Programming Languages That Aren’t Worth Your Time

As we all know, it seems like new programming languages are created every week. But which ones aren’t worth wasting your time on?

14562766_sI looked at actual listings on Dice to try to spot some trends. In late April, I searched both the entire set of job listings as well as specific job titles to see what skills companies were actually looking for. Here’s what I found.

First, it’s safe to say that the Web is the primary focus of many software projects. The top two mentions on Dice were for Web and Java developers, followed by Javascript and C++ developers. Clearly, if you don’t have any Web development skills in your portfolio, it’s time to start building them.

Java is much more important than Javascript, which seems to be evolving into other languages, such as Ruby and newer languages like Erlang and Clojure. If you’ve never heard of these last two, it might be worth your time to learn at least what they are and how they’re used in functional programming.

As to skills to jettison from your resume, Fortran, Cobol and to some extent Visual Basic aren’t needed by themselves anymore. They appear infrequently in job titles, a giveaway that few hiring managers are focused on them. While you can still find a few positions that require these languages (for example, a Cobol developer in MasterCard’s data center outside of St. Louis), for the most part these languages are dead and forgotten.

Visual Basic was the surprising one of this set, showing up in only 13 of the titles of more than 700 listings. So one recommendation would be not to focus on VB other than as a means to an end to entering the entire .NET Microsoft universe.

iOS developers are in moderate demand. Theirs is a specialized field, given that the number of entries in overall job descriptions match up with the number of mentions in the actual job titles. But Android developers are twice as popular, which isn’t surprising given the market growth in Android phones and tablets.

Despite all that you hear about Big Data, the concept is, curiously, not appearing as much as you might expect: The term showed up in less than 50 job titles. As another data point here, the fact that Hadoop is mentioned only 10 percent of the time that it is listed in the job description indicates it’s still specialized.

Note, though, that you can’t always go by job titles alone. For example, cloud expertise really involves a number of skills and familiarity with a number of platforms. Look at the job postings and you’d think knowledge of Amazon Web Services isn’t in all that much demand. While only 16 job titles mentioned AWS explicitly, that doesn’t mean companies are moving away from it. It simply indicates they’re not looking for someone to focus on it exclusively.

To check my informal analysis, I also looked at, a tool used by a growing number of employers to screen for potential programming talent. Its coding challenges cover 16 different programming languages, including C, C++, Java, C#, Python, PHP, Ruby, Perl, Javscript, Haskell, Scala, Clojure, SQL, MySQL, R and Go. As you can see, there are a number of newer languages here as well as the old chestnuts.

43 Responses to “Programming Languages That Aren’t Worth Your Time”

  1. Interesting observation. What time-span did you use? Was it just a week in April? Was it a full year of data? Lots of jobs seem to come and go with budgets. I’ve noticed that sometimes VBA is very popular and sometimes you never see it at all. Also, job titles (as you indicated) are very limiting and I’ve seen tons of jobs asking for VB.Net experience but it wasn’t in the title, probably meaning that the focus is elsewhere (like databases) but you still want to make sure you know it; likewise, JavaScript seems to rarely get used as a primary job but mostly as a skill on top of other web-related pieces so I’m surprised that you found it in so many titles.

  2. Plinko

    “Java is much more important than Javascript”
    Never true for web developers.

    JS can be used for gathering your browser type to offer you different versions of the site.
    JS can be used by Google products to send back information to them about your visits and track campaigns.
    JS is used by AJAX which lets the page talk to the server without reloading – all the fancy stuff you see online.
    JS is very similar in syntax to Perl and PHP so has a short learning curve for those who know either.
    JS has an entire library called Jquery that people who want to avoid thinking up the code themselves use (mostly designers).
    JS is usable with HTML5 and SVG.
    JS gives us the ability to manipulate the DOM which gives you access to every event in the DOM, every picture load, every click, every mouse movement made etc.
    JS is monumentally supported and doesn’t require downloading anything but plaintext.

    You might as well say Javascript IS the internet. There will be no language better to learn.

    • Pablo

      The author obviously doesn’t have a clue… to say that JS is becoming less important in a day and age where jQuery and the likes are ruling the client-side… LOL Plus how do you even compare JS to Java when one is a front-end (client-side centric) and the other is back-end (server-side).

      Silly! Makes me question the credibility of this whole article and it’s conclusions.

      Besides, no one asks for JS in job description for front-end jobs. It’s implied. It would be like asking a web guy if he knows HTML.

    • I almost stopped reading the article when the author said that Java is better than JavaScript. Personally, I find JavaScript more important to know when it comes to building websites because there are a lot of back-end programming languages a developer can use.

  3. Well said “Plinko” – As a tech recruiter I’m well aware/educated that you hit the nail on the head with Js. IT IS THE MOST wanted web dev skill set these days and will be moving forward.

    In fact I have a few openings I’m working on as we speak (type) that are heavy Js focused – And not the legacy Js – the new single-page interface (SPI) stuff.

    So anyone out there that is listening – I’m looking for architects and senior developers for a major internet player who we hold a strong relationship with. Southern California location – Direct hire full time not contract or contract to hire.


    • So Chase, how do we apply…contact me in Linked-In as RSpahitz. I’ve done some wonderful things with JS like the animations on this one:
      Dig through some of the .js files and you’ll find one of my e-mails.

  4. Chris Harrison

    I would agree with previous commenters regarding the relative importance of Javascript. And I’m so glad you mentioned the source of your information, which leads me to respectfully disagree with your assertion that VB is dead. If you look at the listing for (Visual) Basic on , you’ll note that VB is currently #7 WORLDWIDE. In fact, according to their ranking system, since 2001 VB has NEVER been lower than 7th place in worldwide popularity.

  5. I’m not sure if your posted 3+ year old library would warrant excellency. It’s not because of the age, but it’s because it simply throws a lot of variables into the global scope.

    If you were to wrap it in a closure, rid it of the weird image naming syntax, and perhaps use a constructor class, the library would have much more usefulness and might actually can be used in other projects.

    Right now, it appears like rubbish, and it’s not very configurable. The code was hard to understand and read.

  6. Last comment was meant to go to Rob (@Robs).

    On the other hand, I’ve written some terrible code myself, but I wouldn’t apply for a job by having them dig around through a website riddled with IFRAMES and weird JS to have a potential employer try to seed out an email address… Not if I was serious about the job at least.

    • Thanks for the advice. I didn’t write the HTML. The code was indeed written a while ago but proves my competency at being able to accomplish challenging tasks, unlike the script-kiddies who barely know how to copy code and don’t know how to make it work right.

  7. DinosaurBabe

    Cobol is far from dead and forgotten – the Federal governenment runs on it. If you have any interest in being a federal contractor, Cobol should be one of your talents. Our Social Security and Medicare programs are still using Cobol, VSAM, MVS JCL, DB2….that’s what keeps the checks popping out. While there’s a terrific online presence for both agencies, the dinosaurs in the basement are coding away in Cobol….and even some Assembler too.

  8. DinosaurBabe

    Cobol is far from dead and forgotten – the Federal government runs on it. If you have any interest in being a federal contractor, Cobol should be one of your talents. Our Social Security and Medicare programs are still using Cobol, VSAM, MVS JCL, DB2….that’s what keeps the checks popping out. While there’s a terrific online presence for both agencies, the dinosaurs in the basement are coding away in Cobol….and even some Assembler too.

    • Let’s not forget that about 98 percent of major corporations, including financial, banking, manufacturing, governmental, retail, etc. … are still running completely .. not just parially, but completely … on COBOL code, some of which was written in the 1960’s a 70’s.

      Grow up. Java, C, etc. are all toy languages. Web front-ends are just that. Almost all major processing centers, and even most small to medium ones, run on big iron, and that means 370/Assembler and COBOL.

      Get over it. Toys are toys, and business is business.

      Go play a toy my friend.

      Rich Romano

      • Well said. Front end is, and has become, almost strictly the GUI interface. Although they (front-ends) have come a long way from “screen scraping”, for the most part, they generally don’t do any functional processing. Unless it is CAD/CAM, entertainment, graphics, touch, and/or mining Bitcoins. Writing software, for internal, or public sale, is an investment, by an entity. If a system cost me $50 million 20 years ago, and still works, why do I want to completely re-do it? Unless there is a major change (in technology) that will promulgate business expansion, or significantly increase profit, I’m not interested.

        And I commend you.

  9. OrpheusObject

    Looking at job postings on one site for one month reminds one of Disraeli’s maxim:
    “There are lies, there are damnable lies, then there are statistics.”

    Nevertheless, I think most reasonable people understand that one person’s idea of a “dead programming language” is another person’s idea of a livelihood.

    This is especially true for VB (.NET or otherwise) and yes even COBOL (as someone pointed out above many large-scale legacy applications in the public and private banking/insurance sectors are developed/maintained in COBOL).

    My gosh, there are still many RPG shops because there are still many IBM midrange shops – this architecture is very reliable and can easily run small to large scale operations requiring a robust and secure environment!

    The trend for the past 15 years has been toward more heterogeneous environments – combining in varying degrees, different hardware/OS/application software platform combinations to do what they do best while creatively developing effective methods to make them interoperate and share data; that will not change any time soon, attempts to rule the world by IBM, ORACLE, MICROSOFT, and APPLE notwithstanding.

    Nonetheless, I’d like to see a more formalized trend analysis done over (say) a 60 month time-frame, combining/aggregating data from several career sites – it would be telling. 

  10. SpaceVegetable

    I have to agree with the opinions here on Javascript. It may not be mentioned specifically in job descriptions as a keyword, but any role requiring jQuery, ExtJs, DHTML, Ajax, or some other front-end/UI development implicitly demands knowledge of Javascript. And you can’t compare it to languages like Java or Ruby because they’re completely different kinds of languages and are used for different purposes.

    Also, MySQL isn’t a programming language, it’s a database and you speak SQL to databases. Each database has its own flavor of SQL, sure, but if you know standard SQL, you can work with any of the major databases.

    As for Cobol and the like, I’m sure there are still a lot of people using it, along with other old languages like Fortran and Ada, but there’s not much new development being done in those areas. Right now, I’m seeing the most demand for front-end jQuery and HTML5 work, plus a lot of C++ for embedded systems. Java maintains a fairly steady demand, too.

  11. COBOL isn’t just alive in the government. I work for a Fortune 500 corporation that is completely dependent on several large COBOL-based applications. The cost of porting these legacy systems to a modern platform will cost tens of millions of dollars (if it ever happens). I expect to be retired before these old guys go away. COBOL is never going to be main stream again, but it might be a good niche for the right person.

  12. I suppose, next, you’re going to tell me machine language is dead. If so, shut off your phone, computer, and everything else that has a processor. Which will also include your car, all utility companies (electricity, gas), water delivery, broadcasting, communications, banking, retailing, military operations, and every computer and control manufacturer in the world (Intel, IBM, HP, Motorola, Honeywell, Johnson, NCR, etc.)!

    I wonder if the world will ever wake up, and get rid of the middle layer, buzzword matching, middlemen, involved in IT and systems development. In my consulting practice (up until a few years ago), I would tell companies that wanted systems developed, when they would hand a proposal to their HR pukes, or an outside recruiting company “Do you want the job done and the system built? Contract me, and my 40 years of expertise. If you want to listen to buzzword matchers, who have no clue what any of those buzzwords or acronyms mean, contract them to do your system. Otherwise, you can do it yourself.”.

    My proposals were usually then called back, and put before an executive committee for funding, contract specifications, and the project would get underway.

    If you know technology, higher level languages only differ in syntax, and are largely, irrelevant. Except for a core few, such as those mentioned, that were dead (Cobol, Fortran, C, SQL, etc.) and a few current ones, such as HTML, Java, Jscript, PHP, etc.. But, the latter are only niceties. Not once have I heard anything about Assembler, or machine language.

    • Do people (meaning a large group) still write machine code/assembler?
      Last I heard, there were high-level interfaces that were used to write code that compiled down into machine code, like the time I did that to add code to a cell phone…was I the only one doing that?

      • Yes, Assembler is still being used by large groups of people, such as systems programming, operating system development, BIOS development, device drivers, and so forth. Machine language is also being used (not as much as Assembler in comparison) for device drivers, control systems, communications, security systems, patches, and the like. Not very much though. Most have switched to C, or C++ for development. When the final program/system/whatever is done, the compiled object is then downloaded to the target object, usually as firmware. Machine language, overall, is rarely used today, when compared to the entire field.

        So, no, you’re not the only one to use machine language. But, you can include yourself in a rare group. I don’t have any real stats on it, but I would estimate maybe 1% of the entire IT field.

        Thanks for your reply.

  13. Tommy

    So, I’m a graphic designer with no programming language skills whatsoever. I’ve worked as a Project Manager for a web development firm with many coders who were not good graphic designers and relied upon them for websites’ skin. There’s a certain born-with talent required to create aesthetic/beautiful interfaces, which I’m sure 75% of programmers don’t have, and yet despite there being thousands of programming job posts, when I search for graphic design, very few results come back. What search terms do I use when seeking a job for my profile? All these programs require interfaces do they not? Thanks for your help!

    • SpaceVegetable

      Look for UI or UX design or front-end design in job descriptions. A lot of companies are looking for people to build the front end of their web sites and applications, but what they expect varies widely. Many want a graphic designer and programmer all in one package. This is difficult to find. Many programmers can create quite nice-looking front end interfaces, but most are not specifically trained in ‘user experience’ or graphic design. Likewise, most graphic artist/designers don’t have the programming or software engineering skills to implement the features they want.

      Some companies do use separate people or groups for these two tasks, but more and more of them are trying to save a buck and get both skills in one person. I’ve run into quite a lot of this lately, since I have done jQuery and other front-end coding, but am not a graphic artist and don’t have the deeper UI training that helps determine the best design layouts and color schemes. I’ve seen some articles that talk about certain colors being better for ecommerce vs other kinds of target sites and other kinds of aspects of site design, so it’s not just a matter of making something ‘pretty.’ You know all the big online retailers spend thousands on research determining the best designs to sell stuff to people, so this is an important factor in design.

      Unfortunately, most of this gets lost in keyword grabbing and HR job descriptions that don’t really tell you what the focus of a position will be (design or coding). A lot of them abuse the term “software engineer”, which is different from “programmer”, even if a lot of companies use them interchangeably.

    • Unfortunately, my experience is that the computer industry hasn’t quite caught on yet. When you build a park, you get your engineers to do the layout, construction guys to build it, then your artists to come and decorate it.

      With applications, you get a developer to create the design, then build it and tell people that they have to like whatever you give them even if it’s not pretty. OK…it USED to be like that. These days we have designers who are former developers and rarely anyone to make things look nice afterwards.

      Personally, in the software classes I teach, I remind the students that “presentation is almost as important as functionality. If you put an exit button in the middle left of your screen, people will not respect your software skills, no matter how good they truly are. And if you go too far forward-thinking about, for example, making fancy designs, you risk losing your audience. Instead, follow the industry standard whenever possibly unless you truly know how to innovate.”

      Personally, I’d like to see us go in the right direction and have more separation of roles (like designer, developer, tester, user-experience, documenter, trainer) but I don’t see that happening any time soon (largely because software is too easy to produce, often by people who think they know what they’re doing but really don’t, but can produce something that LOOKS like it works when in fact it doesn’t.)

      • Don King

        Actually, unless you’re writing operating systems, the System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) process is, and has been, exactly what you described as the ultimate you would hope for.

        For any application, the process is the reverse of what you think it currently is, or at least a little bit different than you described. Has been this way since the late 1970’s. It’s also just the opposite of your building analogy, where the artists come last. In IT, the very first thing done is to gather business requirements. This includes, and is, or should be, driven by the end user interface (GUI), desired navigation, and other application systems interfaces. This isn’t window (pardon the pun) dressing (“making it look pretty”). This is for any custom built application.

        It should also apply if you’re building to market as well, but most of the time doesn’t. Meaning that many develop applications based on their own idea of what the end user might want. This is usually due to someone who can write code thinking about something they either don’t know about, or, “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if…” ruminations. So they develop an application, put it out on the market, and it either flies, or dies.

        The custom applications are done by corporate America. Used to be development for only corporate America. But, since nowadays everyone has a computer (your phone) applications are developed for market, by developers that have never seen, or dealt with, corporate America. I think that might be where you’re deriving your perspective.

        • Actually, I guess you’re right. Many applications these days are driven by user-expectations, and if they’re done right then prototypes are build to get user acceptance, but then when the building process occurs it goes to the developers to “start” the cycle.
          Unfortunately, I haven’t seen too many cases where the appearance is the primary (or even secondary focus) but seems to be more of an afterthought, if at all.

          • Don King

            All but 3 or 4 of my clients have/are Fortune 1000 companies, or government, for 40 years. Actually, “appearance” and flow/navigation, is everything. That’s what starts the process, sells the (system) concept, and gets the project/effort/system funded. Actual external and internal design comes after that, then it’s turned over to developers.

    • Plinko

      Some advice for you. As a designer you would be well off to learn basic HTML and CSS. The main reason is because of images. You can design any number of eye-catching things but knowing what the code is capable of doing will help all parties.

      Here’s what I mean.

      Your basic website, think of as blocks – this is from the box-model concept. If the pictures you make for your design can fit into squares on the page, great, you made something simple to code.

      Even if someone does not understand floats, they ALL understand tables. Every developer from the start knows tables, not all of them will get floats well. The reason table design is so simple is because it’s just blocks and everyone used blocks as kids.

      Why all the flutter about images? Images in the traditional format are weight on the page, they take time to download, they are requested just like the page code. Any good designer knows to reduce the images on the site and how to think up repeating designs instead of using something that just looks good on paper. All of your creativity is nothing if the site does not LOAD QUICKLY. You can lose visitors within 6 seconds, they don’t see your design as an artistic piece of museum art to be surveyed and analyzed.

      Knowing what CSS can do you get some basics under your belt, anything solid color background and square or with rounded edges, a coder can recreate with CSS removing the images from the page. Thing with a 2 color gradient are easy to duplicate in CSS, without knowing this you could use a 3 color gradient making things tougher for no reason. Guess what, if you make even borders around chunks of content again, CSS can replace those. Had you known what can be replicated with CSS when you start in photoshop I dare say makes you a web designer instead of a desktop designer. The two are not the same.

      Too many people think that if they were trained in traditional design that they can instantly transfer all their creativity to websites. I’ve seen them crash and burn on those ideals. Learn at least CSS and HTML if you want to do design. Without those two you really run the risk of being the dope at the table wondering why everyone is talking behind your back and being replaced by someone with a cooler look if all you offer is aesthetic value. You aren’t the only person on the planet with taste, get more behind you is my earnest advice. I don’t have enough time to type out all I want for examples but I really mean this, don’t think a designer should only be a one-trick pony.

  14. You do your readers a tremendous disservice telling them Cobol is dead and forgotten. You are as out of touch with Enterprise IT as Stewart Alsop was when he made a similar comment in March 1991 about the imminent death of the mainframe. Last I looked, his career as a pundit was what was dead. And he is all but forgotten, except for his idiotic prediction.

    Universities are actually teaching Cobol again as part of the IBM Academic Initiative. Have been since 2005. Lots of young people are getting hired by Fortune 1000 companies to work on “legacy applications” and in their mainframe environment in other roles.

    Cobol and its associated applications will be around for a long long time.

      • Don King

        You bet. Whenever, and wherever possible. Perceived as cheaper, and have a greater longevity. Meaning, if you hire a dude that’s 25, and have to do, or pay for, a little training, is going to be around longer than the guy that’s 65, requires more money and most likely won’t be around as long as the 25 year old.

        • yeah, and that’s unfortunate since the experience of the older guy can actually prevent problems that often occur over and over with the younger crowds who have never made any mistakes. Of course, I’ve also seen where the older people are so set in their ways that they don’t understand the changes that have occurred in the industry.

          • Don King

            Unfortunately, I have to agree with you. People in IT for many years, have a set mindset, if they haven’t kept up with the field. They’re the first to tell you, “this is the way it’s done.”. Overall, in the big picture, not a whole lot has changed in principles (project life cycle, business case, broad development standards, etc.) since the 1970’s. Whole bunch of name and acronym changes to describe the same thing. For example, calling pieces of software being called “objects”, instead of subroutines, or modules. That kind of thing.

            However, outside that broad scope, the whole world, of IT, has changed many times over. If the old guy hasn’t kept abreast of technology, his/her methods, outside of the big picture, may not work, or even be capable of doing so. The interfaces to the computational IT environment (computer) by devices have changed 1,000 fold. We don’t have “dumb terminals” anymore. Or “punched cards” (wow, am I dating myself?), paper tape, line printers, mag tape (well, maybe, but very rare), and so forth. We also no longer have memory constraints like before. Or at least application programmers don’t think so. Nor do we have communications constraints. All of these things impact a system design, or used to. Anybody that focuses on that kind of thing is putting up a smoke screen.

            However, they can definitely help you keep from making the same mistakes, in the broader approach, that they have/did.

  15. Moonrock

    They have have been saying COBOL is dead for years , yet MQ, DB2 , CICS all use COBOL and these systems interface with the WEB so I disagree with the statement. Statements like this are made by textbook jockeys with no real experience or knowledge of what is going on in the marketplace.There are plenty of jobs still available and the demand is still there, granted not like it used to be, but nothing in IT is like it used to be since the clock struck 12 on 2000. They may not be teaching COBOL, CICS or MVS JCL in the colleges anymore but the programmers OFFSHORE that are replacing outsourced ones onshore sure are learning it

  16. Good developers with real CS training are in demand. People with a “certificate” in the language of the day are not in demand, and never will be. If your goal is to be a developer, sorry, but you probably cannot skip getting a BS in computer science. The other way in is to get some domain specific knowledge in, say, finance, economics or engineering along with significant programming experience in a *team* environment.. Either way, it would be expected that an applicant with the right background could pick up the languages we use. It is hard to imagine hiring a developer and being overly concerned with which languages are on their resume (though we’d think it odd if an applicant didn’t know a few). A good developer will be fluent in a new language in a couple of months… the specific languages they know when hired are not really an issue except for short-term, project-specific hires.

  17. Randy Stalding

    Having recently interviewed for several IT Developer/Programmer positions with the State of Washington, I can tell you that if you are not experienced with VB you are out of luck. The hiring managers insist on VB skills and will not accept proficiency with C++, C#,or Java and a willingness to pick up VB. I don’t understand why they feel this way. They should be hiring competent people that can easily adapt to change and are interested using whatever language is necessary. Guess I am just old school.

  18. AnnMarie

    I wouldnt discount .net so fast. I often see C# out there a big push has been starting for F# which although seems to be catching on I dont know where it is going. But with Xamarin rapidly developing allowing up to 95% shared code for cross platform development(iOS, Android, and windows phones) I think that it will pull in alot of .net business. (the problem with .net in companies has been microsoft being so closed off to its competition. But they have changed and when business see this and see what .Net has to offer I dont see it disappearing.)