The Key to Selecting a Programming Language: Focus

By: Morpheus Data

There isn’t a single best programming language. Rather than flitting from one language to the next as each comes into fashion, determine the platform you want to develop apps for — the web, mobile, gaming, embedded systems — and then focus on the predominant language for that area.

“Which programming languages do you use?”

In many organizations, that has become a loaded question. There is a decided trend toward open source development tools, as indicated by the results of a Forrester Research survey of 1,400 developers. ZDNet’s Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols reports on the study in an October 29, 2014, article.

Conventional wisdom says open-source development tools are popular primarily because they cost less than their proprietary counterparts. That belief is turned on its head by the Forrester survey, which found performance and reliability are the main reasons why developers prefer to work with open-source tools. (Note that Windows still dominates on the desktop, while open source leads on servers, in data centers, and in the cloud.)

Then again, “open source” encompasses a universe of different development tools for various platforms: the web, mobile, gaming, embedded systems — the list goes on. A would-be developer can waste a lot of time bouncing from Rails to Django to Node.js to Scala to Clojure to Go. As Quincy Larson explains in a November 14, 2014, post on the FreeCodeCamp blog, the key to a successful career as a programmer is to focus.

Larson recounts his seven months of self-study of a half-dozen different programming languages before landing his first job as a developer — in which he used none of them. Instead, his team used Ruby on Rails, a relative graybeard among development environments. The benefits of focusing on a handful of tools are many: developers quickly become experts, productivity is enhanced because people can collaborate without a difference in tools getting in the way, and programmers aren’t distracted by worrying about missing out on the flavor of the month.

Larson recommends choosing a single type of development (web, gaming, mobile) and sticking with it; learning only one language (JavaScript/Node.js, Rails/Ruby, or Django/Python); and following a single online curriculum (such as or for JavaScript, or for Ruby, and for Python).


A cutout from Lifehacker’s “Which Programming Language?” infographic lists the benefits of languages by platform. Source: Lifehacker

Why basing your choice on potential salary is a bad idea

Just because you can make a lot of money developing in a particular language doesn’t mean it’s the best career choice. Readwrite’s Matt Asay points out in a November 28, 2014, article that a more rewarding criterion in the long run is which language will ensure you can find a job. Asay recommends checking RedMonk’s list of popular programming languages.

Boiling the decision down to its essence, the experts quoted by Asay suggest JavaScript for the Internet, Go for the cloud, and Swift (Apple) or Java (Android) for mobile. Of course, as with most tech subjects, opinions vary widely. In terms of job growth, Ruby appears to be fading, Go and Node.js are booming, and Python is holding steady.

But don’t bail on Ruby or other old-time languages just yet. According to Quartz’s programmer salary survey, Ruby on Rails pays best, followed by Objective C, Python, and Java.

While Ruby’s popularity may be on the wane, programmers can still make good coin if they know Ruby on Rails. Source: Quartz, via Readwrite

Also championing old-school languages is Readwrite’s Lauren Orsini in a September 1, 2014, article. Orsini cites a study by researchers at Princeton and UC Berkeley that found inertia is the primary driver of developers’ choice of language. People stick with a language because they know it, not because of any particular features of the language. Exhibits A, B, C, and D of this phenomenon are PHP, Python, Ruby, and JavaScript — and that doesn’t even include the Methuselah of languages: C.

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