Forecasting the world’s most popular programming languages over the next few years is a difficult task. Oftentimes, bold predictions about a language’s dominance won’t pan out; then you have the languages that seem to come out of nowhere to seize a significant niche (often with a bit of a boost from a major tech company).
Every so often, though, a language’s spike in popularity makes it easier to predict its rosy future. That’s definitely the case with this year’s list… but we’ll get to that in a bit. Before we plunge into our predictions for which languages will dominate the tech industry in 2021 (assisted by a sterling panel of developers and technologists), let’s hear some words of caution from Andrew Carr, Head of Engineering at SquareFoot.
Carr tells Dice: “The way to think about languages is not to think about what’s new in 2021 compared to 2020 and which language will ‘win,’ but to think about what was true in 1999, is still true in 2020, and will remain true in 2030.”
In other words, it’s all about the long term—and you should structure your learning (and mastery) appropriately. “I’d recommend deciding what’s important and building your working culture around it rather than worrying about whether you’re missing out by not using a new language,” he adds. “If you’re an individual engineer and want to know how you can help yourself, double down on the fundamentals of how the languages you currently work in interact with the underlying operating system or runtime. A little focus on the fundamentals goes a long way here, and the fundamentals will still be the same in 2030.”
So which programming languages will continue to dominate in 2021? Here’s what our panel of technologists thinks.
The increased use of Python in a specialized context has a lot to do with that, suggests Alex Yelenevych, CMO of CodeGym: “In the development of artificial intelligence systems, Python has proven itself. In addition, many modern and safe sites are written in Python, and it is also very often learned in schools. The language is pleasant and quite simple for beginners, so its popularity will only grow.”
It takes a lot to erode the usage of older, more generalist programming languages, even when newer languages begin to attract a lot of buzz, adds Matt Pillar, VP of Engineering at OneSignal: “Python is an old favorite, and it’s not going away anytime soon. While incumbents like Rust and TypeScript are occupying more and more mindshare, taking some attention away from Python, Python continues to be one of the most loved and most utilized programming languages. With its strong connection to data science toolkits, Python is being taught at an increasing number of programming bootcamps and is well poised to be a favorite first language for developers in the years to come.”
If you’re totally new to Python, start your learning journey by heading over to Python.org, which offers a handy beginner’s guide. Microsoft has a video series, “Python for Beginners,” with dozens of short, Python-related lessons. There’s also a variety of Python tutorials and books (some of which will cost a monthly fee) that will teach you the nuances of the programming language (and don’t forget your IDEs).
I see the worlds of self-service BI and visual analytics becoming ever more mashed up in 2021 with (a) BI and analytics vendors providing seamless experiences for extending their graphics palettes as simple-to-modify native capabilities and deployment; and (b) marketplaces for sharing extensions across broad communities of practice. The maturation of Vega (from the d3 pioneers) as a visualization grammar and platform will help standardize and enforce best practices across these communities.
Why is TypeScript so popular? With every passing version (it’s now up to 4.0), it continues to add new features that developers find insanely useful. No wonder that, in the 2020 edition of the Stack Overflow Developer Survey, some 67.1 percent of surveyed developers said that TypeScript was a programming language they loved, just ahead of Python (66.7 percent), Kotlin (62.9 percent), and Go (62.3 percent).
“Among working professionals, Go is the most popular aspiration language to learn by far. 32% of professional developers want to learn the language” says Sachin Gupta, CEO and co-founder of HackerEarth. Yelenevych says Go pops up with increasing regularity, making it a language to look out for in 2021.
It’s no surprise that Go is popular. It was a top paying tech skill in 2019, and has one of the best hourly rates for freelancers. Developed by Google over a decade ago as a programming language that could incorporate the best parts of other languages (such as the runtime efficiency of C++ and the readability of Python), it’s enjoyed a steadily growing pool of developers who use it. In coming years, it might get even bigger.
Kotlin came up routinely in our panel discussion, and it’s clear that developers are watching this language closely, especially given how Google’s been encouraging its use for Android development. “Android programming is about Java and Kotlin,” Yelenevych says. “These two JVM languages will be trending.”
Yolchan notes: “Kotlin is widely used for Android native app development. [Although] Android apps can be developed using Java 8, Kotlin is now the preferred language for most developers. Let’s also not forget that Kotlin is a JVM-based language, and it supports all Java libraries. So, developing backend services using Kotlin also will be trending, as well.”
Which Programming Language Will Succeed?
When evaluating languages that could really take off next year, there were others in the mix, including Swift, Java, and Rust. Of those three, Swift garnered the most interest, although it’s largely meant to serve Apple’s software ecosystem, which necessarily limits its utility in some areas. The languages listed above all had a pretty broad use-case.