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5/21/2021
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Cynthia Harvey
Cynthia Harvey
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IT Skills: Top 10 Programming Languages for 2021

These are the languages most likely to be useful for getting a job as a developer or other IT professional.



Credit: Michael Traitov vis Adobe Stock
Credit: Michael Traitov vis Adobe Stock

About a year ago, InformationWeek published a list of the most in-demand programming languages in 2020. For 2021, the lineup of top coding languages includes a lot of familiar names, but the order has changed a bit.

Many different organizations publish lists of popular programming languages, but they calculate that popularity in different ways. For example, some take surveys of developers and ask them which languages they like best. Others analyze job postings to see which skills employers are looking for, and still others count the number of web searches for different languages.

The InformationWeek list draws on several different lists compiled by other organizations to determine which languages are currently the most relevant to enterprise IT. The sources include the following:

  • The Tiobe Index — Updated monthly, this list counts the number of programming language web searches on 25 different search engines.
  • The PYPL Popularity of Programming Languages Index — Also updated monthly, PYPL is a shorter list that counts Google searches for language tutorials.
  • RedMonk — This semiannual list counts the languages used in GitHub repositories and the languages discussed on Stack Overflow.
  • GitHub Octoverse — This annual report surveys the top languages that appear in GitHub repositories.
  • Stack Overflow — The developer site surveys its users annually on their most loved, dreaded, and wanted languages.
  • Indeed.com — From time to time, the job posting site publishes lists of top languages based on job postings, salaries, and career outlook.
  • Coding Dojo — The coding bootcamp publishes an annual list based solely on the number of job postings that mention each language.

This slideshow highlights the top 10 programming languages, but a couple that fell just outside the top 10 are worth mention.

TypeScript, in eleventh place, climbed from seventh to fourth on the GitHub list this year, and it also ranks highly on the Stack Overflow, RedMonk, and Indeed.com lists. If it weren't so low on the Tiobe list (50), it would certainly be in the top 10 on this list. It will be interesting to see if it makes it into InformationWeek's list next year.

By contrast, Objective-C, which is currently in 12th place, will almost certainly not be in InformationWeek's list for 2022. While it was formerly the language of choice for creating iOS apps, Objective-C has been replaced and has been slowly sinking in the ratings ever since.

Which programming languages made it to the top 10 list for 2021? Click through our slideshow to find out.



10. Go

Rank in 2020: 8

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Go (also sometime called "Golang") slipped down two places this year. According to Tiobe, it is currently the 14th most popular language, but in the Stack Overflow survey, it was the fifth most loved language among developers, which brought up its ranking on this list.

Created by Google employees, Go is one of the youngest languages on this list, with the 1.0 version first appearing in 2011. It is an object-oriented language conceived as an alternative to C and C++. Its website describes it as "an open source programming language that makes it easy to build simple, reliable, and efficient software."



9. Ruby

Rank in 2020: 7

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Like Go, Ruby dropped two places on the InformationWeek list between 2020 and 2021. On the Tiobe list, it ranked thirteenth overall. Its highest ranking was on the RedMonk list, where it was ninth.

Developed in the 1990s, Ruby is an object-oriented language that is often used with the Rails server-side web application framework (Ruby on Rails). The Ruby website describes it as "a programmer's best friend" and notes that it was designed to be easy for humans to read and write. Its influences include Perl, Smalltalk, Eiffel, Ada, Basic, and Lisp.



8. Swift

Rank in 2020: 9

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Swift climbed up one spot in the rankings. Swift is particularly popular in job postings, ranking fifth on the Indeed.com list. It's also among the most loved languages on the Stack Overflow survey, where it was ninth.

If you want to write apps for the iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch, you absolutely need to learn Swift. Introduced in 2014, it replaced Objective-C as the preferred language for iOS and macOS, and it has steadily grown in popularity ever since. However, it doesn't get much usage on non-Apple platforms (although it does support Linux, Windows, and Android.) Apple describes it as "the powerful programming language that is also easy to learn."



7. R

Rank in 2020: 10

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

R was the biggest gainer between last year's list and this one. It ranked particularly high on the Coding Dojo list -- fourth, and it came in seventh on the PYPL list.

R owes its increasing popularity to the growth in the discipline of data science. It has been around since 1993, but more recently it has become one of the most popular (if not the most popular) languages for analytics, data mining, and advanced statistics. It's an interpreted language based on the earlier S language. The R website notes, "One of R’s strengths is the ease with which well-designed publication-quality plots can be produced, including mathematical symbols and formulae where needed."



6. PHP

Rank in 2020: 5

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

PHP stayed fairly stable in popularity between 2020 and 2021, slipping just one spot in the InformationWeek list. RedMonk ranked it as the fourth most widely used language, but it was somewhat less popular with developers, ranking twentieth on the Stack Overflow list of most loved languages.

Originally, the PHP stood for "Personal Home Page," but it now stands for "PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor." It is used primarily on Web servers, and it supports every major operating system and platform. The PHP website describes it as "fast, flexible and pragmatic," and states that it "powers everything from your blog to the most popular websites in the world."



5. C/C++

Rank in 2020: 6

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

C and C++ are so similar that many of the organizations that do programming language rankings list them together, and it made sense for InformationWeek to do the same both last year and this year. For 2021, C/C++ climbed up one spot. Tiobe actually ranks C as the most popular programming language, with a 14.32% market share. However, many other organizations do not rank C as highly. C++ consistently comes in fourth or fifth on many different lists.

Both C and C++ are general-purpose programming languages useful for wide variety of tasks. C was created in 1972, while C++ was first released in 1985. The primary difference between the two is that C++ has classes.



4. C#

Rank in 2020: 4

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

C# stayed in exactly the same place in the InformationWeek rankings this year. It is fourth on the PYPL list and fifth on the Tiobe, GitHub, and RedMonk lists. It is also popular with developers, ranking eighth on Stack Overflow's report on most loved programming languages.

Although it is "C-like," C# is quite a bit different from C and C++. Microsoft first released it in 2000 as part of the .NET platform, and although it now supports multiple platforms, it continues to be used primarily for Windows development. Microsoft describes it as "a modern, object-oriented, and type-safe programming language."



3. Java

Rank in 2020: 2

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

The top slot on the Tiobe list has long been occupied by either Java or C, and currently Java sits in second place. It also ranks second on the PYL list, and it is third with GitHub, Redmonk, Indeed, and Coding Dojo. However, Java seems to be losing popularity with developers, who put it in 17th place on the Stack Overflow survey of loved languages.

First released by Sun Microsystems in 1995, the company later released it under an open source license. It is now owned by Oracle. One of Java's big strengths is that it can run anywhere, making it easy to create cross-platform applications. It is also the primary development language for Android apps, which contributes to its continuing popularity.



2. JavaScript

Rank in 2020: 3

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

JavaScript rose one spot to capture second place for 2021. It actually ranked in first place on GitHub, RedMonk and Indeed.com. But it was lower on the Tiobe and Stack Overflow lists, which dropped it into second place overall.

For front-end Web developers, JavaScript skills are a must-have. First released in December 1995, the language recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. The JavaScript.com website notes that it is " a great language for coding beginners," and it is often taught to high school and university students in introductory programming classes or introductory Web development classes.



1. Python

Rank in 2020: 1

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Once again, Python secured the top spot on the InformationWeek list. It was in the top three on all the lists use as the basis for InformationWeek's list, and it was ranked first on the PYPL, Indeed.com, and Coding Dojo lists.

First released in 1991, Python is now 30 years old. It is comparatively easy to read and is often taught in early computer science courses. As a general-purpose language, it can be used for a wide variety of different tasks, which contributes to its popularity. In fact, many of Python's users are non-programmers who rely on it for many different IT-related tasks. The Python website notes, "Python is a programming language that lets you work more quickly and integrate your systems more effectively."

Check out other InformationWeek slideshows.

Cynthia Harvey is a freelance writer and editor based in the Detroit area. She has been covering the technology industry for more than fifteen years. View Full Bio

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