Students just dipping their toes into the world of coding often ask ‘Which programming language will make me the most money?’ or ‘Which is the newest, coolest language on the block that I should start learning?’ Both questions are taking the wrong approach. There is SO much more to consider when choosing your first (or even your second or third) language.
It’s logical and natural to want to focus on new, profitable programming languages. We get it. But new languages are often very experimental, meaning their future is by no means certain. And what’s profitable now may not be 3 or 4 years down the line; look at how quickly Swift is eclipsing Objective-C, for example. A language with a proven track record and good future prospects is your ‘sweet spot’, so to speak.
As well as that, you also need to consider WHY you want to learn a new language. Do you want to be a web developer? Create mobile apps? Dive into Big Data? Your goals will dictate your language choice (and our online help guide can assist you too, by the way).
Confused? Don’t be! Here are our top programming languages to learn in 2016, both dynamic and statically-typed, and all with excellent reputations and future possibilities…
Swift is the language dedicated to all things iOS. It was inspired by Python’s ease of use, and designed to be compatible with Microsoft’s Objective-C. However it proved to be so effective at fixing Objective-C’s long-standing issues that it has now become its successor. Swift’s static typing makes it very error-resistant, and its beginner-friendliness is a big advantage too. If you want to become an iOS developer, this is the language for you.
R is pretty much the only show in town when it comes to statistical computing and graphics. Its focus is functionality, and it’s used almost ubiquitously among statisticians and data miners. As a very specialised language, it’s in consistently high demand and there is often a lack of R specialists around. Excellent job prospects, in other words. If you have a love of data and stats, this is a strong contender for you.
Python is the introductory language of choice at many of the top universities in the US, and is probably the most beginner-friendly language out there. It’s a real ‘jack of all trades’. Desktop or web apps, data mining and analysis, scientific computing, bioinformatics… you name it, Python will probably come in handy for it. It’s been used to build Dropbox, Instagram, Reddit, BitTorrent, and many more big names. Plus its syntax closely resembles English – need we say more?
Java is not a new language by any definition of the word, but it’s a big one. 90% of Fortune 500 companies use it, so it has a flawless reputation. It’s used to build Android apps, desktop apps, games, for back-end development, and almost anything else. A Java-based framework called Hadoop is also extremely popular for processing big data. In short, Java is solid, dependable and always in demand.
Developed specifically for Windows, C# is used for web development, game development, and (obviously) Microsoft development. It’s a low level systems language and is an excellent foundation from which to learn a wide choice of other languages – especially the rest of the C language family, which is known for being highly reliable and powerful. It’s general purpose, object-oriented, has a huge community… basically, it’s a great all-rounder.
SQL, or ‘Structured Query Language’ is a language unlike the others in this list. It’s used to communicate with databases and to manage data within apps rather than building stuff. Having SQL on your resume is a huge deal for any big company out there, given the mind-boggling amount of information they’re mining these days. If your interests include anything to do with data analysis, statistical analysis, ‘Big Data’ or any other related topic, SQL is what you need.
While it’s not the only thing it can do, PHP has become strongly associated with the web. Wikipedia, WordPress, Tumblr, and Facebook were all built with this server-side scripting language. Despite what you may think however, PHP is actually quite beginner-friendly. It’s easy to visualise the results of your code, so beginners tend to stay more motivated compared to complex languages like Java. It’s especially hot in the e-commerce world right now.
Ruby is the ‘in’ language of the moment thanks to its partner in crime, the extremely popular Ruby on Rails web framework. Both are optimised to be simple and easy to use, with an emphasis on fun and productivity. Ruby reads like English and is a great choice for aspiring web or back-end developers. It’s a favourite of start-ups as well as big companies like AirBnB, Spotify and Hulu, with decent job prospects.
We did advise against staying away from brand new languages at the beginning of this article, but Rust could be the exception to the rule. Created by Mozilla with the safety and security as a top priority, its first stable version was released last year and it has slowly but surely grown its community base since then. Rust is general-purpose, cross-platform and similar to C and C++ in syntax. Give it another year or two, and it may just earn a more permanent spot on this list.
Still having trouble deciding? Take a look at our online help guide. Answer a few simple questions and we’ll recommend the best programming language for you.