Which Programming Language Pays the Best?


What programming language will earn you the biggest salary over the long run?

According to Quartz, which relied partially on data compiled by employment-analytics firm Burning Glass and a Brookings Institution economist, Ruby on Rails, Objective-C, and Python are all programming skills that will earn you more than $100,000 per year. Java, C++, JavaScript, C, and R also topped the list, routinely racking up salaries of $90,000 and above.

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“The dataset isn’t perfect, it’s missing newer but increasingly popular languages like Erlang and Haskell, likely because they don’t turn up all that frequently on job ads and resumes,” Quartz explained in the accompanying article. “A large number of the ads also don’t list salary.”

But salary doesn’t necessarily correlate with popularity. Earlier this year, for example, tech-industry analyst firm RedMonk produced its latest ranking of the most-used languages, and Java/JavaScript topped the list, followed by PHP, Python, C#, and C++/Ruby. RedMonk predicted that new languages such as Apple’s Swift and Google’s Go, while ranked very low at the moment, will also climb into more prominent positions over the next few years.

Meanwhile, Python was the one programming language to appear on Dice’s recent list of the fastest-growing tech skills, which is assembled from mentions in Dice job postings. Python is a staple language in college-level computer-science courses, and has repeatedly topped the lists of popular programming languages as compiled by TIOBE Software and others. (In addition to Python, other popular languages in college intro courses include Java, MATLAB, C++, C, Scheme, and Scratch.)

“The best programming language may well be the one that is most likely to help you consistently find a job, not necessarily the one that pays best,” is how Matt Asay described, in a recent ReadWrite column, the dilemma facing today’s programmers.

In other words, pursuing a language because of the six-figure salary, while tempting, might not prove your best option in all circumstances.

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28 Responses to “Which Programming Language Pays the Best?”

December 03, 2014 at 10:16 am, James Beatty said:

WOW do you worthless liars ever change you stupid story? Syntax is all anyone needs to learn to program in any language unless of course they’re a brain dead business school person the all you need to learn is how best to lie and cheat the person who does….;)


December 03, 2014 at 9:18 pm, hello said:

It only takes 15 minutes to learn the syntax of a language, but months to learn its APIs and various nitty-gritty details. So if you want to hit the ground running, you really do need proficiency in the language.


December 04, 2014 at 4:27 am, Rick Deckard said:

@James …err…yeah, jumping from Haskell to Python to Scala requires no conceptual learning of any kind, since all of them are best used as scripting/object-oriented/whatevertool and are equally endowed wrt. libraries and function offering for any task. Oh come on.


December 04, 2014 at 7:26 am, Bob Johnson said:

I’ll take good old SAP ABAP and ABAP WEBDYNPRO for consistently in-demand and high salaries any day over everything you listed.


December 04, 2014 at 8:45 am, B16 said:

Darn, I didn’t see COBOL on the list.


December 04, 2014 at 11:18 am, WJSMITH said:

COBOL…. the language that STILL runs the Fortune 1000 and drives REALLY BIG data on System z…. TRILLIONS of lines of code… Lest anyone forget 80% of the world’s data RESIDES ON THE MAINFRAME… Go where the data and MONEY is. COBOL is actively maintained, developed, and alive and well!


December 04, 2014 at 10:47 pm, Leo890 said:

COBOL is not dead but if you compare it to demand for other languages, there are few of them. There are few, if any, brand new systems development using zOS/COBOL. Maintenance only. The trend is to use newer tech.


December 07, 2014 at 1:35 pm, Rose said:

I made a fortune programming with COBOL from ’81 until ’08. Too bad I didn’t save any of it.

After my last IT job went overseas, I spent a fortune trying to become relevant in the work world again. This year I have finally landed as a low-paid admin with stellar benefits at a small company where RESPECT rules.

I’m happier than ever.


December 04, 2014 at 9:34 am, Jewlius said:

Yeah I agree with SAP ABAP it is on top and higher salaries and always on demand!


December 04, 2014 at 11:03 am, Steve said:

Most (but not all) references to Objective-C promote it on the MAC platform. Perhaps I’m not understanding something, but it seems to me that a “Programming Language that Pays the Best” isn’t necessarily going to be one that is tied to one platform.


December 04, 2014 at 7:29 pm, Geoff said:

I’m gonna agree with COBOL and that one dude at the top My expense is fifty lines less than yours on your 250, I like to see u try to take some your pop skills into the world of lisp besides common and see how well you do with that. you ever heard mutual exclusion polymorphism or aggregation. The man who said that is probably the smartest guy in the conversation and possibly an ex government contractor. You did very poorly in substitution and elimination in what ever algebra class you took guy at the top, I know your probably joking when you said that too, the string literal itself is a container, that’s concept. The guy about the Apis all I got to say is “ain’t the truth” I programmed in qt framework in 99 before Nokia got I programmed in this for the first time since, it mind blowing how it had gotten


December 04, 2014 at 7:33 pm, Geoff said:

Man you ever tried to reply to one these with fat finger and a little I phone talk about mind blowing


December 04, 2014 at 7:29 pm, Geoff said:

Ain’t that the truth


December 04, 2014 at 8:36 pm, JackFrost said:

Stopped reading when C# wasn’t 1 of the top. Shoutout to VB.Net


December 05, 2014 at 12:08 pm, Mikay said:

Funny how the article lumps Java and JavaScript together, like they’re somehow similar. Yeah, about as similar as a garbage truck and a Ferrari. They both move and have four wheels…beyond that…

The point at the end, however, is valid, particularly if you don’t like moving around a lot. Find out what’s popular in your area. I used to be a Lotus Notes guy…I would have starved to death had I not re-invented myself. Around here, that means C# with a SQL back end, for the most part.


May 04, 2015 at 9:32 am, Joe Q said:

Python rocks the industry !!!


May 04, 2015 at 1:49 pm, Queuebert said:

COBOL is dead, in a sense.

While there is plenty of COBOL work available, said work is not available for you or I. I’ll bet the vast majority of those jobs aren’t advertised because whenever the company needs people it calls its approved vendor, Rent-A-Stiff Staffing (read: foreign body shop), to send over a few more bodies. Mainframe work has just about exclusively been outsourced to the foreign body shops so recruiters, for the most part, aren’t tasked to fill those positions with Americans.

Mind you, all this happens while companies have “job” ads that are continuously posted for over a year that for some strange reason can’t be filled.

For the most part, the only criteria in deciding how positions are staffed was stated when a client’s VP explained to our VP why we lost the services contract (quoting verbatim): “The only thing we give a damn about is price!”

What’s going on out there isn’t as complicated as these mostly useless articles would have us believe.


May 06, 2015 at 3:39 pm, Paul Thomann said:

Fortran is also a good choice as it’s still used for engineering and other solutions that require a great deal of computation.


May 08, 2015 at 9:15 am, Tim said:

I program my digital timers and thermostats. That’s about it. At least I don’t outsource it tho.


August 12, 2015 at 3:52 pm, Jimmie the Coder said:

I retired at 104K four years ago from an ABAP/SAP with occasional Oracle Forms and Reports and Sql Plus.

But expect to donate extra hours to the project with no additional compensation.

Sure glad I’m retired


August 14, 2015 at 3:01 am, Billy Reuben said:

May 04, 2015 at 1:49 pm, Queuebert said:

“While there is plenty of COBOL work available, said work is not available for you or I. I’ll bet the vast majority of those jobs aren’t advertised because whenever the company needs people it calls its approved vendor, Rent-A-Stiff Staffing (read: foreign body shop), to send over a few more bodies. Mainframe work has just about exclusively been outsourced to the foreign body shops so recruiters, for the most part, aren’t tasked to fill those positions with Americans.”

I find it insulting that Mountain View and Silicon Valley claims they need more H!B Work Visas because “Americans don’t have the skills”. Bull!!!!! I would be happy to take one of those jobs. They even bring foreigners over here, pay their graduate tuition and they get a free ride and then a Green Card. I wouldn’t be able to apply unless I changed my name to Yan Jin Lee!!!!! The H1B Visa stays with the host company and the guest worker (SLAVE) cannot move jobs unless the one hiring will refile a H1B Visa from scratch.

I know 10 people working at Kroger Foods that have the education and skills to do those jobs. We are getting screwed by our Gov’t that allows the border to be like a sieve and they all come her and take our jobs. There ought to be laws to prevent this. They protect workers rights in Europe. You cannot that there. Why should we put up with this?


August 30, 2015 at 11:19 am, Mike B said:

This is an impressively useless article. I wouldn’t have bothered commenting on how bad it was except for one thing. He writes:
>>and Java/JavaScript topped the
Realize, he thinks these are variations on the same language, maybe closer than c/c++. … Fascinating.


September 06, 2015 at 2:51 pm, jnhks said:

Well, the first rule is that the language you choose must be really complex, or as a programmer you won’t look impressive to others. Simple languages like Visual Basic 6 won’t do because they have the word “basic” in the title—and that deflates the programmer’s ego while violating the complexity rule mentioned above. If the language is really complex, then that’s good. And if you can toss around dozens of acronyms to those non-programmer types, then that’s even better—-for even ‘bogus knowledge’ is power as long as others can’t understand it. So, the real trick is to keep all the non-programmers in the dark and off-balance with techno-speak—that’s what will guarantee your high salary.


September 09, 2015 at 1:05 pm, Scott said:

Any good experienced developer will tell you that the $100,000 bar is pretty low – the language is not what is important. The kind of work is what drives the price/pay. I was making over $100,000 20 years ago (out of 32 years) – now in the $180,000 range. I typically have 2-3 recruiters calling me a day. Actually, I think that my high rate creates demand. Most calls are for the typical web application like everyone else is doing. All that competition makes for lower pay. If you want to get high pay go into areas where the competition is low and the demand is high. In may case I have found that to be medical applications, medical device products(pacemakers, implants, etc.), software products, machine control, and the like.. Languages – I started out in C, then moved to C++, then into C#. C# is my favorite. Yes I use other languages as well (Java script, Python, etc). I have done projects in VB, but I removed them from my resume because the mention of them lowered by pay. My 2 cents…


September 19, 2015 at 4:13 am, Stephan Beladaci said:

“Syntax is all anyone needs to learn to program in any language unless of course they’re a brain dead business school person”

Well that depends what you are learning from. I wish the “full stack” kid straight out of school and JS-fed since birth good look going from their “stack” to, let’s say Flash, as ActionScript 3, full blown enterprise class object oriented programming with design patterns and best practices that eludes the new developers. Photoshop creatives fooled by Adobe to believe they are the new developers.

So AS3, you know the kind of stuff where you cast your variable and strongly type your code. Not the lousy stuff that is actually so lose we have to test it even before to write it.

By the way 100K is about half the signing bonus of a top Flex developer. The kind of dude who build bank sh*t for 75% of the finance industry from Wall Street to London to Singapore and back.


September 21, 2015 at 12:40 pm, HSM said:

real programmers learn C and assembly. python is a scripting language.


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