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Jan 17, 2020

Language winners, underdogs, and underperformers

C wins first place

The TIOBE Index, a measure of programming language popularity, released its annual ranking of software development's top languages.

Surprise winner. C won the programming language of the year award after its popularity rating jumped 2.4% over the past year—the most of any language.

With its dominance in machine learning and its widespread use among students, data scientists, and engineering teams, many expected Python to be crowned language of the year. Yet it finished in just third place, increasing its popularity rating by only 1.4% in 2019.

Experts suspect that the accelerating use of IoT and embedded technology is strengthening C’s position as a language stalwart.

Surprise underdogs. Swift’s popularity ranking jumped from #15 to #9, growing by 0.6% over the last year. That makes it the fourth fastest growing language on the TIOBE Index.

Ruby, too, moved up the rankings, from #18 to #11. While Ruby-on-rails has fallen in popularity as Node.js has skyrocketed, Ruby remains a critical tool for many big tech companies, including Airbnb, Shopify, and Groupon.

Surprise not-underdogs. Many so-called breakout languages failed to climb the rankings.

Rust gained only three positions, moving from #33 to #30. TypeScript gained just one position, moving from #49 to #48.

Other up and coming languages fared even worse. Kotlin lost 3 positions, dropping to #35. Julia—the language of the future—lost 10 positions, sliding to #47.

The takeaway. The resilience of long-established languages—like C and Ruby—and the uphill battle faced by underdogs—like Rust and Julia—indicate that the programming language ecosystem often progresses unevenly and unexpectedly.

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