Programming Languages

The Popularity of Programming Languages

Programming languages have been around since the first computers were available. From machine language to assembly language to higher level programming languages, developers have been creating software for more than 70 years. While some programming languages have come and gone, most still exist for legacy computer systems, academic study and historic curiosity. One of the early computer books I own is Jean Sammet‘s “Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals“, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-729988-5, 1969. I bought this book while I was a computer science student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (BS CSc 1973). My courses in programming, programming languages and compiler construction and Sammet’s book cemented my love for programming languages and compiler and kicked off more than forty years of studying and working with as many programming languages as possible. You can read more about Jean Sammet at the Computer History Museum site.

In recent years, there have been articles, books and blogs about which programming languages are used, which are popular, some that are irrelevant and others that are dead. I’m reminded of a quote from a letter written by Mark Twain to the New York Journal on May 31, 1897, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” If programming languages could write letters (of course they could be used in programs to write letters), they would probably say the same thing about news of their death or non-use.

Since programming languages appeared there have been ways to track which programming languages were popular. Some measures of language use include:

  • Programming languages taught in schools
  • Text and trade books about programming languages
  • Languages talked about in magazines
  • Compilers shipped with computers
  • Developer conferences about programming languages
  • etc.

For the past decade or so, with the advent of the Internet and APIs for places where programming language code is stored and talked about, several language popularity indexes and reports have appeared that provide an indication of programming language use. You can also search some of the popular job sites to see what programming languages are required for job openings.


Popularity of Programming Languages

  • Tiobe Index – Updated once a month, the Tiobe Index is calculated by using multiple search engines looking for the number of skilled engineers, courses and third party vendors. You can read more about how the Tiobe Index is computed on their website.
  • Redmonk Programming Language Rankings – The Redmonk ranking appears bi-annually and appears on Stephen O’Grady’s blog. The latest version, “The RedMonk Programming Language Rankings: January 2017” appeared on his blog on March 17, 2017. The ranking is based on code on GitHub and discussions on Stack Overflow. The ranking correlates programming language discussions and usage on these two popular sites.
  • PYPL: PopularitY of Programming Language Index – This index is created by analyzing how often programming language tutorials are searched using Google. The index page says “If you believe in collective wisdom, the PYPL Popularity of Programming Language index can help you decide which language to study, or which one to use in a new software project.”
  • Indeed Job Trends – Using the Indeed search system you can get some trending results for Job Postings and Job Seeker Interest. Using the interface, you can string together a query based on adding a series of programming languages.
  • Programming Languages used in Elementary and High Schools – In the US the College Board’s AP Computer Science exam uses the Java programming language. Previously programming languages including C++, Modula-2 and Pascal were used. You can also find other programming languages used in secondary education to prepare students for college and work force placement. The languages used in elementary and high schools can often depend on the skills of the teachers and will normally include the use of  Python, Scratch, JavaScript, Alice and others. The ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science gives guidance for schools but does not push a specific programming language.
  • Programming Languages Taught in College Computer Science – Different college computer science departments choose programming languages that are used as the first course and some focus on a language in the core computer science classes. Stanford University used to teach Java but recent news articles report that Stanford has moved from Java to JavaScript for their introduction to programming course. While C++, Java, JavaScript and other programming languages are taught in schools, most universities also cover a wide range of programming languages, algorithms, data structures and technologies to help prepare graduates for their move into industry, research and teaching.


Do you Use Other Ways to Track Programming Language Trends?

Post a comment if you use other sources of information to guide your study and use of programming languages. What programming language did you first learn? Which programming languages do you think will move up in the popularity indexes in the coming years?

David I

David Intersimone “David I”
Vice President of Developer Communities
Evans Data Corporation
Skype: davidi99
Twitter: @davidi99


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