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5 best programming languages to learn in 2020

Hack Reactor

By Stephen Greet For Hack Reactor

It’s no secret that software developers are in very high demand. Couple that with the fact that the average developer makes $103,000 a year ($115,000 for bootcamp grads) and it’s no wonder that people are flocking to careers in the field. Once you’ve decided that you’re interested in coding, how do you decide which programming language to learn first?

There are hundreds of different programming languages and frameworks out in the world, so it can be a daunting task to decide where to get started. The decision of where to start should center around the kind of software projects you’re interested in working on and your career goals.

In this guide we’ll walk through the 5 most popular and in-demand programming languages you can learn. 

We’ll also give examples of applications or sites built with those languages so you can get an idea of what you can accomplish with each language.

1. JavaScript

If you’re interested in learning how to program, JavaScript is a great language to start with. Not only is it the foundation for all modern websites and web applications, but it's also the most popular language and used by 67% of professional developers, according to Stack Overflow. This popularity means there is a lot of community support, both online and offline, if you ever get stuck or have a question.

JavaScript works across all major browsers and it’s one of the most beginner-friendly programming languages to learn. There’s not much overhead to getting started with JavaScript, you can execute it right in your browser. The use cases for JavaScript are limitless. Every interactive website you visit, like Facebook or Gmail, likely uses JavaScript.

While JavaScript is primarily used by front-end developers, the introduction of Node.js allows people to use JavaScript across the full-stack of web development. This means that, by mastering JavaScript, you can start your career as a web developer. In fact, 80% of companies that are hiring web developers require that applicants know JavaScript.

“When I hire a web developer,, I look first and foremost to see if they have built a web app using JavaScript,” says Neal Taparia, the founder of Imagine Easy Solutions and Solitaired. “I want to see that an applicant can contribute to our business on day 1 and since everything we do is built for the web, that means they have to know JavaScript.”

2. Python

Python, like JavaScript, is a high-level scripting language. This means it’s typically easier to learn for a programming new-comer as Python syntax is wonderfully easy to read. It is the second most popular programming language for developers behind JavaScript. Python has plenty of use cases:

  • Python is used extensively by sites like Youtube, Instagram, and Quora. The speed of development in Python makes it very well suited for growing companies.

  • If you’re interested in video game development, Python might be the perfect programming language for you to get started with. It is the primary code base for popular video games like Battlefield, Sims, and Civilization.

  • Libraries like TensorFlow, NumPy, scikit-learn, and PyTorch make Python the language of choice for those interested in machine learning and data science. Python allows for the end-to-end development of models from data exploration all the way to putting models into production code.

  • With the open-source Django framework, Python can be used in back-end web development.

  • Python is heavily used in the field of data science, which is currently rated as the top job in America.

Because Python is an open-source language and it is used readily by large companies, there is constant development and the language is always being pushed forward. Since it is ubiquitous across the web there is extensive support for any questions you might have on sites like Stack Overflow and Quora. The ease of use and limitless use cases of Python makes it a great programming language to learn, especially through data science bootcamps

3. Swift

If you’re interested in developing applications for the Apple ecosystem, then the open-source programming language Swift should be what you learn first. While Swift is still young relative to other programming languages (it was released in 2014), it is backed by Apple, so you can be sure of its staying power. 

Swift is used to develop applications for iOS (for iPhones and iPads), macOS (Macs), watchOS (Apple Watch), and tvOS (Apple TV), so it has a very far reach. Apps like Lyft, LinkedIn, and WordPress all have custom iOS apps built in Swift. With the introduction of tools like Scade, Swift can also be used to develop applications for Android. If you’re interested in mobile app development, Swift is a great place to start your programming journey.

4. Java

Java is a tougher language to learn than Python or JavaScript, but it’s use cases are nearly limitless. Java is an object-oriented programming language developed by Oracle. It can be used across all platforms and is known as a write once, run anywhere (WORA) programming language.

According to Oracle, more than 3 billion devices run Java so most major companies use it in some form. More than that, more than 30% of companies hiring web developers require that applicants know Java.

Here are some specific real-world use cases of Java:

  • Java is the official language of all Android apps. If you want to develop an app for Android, you’ll need to know Java. From Uber to Instagram to Twitter, all of these native Android applications utilize Java.

  • If you’re interested in financial services, Java is a great first language to learn. Companies like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Barclays all use Java extensively to power their server-side applications.

  • Java can be used for web development on the back-end with Spring. Companies like Zillow, Accenture, and Intuit all use Spring to power their web applications.

  • Java is used to help build tools for other developers. Popular IDEs (where developers actually write their code) like Eclipse and IntelliJ are built with Java.

5. Ruby

Ruby, much like Python and Javascript, has a very user-friendly syntax that makes it great to learn as a newcomer. The user community around Ruby also has a reputation for being very welcoming and kind. Ruby is a common choice for web development since it is the foundation of the popular Ruby on Rails web application framework. Ruby on Rails is used for some of the most popular sites on the web: Twitter, Hulu, Shopify, Basecamp, and Github are all built on Ruby on Rails.

Getting started with your first programming language

The key to getting started with programming is to first learn one language really well. Only then should you think about learning a second language. As a programmer, it’s much better to be a master of one language than a jack of all trades. The good news is that once you learn one language, it’s much easier to learn another.

To best position yourself for a career in programming, we highly recommend starting with JavaScript if you’re at all interested in web development. Nearly all websites use JavaScript to some degree so you are casting a wide net if that’s what you learn first. Hack Reactor offers full-time and part-time courses, and immersive coding bootcamp training in JavaScript for students at all levels.