Stack Overflow uses its own internal data.

Recently, IEEE published its 2017 programming language popularity guide. In contrast to other lists, it has Python in a dominant spot in the top ten. Java and C-languages are prominently positioned, as usual, but a few other things could cause furrowed brows among developers who know the language ecosystem. R is IEEE’s sixth most popular language; Swift cracks the top ten, while Objective-C ranks 26th.

As a Swift developer plugged into a community of iOS devs, I’m always interested in how my favorite language is doing. I’m also keenly aware of its shortcomings, and Objective-C’s place as a crutch for Swift. In my own narrow scope, IEEE’s numbers seem off. Objective-C is still massively in use (as a legacy language if nothing else.)

There’s also R, which is important but not nearly as ubiquitous or useful as languages it usurps to sit in sixth place on IEEE’s list. R is 15th on TIOBE’s list, and PYPL has it listed as the eighth-most-popular-language. It doesn’t crack Stack Overflow’s top ten.

IEEE presents a lot of data to digest, in other words. Our own comprehensive tech skills visualization helps nail down some of the nuance, but it’s more data points to track. (We should also point out that some of these language rankings use Dice data to help massage their own lists into form.)

Should You Worry About Your Chosen Programming Language?

The short answer: no. What matters are results, and if you’re able to find work that fulfills you and keeps you excited to show up day-to-day working on projects you love, popularity is irrelevant.

In context, language popularity can be critical. Revisiting my own field of view, Objective-C developers who are ignorant of Swift will soon (a relative term, I know) find themselves behind the curve. Apple purposefully designed the first iterations of Swift to be friendly for Objective-C developers. The longer they wait, the harder the transition will become.

That becomes even more critical for those working on larger projects. While that hot new front-end language may be a lot easier to grasp, JavaScript’s community and library definitely make it worth the trouble to learn. The same can be said for server-side tooling; Swift is capable via Perfect or Realm, but PHP is still worth a look (and not going away anytime soon).

Language popularity is also a useful metric if you just want to broaden your horizon. If you’ve been considering a lateral career move, or launching your own app or service, knowing any points of synergy can help get you there more efficiently. While they may ultimately prove vain, language popularity surveys and studies are worth keeping an eye on.

Comments

One Response to “Does Programming Language Popularity Matter?”

July 22, 2017 at 1:04 pm, JuneBug said:

I know that there are a lot of ‘hot’ web languages out there. And that was never made more evident as when I take over some websites, and they are super over complicated for a few content pages, and the customer has no control over it and the developer charges $300 for any text change. Not only that but the site cant be properly indexed by search bots. When I quote a redo it’s usually for 1/3 of the price the original site cost them.

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