Python. The Most Popular Programming Language, but why?

Ryan LaRue Community, Opinion, Programming, Python 1 Comment

Attention: The following article was published over 3 years ago, and the information provided may be aged or outdated. Please keep that in mind as you read the post.

If you’re a developer (and if you’re reading this… you probably are), then you already know it’s imperative to stay current with the latest and greatest technologies out there, lest you be written off as a ‘legacy developer’ destined to fight for the ASP and PHP leftovers from years past.

With that dramatic thought in mind, what’s the hottest, newest, trending programming language that you should have in your toolset if you don’t already?

Python, baby! You probably haven’t heard of it, but don’t feel bad, I’m way ahead of the curve.  

In this post, I will give you examples of why Python has taken the number one spot as the most popular language for developers.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers

Admittedly, there is some controversy as to how the award for ‘most popular programming language’ is won. There are many different metrics, and different organizations have different winners. But if you’re going to pick an organization to trust, the IEEE is a decent bet. The IEEE started releasing a ranking of the most popular programming languages in 2014, and they admit it’s not an exact science.

As Stephen Case, author for IEEE Spectrum writes, “Because no one can peer over the shoulders of every coder out there, anyone attempting to measure the popularity of computer languages must rely on proxy measures of relative popularity. In our case, this means combining metrics from multiple sources to rank 47 languages.”

See the image below for how IEEE ranks the top languages of 2018:

Python has been around since the late 80’s, light years in this business. So why now is Python suddenly donning the crown? Why not in, you know, 1995-ish?

Well, to be fair, Python has never exactly been on the outside looking in. In 2014, for example, in IEEE’s first ranking of languages, Python came in at #4. It’s fair to assume that if the IEEE had been creating its ranking since 1995, Python would have consistently held a spot in the top 10, but never the top spot.

Reasons for Python’s Rise:

The Cool Kid in Data Science and AI

While ‘big data’ was becoming a catchphrase, many data scientists found the best language to write their code in was indeed Python due to its readability, simplicity, and speed of development. This trend has continued to gain steam, and because of that, a vast number of free analytical libraries are available today, along with many others on the Python Package Index.

Because of some similarities between the two areas, it was a natural choice for developers working in machine learning areas to take up Python as their language of choice. Needless to say, that area has seen massive growth over the past couple years and will continue to do so.

Lower Learning Curve

If you look at any beginning programming site or article, chances are the language it recommends for the absolute beginner is Python, because it is known to be relatively easy to learn.

Heck, when I recently encouraged my 13-year-old son to pick up programming (he may say I threatened to take away his electronics but ta-may-toe, ta-maw-toe), I pushed a Python book in his hands because I wanted him to fall in love with programming. If I were a sadomasochist, I would have forced a C++ book in his direction instead, and he would be pulling his hair out within minutes (who could blame him).

Python’s shorter learning curve is also evidenced by the plethora of boot camps, like the Data Analytics Bootcamp at KU, offering Python as their primary language of choice.  


Take a look at the above image from IEEE again. Notice that Python checks the mark in the Web, Desktop, and Embedded columns. There are mobile frameworks that use Python as well, like Kivy and Tkinkter, but their usage must be so low that it does not register. That’s a pretty big miss, but apparently not big enough to knock it down the list.


Despite the note above about Python lacking in the mobile area, you can use Python to write pretty much any application. While you could easily write a simple application to organize your folders of pirated 80’s music, it can be used for much more than that. Just ask companies like Pinterest, Instagram, Dropbox, Google, NASA, and many others who use Python extensively or even primarily.

Final Thoughts

All of these together have allowed Python to claim its spot at the top of the list. Maybe it’ll be a short-lived reign but according to the IEEE rankings, Python, which was ranked #1 in 2017 as well, only tightened its grip on the top spot since the last ranking.

So, if you’re a Java or .Net developer and don’t have experience with Python, maybe it’s time to check out ‘the new kid on the block’.  

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