Learn Skills and Platforms, Not Languages for a Better Salary

When we think of learning new things in tech, a lot of the focus ends up on programming languages. The most recent Dice Salary Survey shows why it may be time to diversify and consider adding non-language skills and platforms to your existing language repertoire.

The best-paying Big Data skill, MapReduce, pays an average of $125,378; that figure is mostly unchanged versus last year (it experienced a modest 0.3 percent salary bump). MapReduce is language-agnostic: it has libraries written in (and for) several different languages. The cloud, database and storage categories of the Salary Survey are all dominated by tooling and platforms.

When languages do pay off, it’s often in the context of highly specialized cases. SAP’s ABAP language tops the earnings chart at $118,123. RabbitMQ, Jax-RS and Korn Shell follow before we get to Pearl and Fortran, two languages that most tech pros are likely familiar with.

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When we examine the Salary Survey beyond breakout categories, languages are still lagging behind skills. We cross-examined the Salary Survey skills list with the TIOBE Index, which provides insight on which languages are most widely used. The most popular language on TIOBE’s list, Java, didn’t even make the Salary Survey skills list on its own (there were some skills that lean heavily into Java, but not Java itself).

TIOBE’s second-most-used language, C, ranked in the Salary Survey, but was nowhere near a top earner. C++ earns about $6,000 less annually than C. Python, TIOBE’s fourth-most-popular language, sits comfortably between those two languages, earnings-wise.

Going down the rest of TIOBE’s list, only Ruby pops up as a top earner in Dice’s Salary Survey, yielding tech pros about the same as Python in terms of cash. All told, only four of TIOBE’s top ten are also top-earning Salary Survey skills/languages.

Diversifying your language skill-set seems smart, but learning a variety of skill-sets for the language(s) you know now might be smarter. Java may not make our top-paying skills list, but its JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) API does – and pays more than any top-ten language. Amazon DynamoDB, a scalable NoSQL database service, spans half of the top-ten languages in use today, and pays almost $20,000 more than C alone.

Skills, like languages, aren’t always applicable to a given use-case. That’s why there’s so many of both. Rather than a jack-of-all-trades, being the master of one platform or skill might still be the smartest route to a better salary as a tech pro.