Main image of article 15 Top-Paying Programming Languages Aren't the Ones You Think

When it comes to earning money with your programming prowess, sometimes it’s better to master the more esoteric languages. At least, that’s the conclusion you could draw from the most recent Stack Overflow Developer Survey, which breaks down the median salaries earned by developers who focus on particular programming languages.

For example, Clojure developers earn a median salary of $95,000 per year, putting them well ahead of those developers who chose to specialize in a wildly popular language such as Python (median annual salary: $59,454) or JavaScript ($54,049). Other, lesser-used languages such as F# and Elixir dominated the top slots; in the interest of space, we decided to display only Stack Overflow’s top 15 languages by pay, and you’ll have to click to the full survey to see the comparatively low placements of C, Java, C++, and more:

If there’s sufficient demand for a programming language that’s not in widespread use, those who’ve mastered it can earn sizable compensation. Many governments and financial institutions are always on the lookout for the relatively few developers who know COBOL, for example, which powers these organizations’ aging mainframes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for COBOL developers grew so dire that New Jersey governor Phil Murphy asked for volunteers who knew the language. 

It’s a similar story with languages such as Perl that have dropped substantially over the past decade in usage and popularity, but nonetheless constitute a significant portion of many companies’ legacy code; although few new projects are spun up in these languages, developers with the right knowledge can often find high-paying jobs maintaining an older codebase. 

For those new to software development, this doesn’t mean you should focus on learning little-used languages to the exclusion of the “big” ones such as JavaScript and Python. The sheer ubiquity of the ultra-popular languages translates into lots of opportunity for jobs and projects (as well as lots of documentation and learning resources when you’re still mastering these languages’ quirks). But for those with a good grasp of programming fundamentals, and who are looking to bulk out their skillsets, learning a more esoteric language that’s still in demand can translate into some sizable paydays.