The Most Valuable Programming Languages to Know for the Future

Originally posted on Quora: Jonathan Tsai’s answer to What is the most valuable programming language to know for the future and why?

I will have to agree with Michael Hanson’s answer as well as some of the other ones that suggest learning multiple programming languages is more beneficial than picking just one.

I myself am a multi-linguist of both human and programming languages. If you randomly survey a large body of people living within various civilizations in the world on what the most valuable human languages are, the answers you’ll get back are likely to be English, Chinese, French, Spanish (not necessarily, but roughly, in that order).

When you know multiple languages, learning additional ones become much easier, because through immersion/osmosis, you are made aware of the different types of parts of speech, recognize the cognates and influences of one language to another, etc. That’s why you will frequently come across Europeans who speak at least 3 languages (English, French, and the language of their country), and Indians who speak 3-5 languages or more (English, Hindi, the language of their state/region, + neighboring state/region).

Programming languages actually have a much simpler syntax than human languages. The more you know, the easier it is to learn more.

I would rephrase the question as plural instead of asking for a singular response: What are the most valuable programming languages to know for the future and why?

If you like lists, this section is for you, but not in any particular order:

  • Python - frequently used by scientific and statistics communities and data science; it’s a fairly easy language to learn and remember with libraries for just about everything you would need, and a very active development community who can whip up a library if one doesn’t exist already. Personally, Python is really easy to me and reads and writes just like pseudocode. I’ve written as many as 100-200 lines on a whiteboard or a text editor in one sitting and was able to execute the code in the interpreter without any syntax errors.
  • Ruby - I am not a regular practitioner, but Ruby is also very powerful in that it is an interpreted language like Python, which means that it doesn’t need to be compiled before it’s run. A lot of famous websites are built on, and many of my friends who are paid handsomely, use Ruby, due to the popularity of the Rails framework (Ruby on Rails)
  • Java - This one is nice because it’s a compiled language and the compiler can optimize the heck out of the code, and it runs really fast. There are lots of Java practitioners, and the majority of financial websites (banks, stock trading platforms, etc), will use Java because of its outstanding speed and performance characteristics. Incidentally, Java is also the language used by the Android operating systems, so if you want to learn to write for something like 79-80% of the world’s mobile users, this is the way to go. (Source: 2014: The iPhone 6 Had Better Be Amazing And Cheap, Because Apple Is Losing The War To Android; 2015: Apple iOS And Google Android Smartphone Market Share Flattening: IDC)
  • JavaScript - Rich web applications / the entire frontend / look-and-feel of all modern websites. Enough said. JavaScript is a language that is write once, runs everywhere. Browsers going all the way back to 1998 (?) and even earlier have been using JavaScript, and the language along with its frameworks and ecosystem have improved tremendously over time, as well as its performance characteristics due to progressive developments of JavaScript runtimes (e.g. V8).
  • Shell Scripting / Bash - Unix utilities are awesome. They are lightweight, fast, and often times, you can just use an existing Unix utility for doing common but advanced tasks like searching and sorting on a single machine, and additional various things.
  • C++ / C - it still powers lots of high performance systems, but is a bit more cumbersome to write than Java, hence the reason that Java is the language of choice when building such systems. However, this is a very low-level language, and the thing about programming languages is that their interpreters and compilers are quite meta–if you chase it up/down the stack far enough, you’ll find that some/most of them are inevitably implemented in C. Not much daily use, but if you like learning the nitty gritty or really knowing what’s under the hood (analogous to learning Greek / Latin to having a better grasp on English), then this is something you have to learn.
  • Swift - this is a new language that Apple developed over the past few years and just launched last year (2014). I won’t go digging up the links because you can easily find them, but the language designers designed Swift to be a modern language that can be compiled but also has several characteristics of interpreted languages and IDE tools (like quick turn-around of write code-and-execute), and admittedly it borrows a lot of ideas and nice features of other languages like Ruby, Python, JavaScript, as well as Java and C. And it’s also inter-operable with Objective C. Look up the WWDC videos of the Swift language being unveiled (…), and you’ll hear loud cheering and clapping and whooping over small features. I cheered along with the rest when I watched from home.

I would be hard-pressed to give you a ranked list since I don’t know the statistics off the top of my head, but my impression is that the above are your programming language lingua francas, and most likely the highest value in terms of popularity/ubiquity, economic value, and utility.

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01 June 2015


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