The 8 Most Popular Coding Languages of 2021

And more importantly, how to choose the most popular coding language you should learn.

How can you decide what the most popular coding language is? It’s like trying to pick the most popular ice cream flavor – everyone has a favorite. The truth is that different coders prefer different coding languages for different reasons, and just when you think you can say a single coding language reigns supreme, a new one crops up, or an older one becomes relevant for a new application.

The most popular coding language of 2021 will be based on what the coder in question wants to accomplish and what they’ve already learned or done. For experienced coders hoping to increase their salary, the most popular coding language will be different than for programmers who are just starting out and want an entry-level coding job after a coding bootcamp.

With so many constantly-shifting languages it’s hard to know where to start, especially as open source languages change all the time, with new packages and frameworks. No matter what your interest or need is, if you want to know what the most popular coding languages will be in 2021, you’ll find them on this list. 

For absolute beginnersPython
For people who don’t want a programming jobR
For the highest salaryPerl
For mobile app development on iOSSwift
For lateral thinkersRuby
For mobile apps and web developmentJavaScript
For quickly increasing your salaryGo
For the futureRust
Table describing the most popular coding languages of 2021 for different purposes.

1. The most popular coding language for absolute beginners: Python

No matter what list you check, Python is almost always listed as the most popular coding language for beginners – on Qvault’s post on best programming languages for beginners, GitHub’s ranking, Stack Overflow’s developer survey, and is even the top-most language universities are teaching to computer science majors

It’s not a fast-grower like Rust, it’s not an old institution like JS. But it is an unstoppable juggernaut of a language. It’s been around for 3 decades now and it’s experienced steady growth in use and popularity long enough to make it top just about anyone’s chart.

Why it’s popular for this purpose

The great thing about Python is that it’s written with the developer experience in mind. In practical terms, this means it reads like English – easy especially for people with no coding background to pick up. It’s also very fast to build a basic prototype of anything, which makes it extremely empowering and rewarding for beginners who can produce functional code with a good tutorial in just a few minutes. Finally, it’s versatile. No matter what your need is – data science, machine learning, web development –  you can probably use Python to do it.

In summary, its syntax, ease of progression, and versatility makes Python the most popular coding language for absolute beginners. 

The best way to learn Python for beginners

Python’s the most popular coding language for beginners because it comes with a robust support network for brand-new coders. You can begin coding using free tutorials on Python.org which is geared towards beginners. 

You should also take advantage of the rich and supportive online community of Python users and lovers. Most Pythonistas will remember their own days of learning Python and gladly lend a hand to beginners. Check out the Python subreddit, read and post Python questions on Stack Overflow, and see if you can find a coding buddy on a Discord group or a Slack channel.  

2. The most popular coding language for people who don’t want a programming job: R 

When I worked as a customer success manager, my job involved absolutely no coding. However, I still found it incredibly beneficial to be able to run analyses in R – looking at retention, churn, amount of communication and more. R is another open-source coding language, less popular than Python but still very active and beloved in the data science community.

If you’re looking to get a job in anything that isn’t programming, R is the most popular coding language for this. It’s replacing SQL and SAS which are closed-source, paid languages. As enterprises both want to reduce costs and want to hire people who are able to run analyses no matter if they’re coding in their day job or not, they are turning to R.

table showing the most popular coding languages of 2021
source

Why it’s popular for this purpose

In their R versus Python tutorial, Datacamp writes that R is used by “statisticians, engineers, and scientists without computer programming skills. It’s popular in academia, finance, pharmaceuticals, media, and marketing.” 

R is the most popular coding language for people who don’t code in their jobs for a few very valid reasons. First, it’s open-source. Like Python, there’s no need to pay any money. It also has an integrated development editor, RStudio, that makes it even easier to use. It has a robust ecosystem of open source packages that make it very simple for anyone to run statistical analysis in a few lines of code and create a publication-ready graphic in just a few more lines. 

The best way to learn R for non-programmers

Especially for folks who don’t have or want a job in programming, I find it’s best to find a project you really care about and set out a specific goal. You don’t have the necessity from your job – you can get away with not knowing how to code, for now anyway. You don’t have any prior experience coding, so the learning curve will be steep. You need something that you’re deeply passionate about. Only that will get you over the frustrating hurdles, knowledge gaps, and user errors that come with every coder’s beginner journey.

3. The most popular coding language to increase your salary: Perl 

Perl is one of the most contradictory languages on this list in that it has the highest global salary ($75k median annual salary), but is also the most dreaded language (71.4%), according to Stack Overflow’s survey. But if you want to get a higher salary in your programming job, there is no more popular coding language. It’s known for being the predecessor to the more popular PHP, and also for being a bit of a flaming dumpster heap of a language. 

The blog Some Dude Says writes in his blog post “Perl in 2020: Is It Still Worth Learning?” that, “Perl tried to be too much for too many people. Snippets of terrible code floated around and were pulled in without a second thought on many projects. Script kiddie after script kiddie cobbled together their abominations and let them loose on the world. They threw the source online for the world to see for free too. Books were also rife with trash and republished even when they had long since become obsolete,”

 But despite being hated by many developers, many employers find it a useful coding language both for new projects as well as maintaining existing infrastructure and projects. That’s why it’s still the most popular coding language to increase your salary.

Why it’s popular for this purpose

Opensource.com lists Amazon, Boeing, BBC and Northrop Grumman among the many big-name employers looking for Perl developers. It’s a popular language for employers. Like R and Python, it’s open-source which means that it’s low-cost and low-risk to use. Many users (for example, on this subreddit) describe it as a language with a wide scope, and limited functions, making it simple and functional.

The main reason it’s hated is perhaps a legacy of the factors Some Dude Blogs listed above – a place where the open-source nature let this language down and allowed its good name to be dragged through the mud. 

However, with the latest releases of Perl that fixes many user experience issues and the upcoming release of Perl 7, it may be experiencing a slow climb in popularity again, especially given its high-demand nature among employers who, despite all its flaws as a programming language, find Perl to be an excellent skill to hire for, which earns it a spot on this list of most popular coding languages.

The best way to learn Perl for coders who want a higher salary

The learn.perl.org website is probably the best place to start learning Perl. Unlike R and Python where many users learn from googling and copy-pasting code chunks, it may be best to stay away from places like Stack Overflow where bad code snippets may still be floating around. Modern Perl is also a relatively recent document that may avoid a lot of out-of-date opinionated tutorials, while the Perl Cookbook stands up as a tried-and-tested resource. 

4. The most popular coding language for mobile app development on iOS: Swift

R, Python, and Perl were all developed last century. Swift, meanwhile, was developed only in 2014 specifically for the purpose of being an Apple programming language. As the name implies, it has a reputation for being a speedy way to build iOS apps, quickly overtaking Objective-C which was originally built for that purpose. Apple.com itself says Swift is 2.6x faster than Objective-C and 8.4x faster than Python. Even though it’s a young language, it’s the 9th most-loved language on Stack Overflow’s developer survey of 2020. To write an iOS app, there’s no other most popular coding language.

Why it’s popular for this purpose

Dummies.com writes that “[d]eveloping iOS apps can be the most fun you’ve had in your career in years, with very little investment of time and money (compared with developing for platforms like Windows).” For people who want to code, building apps is a great way to showcase your skills or even earn some money on the side. 

Compared to Android apps, iOS has a more robust developer program and handles a lot fo the stickier sides of creating and hosting an app on a store. It’s also faster to develop an iOS app compared to Android.

For those reasons, Swift is the most popular coding language for those who want to develop mobile apps for iOS. 

The best way to learn Swift for app developers

Apple obviously has a vested interest in helping developers learn Swift, so it’s open source. In a rather meta turn of events, Apple has actually developed an app called the Swift Playground, created to help beginner coders learn the basics of Swift, along with several other resources to help users learn. If you’re more advanced at coding or want to go off-piste to learn Swift, 

After that, the best method is simply to get your feet wet and design your first app using Swift

5. The most popular coding language for lateral thinkers: Ruby 

Ruby is one of the most popular coding languages for startups – it’s a language where there’s more than one way to do things, with a very simple syntax that enables the “move fast and break things” ethos of many startups favored by lateral thinkers. 

Ruby on Rails, a full-stack web application framework that runs Ruby, is also very popular due to its ease of building a web app in very little time. 

Why it’s popular for this purpose

For many beginner coders, it can feel limiting to work with a language like Python where there’s frequently just one way to do things. Ruby’s simple syntax allows for flexibility in approaches, which is a boon to individuals who are learning a second coding language, or who are more lateral thinkers and enjoy coming at things from alternative angles. This alternative angle puts Ruby on the list of the most popular coding languages in 2021.

The best way to learn Ruby for lateral thinkers

Because of Ruby’s dynamic nature, there isn’t a single method to learn things. While it’s important that you go into it understanding core coding concepts like variables, data structures and conditional statements, the simplicity of Ruby and Ruby on Rails means that once you’ve grasped the basics, the next step should be trying to build a simple web app of your own.

6. The most popular coding language for mobile apps and web development: JavaScript 

JavaScript is the most popular coding language for the web, responsible for interactive websites. Developed in 1995, it’s used by 95% of websites as the dominant client-side scripting language today. As Node.js was developed, many people began using JavaScript on the server-side, too. Along with CSS and HTML, it’s what builds what you see anytime you hop onto the World Wide Web.

According to Stack Overflow’s Developer Survey for 2020, it’s the top-most used language for the eighth year in a row. As long as websites exist, JavaScript will be useful for any coder to learn. For any web developer, it’s obviously a must-have. And even if you don’t want to be a web developer, the ability to build your own website – often used as resumes and portfolios nowadays – is an attractive skill to showcase.

Why it’s popular for this purpose

For web development and mobile apps, the fact that JavaScript is the most popular coding language is remarkable, given it was created in only ten days as a response to the very first Browser War

It’s such a popular coding language because it’s ubiquitous, but it’s also good to understand why it’s ubiquitous. First, it’s usable for just about any both frontend and backend web development, but there have also been several frameworks developed to take it a step further. For example, JavaScript is also for desktop apps like Slack and Skype, which use Electron.js. Vue.js, Angular.js, and React.js are separate JavaScript web frameworks used to build user interfaces built by ex-Google employee Evan You, Google, and Facebook respectively. 

It’s also standardized, meaning that updates and releases with new versions frequently come out. No matter where you are in your coding career, this language has something to offer you.

The best way to learn JavaScript for web developers

If you search “learn JavaScript,” it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the quantity of information, tutorials, and guides. It’s hard to even know which frameworks and libraries you need. That’s why I recommend a hierarchical approach that lets you systematically and consistently progress with learning the most popular coding language for web developers. Some examples include JS: The Right Way, and Qvault’s Basic Intro to Coding.

7. The most popular coding language to quickly increase your salary: Go. 

Go was developed at Google, influenced by coding language giant C, but built to avoid the pitfalls of C++, which was universally despised by the developers of Go. The aim was to build a language that was fit for purpose in an era of enormous code bases. It’s now used by several big companies – Google is obviously among them, but Uber, Twitch, and Dropbox also feature in the list. 

On Stack Overflow’s Developer Survey, it’s 3rd both on the list of most wanted languages (17.9%) as well as the highest median salary worldwide (74k). 

Why it’s popular for this purpose

There are several reasons it’s the most popular coding language for coders who want to quickly increase their salary. First, it’s a language that’s built for big projects. Unlike Ruby, for instance, which is quick to build but hard to scale, Go was intentionally created by Google to help them with truly tremendously-sized projects and tasks faster. It’s intentionally created to reduce time spent reading and debugging code to help make these tasks doable. This makes it an attractive language for many big companies that are aiming to achieve projects on this scale.

It’s also reputed to be faster and easier than Perl to learn, which tops the list of highest salaries. Perl comes with several decades of history and opinions to wade through, while Go, created only in 2009, has a smaller and more modern syntax. Unlike many coding languages with bloated vocabularies, Go is small enough to “fit in your head,” to paraphrase Samuel Jones, a data engineer who wrote up a review of Go after using it to build an API. This reduces time searching for answers and syntax online and in reference books.

It’s also possible to learn it just by reading, since the syntax is clear enough that non-Goers and even non-coders can look at it and understand what’s happening.

The best way to learn for coders who want to quickly increase their salary.

As a language built by Google for the internet, you can imagine there are several free web-based resources that can help you on your way to learn. First, several sources recommended checking out A Tour of Go where you learn to use Go. It’s interactive and you run your own code snippets on the website itself. It’s divided into modules, which makes it easy to keep track of where you are and reference back if necessary.

Once you’ve grasped the basics, some other great resources include Go By Example and Go Mastery, where you’ll learn to find examples of code for typical or common tasks. 

8. The most popular coding language in 2022: Rust

Rust is the most-loved language for the fifth year running and is the fifth-most wanted language (14.6%) according to the 2020 Stack Overflow’s Developer Survey. So why is it not top of the list despite being objective the most popular coding language of all? Because according to the very same survey, 97% of those survey respondents had never used Rust. It also has an uncertain future.

Mozilla sponsored the development of Rust in 2009 and announced it in 2010. It is viewed as an alternative to other systems programming languages, like C or C++, built to “be a language for highly concurrent and highly safe systems” according to its Wikipedia page. What this means for developers is that they can write safe code quickly and efficiently.

However, due to Covid, Mozilla laid off a large part of their Rust team to focus on commercial products. While they’ve announced that there will be a foundation created to take ownership of the future and costs of Rust, it’s unsure yet how that will shape up.

Why it’s popular for this purpose

Assuming Rust is able to overcome current difficulties, I expect it will become more popular year-on-year. It has a dedicated fan base of current developers, with a growing chunk of coders interested in learning it. While it may not be top of the list in 2021, I believe it may be the most popular coding language of 2022 or beyond.

Many coders compare it favorably to C++ in terms of ease of learning. The priority on safe code can be frustrating for many coders who type in code only to get annoying error messages, but this may be a shift away from the “move fast and break things” mentality and moving more towards a safer, more structurally sound codebase. It has applications for both long-standing necessities of development as well as more futuristic endeavors. Mozilla’s page on it describes the applications as ranging from, “game engines, operating systems, file systems, browser components and simulation engines for virtual reality.”

For these reasons, Rust may be the most popular coding language of the future. 

The best way to learn the most popular coding language of 2022

Because Rust is so focused around safety and structure, developers have spent a lot of time and resources ensuring error messages are user friendly, unlike many other coding languages. This makes it especially rewarding for beginners to learn, as when they make a mistake, it’s easy to correct. 

The Rust website offers three paths to try – reading from what’s known as “The Book,” trying out the Rustlings Course with small projects to help get you up and running, and Rust By Example, which illustrates the concepts and libraries that underpin Rust. All these resources are free.

As one Redditor points out, it’s a relatively new language in that many of the answers to questions you’ll have, haven’t yet been posted and answered on places like Stack Overflow. For this reason, they recommend joining the Discord channel as a way to gain mentorship and a supportive community to learn Rust. 

The most popular coding language of 2021 depends on what you need from coding.

There are plenty of languages to choose from, and as you’ve seen from this list, many are recent. While some are objectively better than others for specific tasks, most serve a good purpose for someone. If you want to learn the most popular coding language of 2021, you first have to decide what you want from learning a coding language.

It’s always good to stay on top of trends and make sure you’re at the top of your coding game, no matter where you sit. More than 70% of developers at all levels of professionalism learn a new coding skill at least once a year. Why not start 2021 right and prioritize your future skill set with one of these most popular coding languages of 2021?  This list will help you choose the one(s) you can start with.

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