What the IEEE 2018 programming languages survey reveals to us

6 min read

Programming languages are the foundations of all the existing technology that we are surrounded with. Developers, tech enthusiasts, and others keep themselves updated with the latest programming languages to be abreast with the advancements happening within each of it. Popular survey websites such as TIOBE, Redmonk, StackOverflow, IEEE spectrum, etc. help people to know about the trending top programming languages and where their favorite language stands.

Out of these, the IEEE spectrum and StackOverflow showcase their ranking surveys annually. Whereas TIOBE does it every month and Redmonk does it semi-annually. From the two annual survey providers, Stack Overflow takes in surveys from 56,033 coders in 173 countries  whereas IEEE spectrum’s survey synthesizes rankings from 10 sources including

  • Google search of “X programming”
  • Google Trends
  • Twitter
  • GitHub
  • StackOverflow
  • Reddit
  • Hacker News
  • CareerBuilder
  • Dice
  • IEEE Xplore Digital Library

The IEEE spectrum aggregates different kinds of statistical data with a view to generate the most reliable ranking. It also gives the most personalized ranking. The interactive interface allows readers to filter by search trends, job trends, or open source community trends. You can even modify the weighting of each dimension, enabling an extremely personalized ranking.

Of the five popular language ranking surveys and our own Packt’s Skill Up survey 2018, the top 10 programming languages for this year include,

Top 10 languages across popular surveys    

Stack OverflowRedmonkTIOBEIEEE SpectrumPackt Skill Up Survey
JavaScript JavaScript Java Python Java
HTML Java C C++ JavaScript
CSS Python C++C Python
SQL PHP Python Java C#
Java C#Visual Basic C#SQL
Bash/Shell C++ C# PHP C++
PythonCSS PHPRC
C#Ruby JavaScriptJavaScript PHP
PHPCSQLGo Swift
C++ SwiftAssemblyAssemblyGo

Our Takeaways from IEEE survey

What was obvious

  • Python in the top 3: Python has been bagging the top position at the IEEE spectrum for two years in continuation now. It is the easiest programming language of all with an easy-going syntax. However, IEEE mentions the reason for Python to be at the zenith is because it is now listed as an embedded language.
  • Go in the top 10 list: Google’s Go has risen from the 7th position last year to the 5th this year. Its speed, simplicity, reliability, cross-platform ability, native concurrency, easy deployment makes it the go-to cloud-native language for developers. Thus, making it the fastest growing programming language.
  • Java, C++, C, C# in the top 5: These legendary languages are still in the top 5 due to its large scale industry-wide adoption and an established community. Also, many professional developers have been working on these languages since years and find it difficult to migrate to any new programming language making these stay at the top.
  • R language drops down a notch: The language for statistics and big data, R has stepped down from its 6th position to a 7th position. R’s decline could be due to the popularity of Python due to the high-quality Python libraries for both statistics and machine learning. This makes statistics and big data more flexible to turn to Python than the more specialized R.

What was surprising?

  • Kotlin language not included in the list: The recently popular programming language for Android development is missing from IEEE’s survey list. Many developers use Kotlin instead of Python and Java for internal app development (console apps, OpenGL-apps, threaded socket servers, etc). Kotlin also eases porting of code from Python to Kotlin.
  • Many promising languages missing from the IEEE list: Languages such as Typescript, Dart are missing. Typescript is the superset of JavaScript, which lacks a type system. The introduction of Typescript adds optional static typing to Javascript. Similarly, Dart is the also a useful language and can be used to program front-end applications. It is easy to use with a non-existent learning curve.
  • Matlab and Assembly languages maintain their positions: Matlab is used for scientific computing and mathematical processing. First released in 1984, it is one of the oldest languages after Assembly still maintaining the 11th position in this list. It is widely used in Academics and research and hence is never outdated. Similarly, Assembly, the oldest form of programming, at the 10th position is still relevant to many developers. This is because it supports fast code with the absence of a compiler and is the best bet for machine level programming.
  • Javascript not in the top 5: Being one of the dominant languages on the web front-end development, JavaScript is at the 8th position in IEEE’s list. This must be because other languages such as TypeScript and WebAssembly are providing an easy way to C/C++ developers

What we are skeptical about/don’t agree with

  • PHP might not be in the top 10: PHP is one of the most popular languages for server-side programming. Other programming languages such as Python and Ruby on Rails are competing with PHP by providing a much more simple, useful and powerful coding syntax and tools in the same domain as PHP.
  • Ruby might drop down a few more notches: Although Ruby was the first full-stack language to be used on front and back-end development, it is difficult to learn. Integrating third-party libraries on ruby is also difficult which makes it non-flexible. As there are several options in the market today, I am skeptical Ruby will maintain its current position.
  • Is Swift dropping from its position: Swift programming language was built by Apple Inc. for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Being an Apple-only development environment, developers are moving to multi-platform mobile apps such as Microsoft’s Xamarin, Apache Cordova, and Ionic. This may affect Swift’s user community.

Limitations of the IEEE survey

The IEEE Spectrum 2018 survey included 47 programming languages ranging from the most widely adopted to the least. However, not all the programming languages were a part of this list. Current popular languages such as Kotlin, Dart, TypeScript, WebAssembly and some others were missing from the list.

As per some comments on the IEEE blog, IEEE uses the languages listed in Github. On Github, Visual basic is the common name used for both vb.net and Visual Basic.

Also, some languages present in the other surveys are not present in the IEEE survey. For instance, the TIOBE index has PL/SQL at the 20th position. However, the IEEE survey has not mentioned about it.

One more limitation it had was, it showed completely different results on different browsers, which Stephen Cass from IEEE spectrum said, “ I’d say it’s due to variations in how JQuery/JavaScript is implemented in the different browsers: under the hood, the TPL uses a lot of floating point math, so what you are seeing could be due to differences in precision/rounding, et cetera. Ultimately, I suspect the solution will be to calculate the rankings completely server-side: the underlying code for the TPL is five years old, so we were thinking of overhauling it anyway, and this certainly puts some weight behind that.”

Stephen further added, “I should add that we built the TPL primarily using Chrome, so our canonical version of the rankings is the one you see in that browser.”

Read more about the other programming languages by IEEE Spectrum in the IEEE blog post

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Savia Lobo
A Data science fanatic. Loves to be updated with the tech happenings around the globe. Loves singing and composing songs. Believes in putting the art in smart.

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