Which programming language should you learn? A practical guide

Classic programming languages such as Python, JavaScript or C++ are some of the most popular for good reason. Nevertheless, the range of new programming languages continues to grow. Our practical and comprehensive guide reveals which programming languages offer some of the best job opportunities and salary prospects.

A huge number of programming languages exists. New languages and extensions for existing languages are added each year. Because programming languages evolve with technology, supply and demand are rising. Which programming language you choose has a major impact on career paths and job assignments. A comprehensive overview is a good way to answer a few questions such as: Which programming languages are easy to learn? Which ones are in demand? Which new languages offer future opportunities and which have good earnings potential?

How many programming languages should you learn?

First things first, you don’t need to restrict yourself to just one programming language. In principle, it’s a good idea for programmers and developers to learn several languages. Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of C++, says in The 5 Programming Languages You Need To Know that professional developers should master five internet programming languages. They are C++, Java, Python, Ruby and C#. But that was in 2011. A lot has happened since then.

It’s difficult to say how many one should learn. It’s best not to mix too many languages for web projects in order to avoid unnecessary refactoring due to messy code. Nevertheless, it’s beneficial to know more than one and, depending on time, requirements and goals, at least three programming languages.

Note

Programming languages are divided into lower and higher-level languages. The latter can be divided into imperative programming and declarative programming. Functional programming languages such as Haskell are a subtype of declarative languages.

Which programming languages are easiest to learn?

For beginners, programming languages C, C++, Java, JavaScript, PHP, HTML, CSS and Python are relatively easy to learn.

C / C++

C forms the basis for C++. If you’ve already mastered C, you can easily continue to use the same syntax for C++. These are imperative, procedural languages for system-oriented programming, which are used primarily within server and desktop programming and hardware-oriented, local programs. Standard Unix programs and kernels of operating systems were programmed in C languages. They’re suitable for common platforms such as Windows, Linux and Mac. C++, unlike C, is more object-oriented. Both are widely used in the Internet of Things and are a good basis for learning programming.

Java

Java is even easier to learn than C and C++. As a versatile, object-oriented and easy-to-use programming language, it can be used platform-independently. It supports multi-threading, is secure and clearly structured. It’s used for programming Android mobile applications, desktop apps, games and service-oriented applications.

JavaScript

JavaScript is actually not a programming language, but an object-oriented scripting language for browser applications, interactive websites, website animations, social media feeds, or features like interactive maps. It doesn’t require a development environment, but uses seamless browser integration. All you need is a text editor and a browser.

PHP

Alongside JavaScript, HTML and CSS, PHP is one of the most important languages for web programming. If you learn PHP, you’ll gain the necessary skills for programming web apps, games, and responsive design. The PHP community is huge and existing frameworks for general or industry-specific applications are diverse. But the language is more complicated than JavaScript.

HTML and CSS

If you know CSS and learn HTML, you’re all set for programming website front ends. The two languages are considered standard in web development and should be part of the web programmer’s repertoire. They have clean code and provide broad browser support. Together with JavaScript and PHP, this provides the optimal, easy-to-learn foundation for web development.

Python

Python offers a clear, easy-to-read, object-oriented programming style. It’s dynamic, versatile and has many pros for web backend programming. The code is similar to natural language. Python is easy to learn for beginners. It’s always in great demand, particularly within AI and machine learning.

Programming language Pros
C / C++ ✔ Imperative, procedural languages ✔ System/hardware-oriented, local programming ✔ Cross-platform, widespread, and easy to learn
Java ✔ Versatile, object-oriented and clear ✔ Platform-independent ✔ Multi-threading ✔ For Android and desktop mobile apps, games, or service-oriented applications
JavaScript ✔ Object-oriented scripting language ✔ For interactive web applications, web elements, and animations ✔ Only text editor and browser required
PHP ✔ Most important language for web programming besides JavaScript, HTML and CSS ✔ For games, web apps, responsive web design ✔ Large PHP community and many frameworks
HTML / CSS ✔ Standard and foundation for programming website front ends ✔ Lightweight, clean code ✔ Platform-independent
Python ✔ Clear, easy-to-read, object-oriented programming style ✔ Dynamic, versatile ✔ Ideal for web backend programming ✔ Similar to natural language ✔ Always in demand
Tip

One way to see the complexity or simplicity of a programming language is a hello world program. These are short programs that illustrate the syntax of a language briefly.

Which programming languages are used most often?

Globally, JavaScript is the most widely used code on the Internet. Most web browsers rely on it. It’s practical and versatile for web development. Hot on the heels of JavaScript are Python, Java, HTML/CSS, and C#. Python and Java are the programming languages most frequently taught at US universities. However, such rankings tend to change annually depending on statistics and surveys

Which programming languages are in demand?

Statistically, employers tend to look for programmers who know classic programming languages such as Java, JavaScript, Python, C++ and C. The degree of specialization and frequency also determine how in demand a programming language is. For example, functional programming is less common, but has many pros for companies due to its benefits for concrete data processing, business logic, AI, compilers and parsers, and application algorithms.

In addition to versatile standard programming languages, Clojure is in high demand as a functional programming language among larger companies. Therefore, developers who know Clojure tend to be very well paid. As a Lisp dialect, Clojure provides a functional, readable coding style for even complex algorithms. It runs in the Java Virtual Machine and offers tight Java runtime integration. Because of its dynamic design, Clojure supports flexible Java interaction. The language tends to be more in demand in the financial sector, retail, analytics and advertising. Scala is a powerful Java alternative that’s highly sought-after for backend development.

Indications of the popularity of a programming language are provided by the PYPL lead index. This shows how often a programming language or tutorials for a programming language are searched for on Google. In 2021, Python ranked top with 30.3%, closely followed by Java, JavaScript and C languages such as C# and C/C++.

In-demand programming languages Pros
Clojure ✔ Functional programming language and Lisp dialect ✔ Functional, easy-to-read code for complex algorithms and data analysis ✔ Runs in the Java Virtual Machine ✔ Java runtime integration and Java interaction

What are the most promising programming languages?

New and promising programming languages focus primarily on optimal user experience design and high-quality, graphical user interfaces. Many specialize in web development or mobile application development. Promising languages include:

Kotlin

Kotlin ranked 14th among the most used cross-platform programming language in 2021. It’s used for both the Java Virtual Machine and JavaScript source code. In 2017, Google declared Kotlin the main language for app development on Android, alongside Java. It offers zero security and a simplified syntax compared to Java. Kotlin is suitable for native Android and iOS apps, mobile platforms, server-side, and web front-end development.

Scala

The object-oriented, functional programming language Scala offers simplified syntax and higher-order functions. It proves to be a slimmed-down, leaner Java alternative and is considered a general-purpose language. Areas of application include data pipelines, event-based applications, microservices or ETL. For back-end development, Scala is proving to be a lucrative skill.

TypeScript

TypeScript was published in 2012. As a typed superclass, it builds on JavaScript which makes it a useful addition to the popular programming language. With a little prior knowledge of JavaScript, it’s easy to familiarize yourself with TypeScript. Broad browser compatibility is a given since TypeScript can be transpiled into JavaScript. TypeScript is a worthwhile JavaScript supplement. Libraries from Angular, React and Svelte rely on TypeScript. Its pros are clean, lean code and streamlined development processes.

Dart

Dart was developed by Google as a JavaScript alternative for modern web browsers. The language is ECMA-standardized and facilitates the programming of mobile applications thanks to its simple syntax. It can be used across platforms and browsers and quickly translated into JavaScript. Google’s Software Development Kit Flutter and marketing tools such as Google Ads and Groupon are also based on Dart. The free DartPad platform makes it easy to get going.

Swift

Swift is a strong alternative to Objective-C, the programming language for iOS and macOS apps. It integrates seamlessly with Objective-C code and offers simple, modern syntax for mobile app development and user experience as a lean, object-oriented programming language.

Go

“Go” is an abbreviation for the programming language Golang, which was developed by Google as an alternative to C++ and Java. It emphasizes cloud computing and can be used across platforms with simplified syntax, automatic memory management and easy import process. Other benefits include automatic code correction, consistent code formatting and a large standard library. Demand for Golang is high within the enterprise and server sectors. As such, it offers good career opportunities due to the relatively small supply of Go developers.

Rust

The Mozilla programming language Rust convinces with hardware-oriented programming for web apps, network applications, web assembly or command line tools. It combines different programming paradigms and provides strong abstraction and a functional typing system for memory management. This makes it easier to work around stack overflow and null pointer issues. With AWS, Microsoft and Meta collaborating on Rust, its prospects are very good.

Promising programming languages Pros
Kotlin ✔ Cross-platform programming language ✔ For Java Virtual Machine and JavaScript source code ✔ With Java main language for Android app development
Scala ✔ Object-oriented, functional, simplified programming language ✔ Also higher-order functions ✔ In demand for back-end development
TypeScript ✔ Builds on JavaScript ✔ Compilable in “plain” JavaScript ✔ Wide browser compatibility ✔ Clean, lean code ✔ Optimized development processes
Dart ✔ JavaScript alternative for modern web browsers, ECMA-standardized ✔ Simple syntax for mobile, user-friendly applications ✔ Fast JavaScript translation ✔ Cross-platform/browser compatible
Swift ✔ Objective-C alternative (iOS/macOS) ✔ Seamless Objective-C code integration ✔ Lean, object-oriented programming language for mobile app development
Go ✔ C++ and Java alternative ✔ Focus on cloud computing and automated storage management ✔ Cross-platform with simplified syntax ✔ Automatic code correction and uniform code formatting ✔ Large standard library
Rust ✔ Hardware-related programming ✔ Development of web apps, network applications, and command-line tools ✔ Strong abstraction and functional typing system for memory management ✔ Sponsored by AWS, Microsoft, and Meta

Which programming languages are the most lucrative?

The popularity of programming languages doesn’t determine how lucrative they are. To check salary prospects, developers can monitor annual analyses of salaries for various programming languages. These are published in the Stack Overflow Survey, among others. According to Stack, the following programming languages were associated with some of the top salaries in 2021:

  • Clojure: around $80,000
  • F#: around $70,000
  • Elixir: around $70,000

High salaries can be expected for programming languages with a high degree of specialization. Functional programming languages such as Clojure, F# and Elixir are in high demand because they’ve got several pros for data analysis, e.g. in the financial sector. Compared to Python and Java, only a few developers have mastered them. While F# serves as a programming language for the .NET framework, Elixir runs as an all-round language on the Erlang virtual machine.

However, bear in mind that a specialized focus reduces flexibility. Possibilities of application are wider for those who have mastered versatile languages such as Java or Python. At the same time, widely used programming languages may not be quite as lucrative because the competition is greater.

What trends are emerging for programming languages?

The choice of programming language depends on trends and forecasts. There are four major trends within programming languages (as of September 2022):

Functional programming languages gain in importance

Functional programming enables more elegant, easier to read, and therefore cleaner code for complex data analysis. It’s worth expanding your knowledge of functional programming languages like Clojure or Elixir.

Cloud-based programming on the rise

Current developments are trending towards cloud-based environments in which code can be written, stored, and executed are the future.

Focus on machine learning

One of the most important areas in applying programming languages are self-learning systems. The pro is that programs optimize themselves through machine learning. Important programming languages for AI research and machine learning are Python, Scala, Java, JavaScript, C++ and newer high-performance programming languages like Julia that focus on numerical computation.

No-code development and visual programming languages

Another trend is the simplification of programming languages in the form of no-code development and visual programming languages such as Scratch. No-code development using editors based on WYSIWIG enables beginners without any programming skills to develop websites and applications. The same is true for visual languages that rely on graphical elements rather than code. These are popular for programming for kids.

Textual programming languages or coding skills aren’t becoming obsolete. On the contrary, the demand for software developers and programmers continues to grow, because the development of no-code tools or visual languages also requires “classical” programming.

Important application areas for programming languages

Here’s an overview of the most important areas of application and corresponding programming languages.

Web programming

  • JavaScript
  • Java
  • PHP
  • CSS
  • HTML
  • Python
  • C / C++ / C#

Data banks

  • MySQL
  • SQL
  • C / C++ / C#
  • Java
  • PHP
  • R

Apps

  • Java
  • Kotlin
  • C / C++ / C#
  • Python
  • HTML / CSS / JavaScript
  • Dart
  • Swift

Software development

  • Python
  • C++
  • Java
  • Scala
  • JavaScript / TypeScript
  • Rust
  • Clojure
  • Elixir
  • Julia
  • Go

Data analysis

  • Python
  • R
  • Java
  • SQL

Automation

  • Python
  • C#
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • Ruby

AI and Machine Learning

  • Python
  • Scala
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • C++
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