The top 6 programming languages in demand right now

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March 15, 2021
5 minute read

Programming languages are constantly evolving. What’s popular and in demand is subject to change from year to year as new technologies rise and development priorities shift. Stack Overflow’s massive Developer Survey 2020 bears that out. While JavaScript continues to reign supreme, the results show several changes from years prior—including big growth for languages like SQL, TypeScript, and Go and a marked decline for Ruby.

That evolution impacts which programming languages are in demand on the hiring side, along with which are most profitable for developers to know and gain familiarity with. Cultivating experience with the most in-demand coding languages, and utilizing every development resource, ensures your developer skills remain marketable and competitive—and your freelance career sustainable.

So which programming languages should developers focus on in 2021? Below, we share our prediction for the top six programming languages for 2021.

What to consider when choosing your programming language

With the sheer number of programming languages ever-growing, how can web developers know which languages are worth investing their time and energy into? It isn’t realistic to learn every language, so you need a mechanism for determining which languages are worth learning for you, including legacy frameworks and newer emerging ones.

Here are a few factors you should consider to help narrow down your field of potential programming languages:

  • Market demand: The reality is, while there are tons of programming languages out there, only a handful enjoy real popularity and corresponding demand from those hiring for developers. According to Dice’s recent research based on developer job postings, there are four main programming languages that are broadly popular today: SQL, Java, Python, and JavaScript.
  • Your developer niche: While some languages are broadly useful across various developer use cases, many are more specialized—meaning your niche and your most frequent development jobs should determine the programming languages you prioritize. For example, Swift is an invaluable language for iOS developers, but it isn’t as necessary for game developers. Fullstack Academy created a handy graphic to help determine popular programming languages by niche:
  • What you already know: If you’re already experienced with a programming language (or two) that’s in-demand, go with that. You can always pick up additional languages if and when you find clients looking for that kind of experience.

JavaScript

What it is: The most popular and widely flexible programming language.

What it’s used for: Primarily used for front-end development, JavaScript lets developers build highly interactive and dynamic websites. Recently, JavaScript has also gained more popular usage for back-end development, gaming, and Internet of Things (IoT) development.

Why it’s in-demand: JavaScript has been the most popular programming language in Stack Overflow’s survey for the past 8 years. Its ubiquity combined with its versatility for different frameworks and builds contribute to the high demand for JavaScript.

Python

What it is: An easy-to-learn, fast-growing programming language.

What it’s used for: A variety of libraries mean Python code is used for a lot of different builds including web and software development, along with emerging use cases like machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and data science. The open source Django is among the most popular Python frameworks and it’s used primarily for back-end development.

Why it’s in-demand: According to the Stack Overflow results, Python ranks third among developers’ most loved languages and it took the number one spot for languages developers wanted to learn, with 30% of respondents saying they haven’t used it yet but want to. Python’s simplicity makes it easy to learn and it’s nearly as versatile as the heavyweight JavaScript, making it a popular choice for developers and those who hire them. The language is particularly beloved by younger up-and-coming programmers who’ve driven the rapid increase in demand.

SQL

What it is: Structured query language (SQL) is a programming language designed to manage, query, and analyze data.

What it’s used for: SQL is a specialized language used primarily with data warehouses and business intelligence (BI) tools. Data analysts and developers use SQL to organize and analyze large amounts of data by writing queries in SQL code.

Why it’s in-demand: Data has become the hottest commodity over the last several years, and it’s more accessible than ever. With companies of every size, in every industry, looking to turn their data into revenue, SQL has grown in popularity as a way to make sense of the vast amounts of data these companies generate. “I think it’s part of the reason we’ve seen an explosion in the data space—it’s a common framework that has a huge amount of people who speak it,” Indicative CEO Jeremy Levy said, “it’s an interchange format for how we interact with products."

Swift

What it is: A programming language developed by Apple for use in building iOS and macOS applications.

What it’s used for: Swift is developed and maintained by Apple, and it’s only use is to develop apps for iOS and macOS devices (including watchOS and tvOS).

Why it’s in-demand: Swift is the most decidedly niche programming language on our list—yet it still ranks among the most popular languages today thanks to the sheer number of apps being developed for macOS and iOS devices. While other frameworks are available for building these apps, Swift is far and away the most popular choice, with the majority of apps on the App Store using it. That’s largely because Swift was built specifically for the realities and needs of iOS app developers, so it’s often the best and easiest choice for that use case.

Go

What it is: A growing programming language developed by Google (also known as Golang).

What it’s used for: A simple, easy-to-learn programming language that nonetheless offers the functionality and run-time of C and C++ languages. It’s a popular choice for building data pipelines and web servers, and the language is growing in popularity in the machine-learning space, too.

Why it’s in-demand: Google developed the Go language with the intent of combining the best elements of other common programming languages, including Python and C++. Similar to Python, it’s simplicity and readability make it a popular choice for up-and-coming developers. Plus, Go ranked as one of the most profitable programing languages for freelance developers.

Java

What it is: A tenured programming language that continues to rank among the top five most popular languages for professional developers (according to Stack Overflow).

What it’s used for: Java allows for versatile usage and is a popular language of choice for server-side applications, Android development, and web development.

Why it’s in demand: As far as coding languages go, Java enjoys one of the longest runs. Despite the emergence and growth of myriad other languages, Java continues to see demand year after year. Java is designed so that developers can write code on one device and deploy the same code across multiple platforms. The language’s stable framework, ubiquity across both web and mobile development, and “write once; run anywhere” motto definitely contribute to that popularity.

Wrapping up

Programming languages change all the time—new ones are developed, old ones fall out of favor, the most popular and ubiquitous ones evolve and transcend. Successful freelance developers need to keep pace with those changes and ensure they’re mastering the languages and frameworks clients are looking for today and tomorrow, especially if they want to maximize their earnings. As far as 2021 goes, the six languages above are a good bet.

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