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.
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.