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Which programming language is on top in 2021? It’s Python, says the IEEE

  • September 01, 2021

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Spectrum magazine has released its annual list of the top programming languages, which special projects editor, Stephen Cass, sums up with two words: “Learn Python.”

Cass, in a blog post covering the list’s publication, said Python continues to dominate the annual list, making the biggest takeaway that developers should take some time to learn Python. “You don’t have to become a dyed-in-the-wool Pythonista, but learning the language well enough to use one of the vast number of libraries written for it is probably worth your time,” Cass said. 

SEE: The best programming languages to learn–and the worst (TechRepublic Premium)

That vast number of libraries makes Python a powerful language with a variety of uses, from controlling embedded projects to large-scale AI implementations. “But Python has its limits, as the continued popularity of languages better suited to solving particular problems, such as R  (#7), SQL (#15), and Matlab (#12), shows. C (#3), C++ (#4), Java (#2) and Javascript (#5) also continue to dominate at the top of the rankings,” Cass said. 

Those other languages also continue to do well because of their large bases of existing code as well as individual merits, like being “as close to the metal as possible” in the case of assembly code. 

Explaining how IEEE Spectrum arrives at its ratings is complicated: It gathers data from eight sources, including CareerBuilder, Google, Reddit and Twitter, and combs them for 11 different metrics. The “default” weights that don’t take job openings, language types or current trends into account is how the ranks mentioned above are calculated. When filtered to account for the aforementioned additional factors, Python remains at the top of every list it’s included in. 

Cass called attention to a few movers and shakers in the 2021 list, including Cobol, which briefly surged in interest due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reason behind that surge were the dozens of states still using legacy mainframes to run their unemployment systems, which were overwhelmed during the start of pandemic lockdowns. 

SEE: C++ programming language: How it became the foundation for everything, and what’s next (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In addition to COBOL’s surprising rise, C# made a leap from 25th place in 2020 to seventh place in 2021. “This most likely reflects that version 9.0 of the language was released towards the end of 2020, the upcoming launch of Windows 11, and continued growing general interest in distributed systems, which C# is designed to enable,” Cass said. 

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