Language Popularity

A subject that repeatedly comes up on websites, blogs, and conversations is which language is the most popular and which ones are the best to learn for future job opportunities. I keep an eye on this list myself as it’s important to understand trends within the software industry. However, people seem to ignore the most important aspect of language popularity – the context.

What do I mean by context? I mean we have to look deeper to understand why a language is as popular as it is. We also need to understand the market for a language and how that impacts popularity. For example, JavaScript is always near the top on any language popularity chart. Is it any coincidence that JavaScript is also the only front-end scripting language in use today? Whether or not you like JavaScript is utterly inconsequential. If you want a website with any manner of front-end scripting, you will use JavaScript. Likewise, if you want to interact with a database you use SQL and if you want a web page, it will be HTML. As such, these technologies will always rank more highly than those with a smaller market.

So what about Python? Everywhere you look, you see that Python is at the top of the list. Should we all switch to Python? Not really. What all those rankings fail to point out is the user base for Python. Certainly there are all kinds of production projects out there running Python. But if you look around, you see that Python’s popularity is largely caused by people outside the traditional developer community. AI researchers, academics, data scientists, system administrators, makers, etc. For non-programmers, Python is easy and incredibly powerful. But that hardly makes Python superior to other languages nor does it suggest that professional programmers should start porting their eCommerce sites.

Remember, while rankings of popularity may help you see trends, look to the underlying reasons. Why is it popular? Who is it popular with? Does this language look poised to overtake in other realms? When picking a language for a problem, the most important question is which language solves the problem best – not which language is the most popular.

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