Top programming languages: Python reigns supreme and COBOL sees a pandemic boost


IEEE Spectrum just released its 2020 ranking. Python sits atop once again, but the list features a few surprises.

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IEEE Spectrum recently announced its the top programming language of 2020, as it has for the fast few years. 

This year’s roundup features no changes in the top three spots with Python coming in on top. After that, Java places second with C coming in close behind in third. Rounding out the field, C++ makes the list ranking fourth; the same position it held in the 2019 IEEE Spectrum list.

To determine the rankings, IEEE Spectrum uses a combination of nearly a dozen metrics across online sources “we think are good proxies for the popularity of 55 languages,” according to the company. These sources include GitHub, CareerBuilder, Hacker News, Google, Reddit, Twitter, the IEEE, and Stack Overflow.

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Compared to previous rankings, there are no changes until the fifth spot with JavaScript. In 2019, JavaScript was ranked sixth overall behind R, but leapfrogs the latter programming language in the latest list. 

Interestingly, Arduino holds the seventh spot on a list of programming languages. (It’s important to note that the 2019 report also included Arduino, ranking it 11th overall.) The author of the report, Stephen Cass, addresses the inclusion head-on.

“Purists may argue that Arduino is not a language but rather a hardware platform that is programmed using a derivative of Wiring, which itself is derived from C/C++,” wrote Cass. “But we have always taken a very pragmatic approach to our definition of “programming language,” and the reality is that when people are looking to use an Arduino-compatible microcontroller, they typically search for “Arduino code” or buy books about “Arduino programming,” not “Wiring code” or “C programming.”

In order, Go, Swift, and Matlab round out the top 10. It’s important to note that the IEEE Spectrum rankings are interactive. This allows those so-inclined to manipulate the metric weight. As Cass explained, “Think one measure is way more valuable than the others? Max it out. Disagree with us about the worth of another? Turn it off.”

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The coronavirus pandemic has also left an indelible mark on the latest rankings; namely with the surge in COBOL inquiries in some platforms. For example, if Twitter metrics were solely used to determine these rankings, COBOL would have placed seventh overall, per the report.

Cass notes that this is “likely due to the fact that in April, when we were gathering the Twitter data, COBOL was in the news because unemployment benefit systems in US states were crashing under the load as workers were laid off due to lockdowns.”

Last but not least, Racket is the last programming language to make the cut at 55.

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