Many software developers and engineers work on a freelance basis. Whether they’re contracting their services to a single company, or building one-off apps or websites for a handful of clients, it’s important that they earn as much as possible. But which skills and languages pay freelancers the most?
That’s a tough question to answer, since freelance technologists often set their rates according to their experience and the particulars of the client and job. However, technology-freelancing platform Upwork recently released a breakdown of the highest-paying programming languages, which could serve as a useful guide if you’re trying to set your freelancing rates.
“Our data shows that there is demand for a broad range of programming skills, including mobile experts using Objective-C or Kotlin, data analysts and engineers using SQL, and developers using Java and Go. We're finding that businesses small and large are tapping into independent technology talent for their expert skills,” Mike Paylor, Vice President of Engineering and Product at Upwork, wrote in a statement accompanying the data.
Without further ado, here’s the list:
If you’re the type who pays close attention to the various lists of the most popular programming languages that come out on a regular basis, you know that Objective-C, Golang, Windows PowerShell, Kotlin and Excel VBA aren’t exactly chart-toppers (even if Golang and Kotlin are enjoying increased popularity among developers). Indeed, some of the most ubiquitous languages out there, including Java, C++ and Python, tend to pay quite a bit less than the ones that made the top of Upwork’s list. (To be fair, if a company needs a Python or Java developer on a consistent basis, they may also just hire for a full-time role, lessening the need for freelancers.)
But therein might lie the answer: If a company wants a project executed in a language that isn’t as widely used as others, it may need to pay a specialist in that language a bit more. Lots of developers know Java, C++, and Python, which allows companies to drive their price down; but if you can only find a handful of folks who’ve mastered Excel VBA, they have a bit of leverage in terms of determining their price, especially if the deadline is tight.
It’s also worth noting how Objective-C, Apple’s aging language for building macOS and iOS apps, commands a higher average price than Swift, its newer replacement. Although Swift started out as a pretty bare-bones language, it has rapidly grown and iterated; it’s certainly powerful enough at this point to satisfy a broad range of iOS and macOS developer needs. Perhaps the price premium for Objective-C stems from complex projects to maintain legacy codebases, but it’s hard to tell.
Upwork’s list underscores an important career point for technologists, whether they’re freelancers or full-time employees: It can pay to specialize. While knowing widely used skills and languages such as Python and SQL will always come in handy, mastery of highly specialized things can give you another kind of advantage when it comes to finding jobs and negotiating pay rates. Just look at how all the COBOL developers benefitted earlier this year when state governments suddenly needed to upgrade and maintain their aging mainframes amidst a tide of pandemic-related work.