It’s been a year since I revealed the best languages to learn in 2013. Once again, I’ve examined the data produced by Jobs Tractor who analyzed more than 45,000 developer jobs advertised on Twitter during the past twelve months. The results:
|Java for Android||4,312|
The main changes since last year…
- PHP and Java have switched places but both remain in high demand.
- Java for Android has overtaken SQL and is closing in on Objective-C.
- Python has risen two places.
- ActionScript has dropped two places.
Take this survey with a large pinch of salt. Then add pepper, ketchup and numerous other condiments. I’m not convinced Twitter is a reliable source of job-related data and regional differences can skew results.
A recent survey by the online course provider Lynda.com for Mashable produced the following list of languages in order of popularity:
The usual suspects are there but, again, results will be biased by the topics offered and the site’s target audience (primarily newer developers).
Industry analyst RedMonk has taken a different approach and determined language popularity by examining the frequency of projects on GitHub and questions on StackOverflow:
Don’t take this too literally; a language could score higher if it’s more problematic than others. I’m also surprised to find CSS on the list — although due to pre-processors like Sass, LESS and Stylus, CSS tends to be viewed more as a programming language nowadays. That said, if CSS is considered a programming language, where are HTML and SQL?
I Want Advice — Not Statistics!
Let’s make one point crystal-clear:
Never use statistics as the sole basis for learning a language.
Few developers start programming for financial gain. There are far easier ways to make money … become a “digital marketing strategist” or “SEO specialist” and hone those board-level BS monologues. (Apologies to any conscientious “specialists” out there — I’m sure you exist, I’ve just not met you yet.)
Choosing a popular language also pits you against thousands of others. Learning Fortran won’t be trendy but you’ll find lucrative work maintaining decades-old legacy systems no other developer wants to touch. Fortunately, we can make a few general observations that may sway your language-learning objectives.
Technologies Rise and Fall
All languages ascend and descend in popularity and demand but timescales will differ. Consider ActionScript. Flash development is in decline and I suspect a large chunk of ActionScript projects are in maintenance mode. The same can be said for Perl, COBOL and Visual Basic 6, although they’ve enjoyed a longer life.
If you’re particularly risk-averse, you may want to avoid languages with limited platform support such as ActionScript, VB6 and Objective-C. However, while Objective-C is primarily used on Apple-based OSes and APIs, the platform’s ascendancy continues and there’s no shortage of app-development jobs. For now.
Choices for Existing Developers
If you’ve mastered a language or two, the choice is far simpler: pick something that interests you (intellectually or financially). Programming skills are transferable and the learning curve will be shallower when learning a new language compared to when you first started.
There may be some obvious opportunities, for example:
- C++, Java, C#, Objective-C and even PHP are conceptually similar, so you may be able to switch between them with relative ease.
- If you’re developing Windows desktop applications using VisualStudio, your .NET knowledge will be applicable to Microsoft web server platforms.
Choices for New Developers
I don’t envy those new to development in 2014; the choice is bewildering. Where do you start?
Alternatively, you could consider a language such as Ruby or Python which are relatively quick to learn and less encumbered by legacy and environmental issues. However, they offer fewer resources and deviate from C-based syntaxes which may be your ultimate goal.
The best advice I can offer: stop taking advice from articles like this!
Identify a problem and solve it with the software tools you have. Perhaps that’s automating a task using Autohotkey or writing an expenses calculation macro in a spreadsheet. That knowledge will provide the impetus to progress to bigger and better programming tasks.
Question: If you recently started programming, what language did you choose? Did it help or hinder your learning? Would you recommend it to new developers?
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.