Main image of article SQL, Python Compete for Title of Top Programming Language

Every year, tech publication IEEE Spectrum puts together a ranking of the world’s top programming languages. The usual suspects always dominate the upper spots: Python, Java, SQL, JavaScript, and so on. This year, however, there are some nuances to the list that could prove interesting to anyone deciding on which programming language to learn next.

The “vanilla” version of the IEEE Spectrum list is based on data from nine metrics, including Google search data, GitHub, and Stack Overflow. There’s also a version that’s more heavily weighted toward jobs (based on job-posting data from CareerBuilder and the IEEE Job Site), as well as one that shows which languages are trending in popularity.

Python dominates both the “vanilla” and trending lists. “Python remains on top but is closely followed by C,” read the note accompanying IEEE Spectrum’s data. “Indeed, the combined popularity of C and the big C-like languages—C++ and C#—would outrank Python by some margin. Java also remains popular, as does Javascript, the latter buoyed by the ever-increasing complexity of websites and in-browser tools.”

On the job-focused list, however, SQL takes the top spot. “Having looked through literally hundreds and hundreds of job listings in the course of compiling these rankings for you, dear reader, I can say that the strength of the SQL signal is not because there are a lot of employers looking for just SQL coders, in the way that they advertise for Java experts or C++ developers,” continued the publication’s note (in an intriguingly personal tone). “They want a given language plus SQL. And lots of them want that ‘plus SQL.’”

Other lists back up IEEE Spectrum’s conclusions. Earlier this summer, Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass), which collects and analyzes data from millions of job postings, cited SQL and Python among the tech skills most requested by employers. Indeed, organizations across the country need SQL, which is primarily used for managing and querying relational databases, to effectively handle (and analyze) increasingly large volumes of data. The median compensation for SQL-related jobs is $92,000, rising to $122,000 and above with the right combination of skills and experience. 

Interested in learning SQL? There are lots of options available online, including training materials and instructor-led courses. For those who want a fast-paced introductory tutorial, check out this offering from w3schools, which breaks down the various elements of SQL into “chapters.”