Programming language popularity: Python tightens its grip at the top

Python retains its top spot as the most popular language for electrical and electronics engineers.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Python sits firmly in top place in the newest annual ranking of popular programming languages by IEEE Spectrum.   

The ranking and others like it are meant to help developers understand the popularity of languages in a world where no one really knows what programmers are using on their laptops. 

IEEE Spectrum has placed Python in first spot since 2017, and last year it was just ahead of C++. The top language is given a score of 100, and all languages with lower scores are scaled in relation to it. C++ last year scored 99.7, followed by Java at 97.5, and C with 96.7.

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Today, in the IEEE Spectrum's sixth annual ranking, Python's 100 is a long way ahead of runner-up Java's 96.3 score, while C is in third place with 94.4. C++ has slipped to fourth with 87.5, while in fifth is specialist statistical computing language R with a score of 81.5. 

The magazine for engineering members of IEEE, the world's biggest engineering and applied-science organization, attributes Python's popularity to the vast number of specialized libraries it has, especially for developers building artificial-intelligence applications. 

It singles out the Keras library, because it provides an interface to the Google-developed TensorFlow, and the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit (CNTK), as well as Theano deep-learning Python library. 

Another field that's emerged in the years since Python's first release in 1991 is microcontrollers from the likes of Adafruit, as well as tiny cheap computers like the Raspberry Pi.


Matlab's high ranking reflects the language's prominence in hardware engineering, according to Spectrum IEEE.   

Image: Spectrum IEEE

Rounding out the top 10 programming languages are JavaScript, Microsoft's C#, Matlab, Apple's Swift, and Google-hatched Go. 

IEEE Spectrum notes that its list's default weighting is optimized for "the typical Spectrum reader", which might help explain Matlab's presence there. It notes that Matlab's high ranking may come as a surprise to some but "simply reflects the language's prominence in hardware engineering". 

The ranking is based on 11 metrics from eight sources, including CareerBuilder, Google, GitHub, Hacker News, the IEEE, Reddit, Stack Overflow, and Twitter.

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Tiobe, which has its own language ranking index based on several search engines, has also published its results for September 2019. 

The top language, according to Tiobe, remains Java, followed by C, Python, C++, C#, Visual Basic .NET, JavaScript, SQL, PHP, and Objective-C. 

One notable shift in this month's ranking is PHP, which looks set to lose its spot in Tiobe's top 10 where it's had a place since 2001. 

"From its start PHP was the Visual Basic for web design: easy to learn, easy to deploy, but mainly used by web designers with a limited software engineering background. The downside of PHP's simplicity was that it was relatively easy to shoot security holes in it," Tiobe analysts noted

They go on to note that Facebook, which was originally built with PHP, launched its alternative to PHP, Hack, in 2014 and since then JavaScript, TypeScript and Python have become the most popular languages for web development. 

Sep 2019Sep 2018ChangeProgramming LanguageRatingsChange
1 1
Java 16.661% -0.78%
2 2
C 15.205% -0.24%
3 3
Python 9.874% +2.22%
4 4
C++ 5.635% -1.76%
5 6 + C# 3.399% +0.10%
6 5 - Visual Basic .NET 3.291% -2.02%
7 8 + JavaScript 2.128% -0.00%
8 9 + SQL 1.944% -0.12%
9 7 - PHP 1.863% -0.91%
10 10
Objective-C 1.840% +0.33%
11 34 + Groovy 1.502% +1.20%
12 14 + Assembly language 1.378% +0.15%
13 11 - Delphi/Object Pascal 1.335% +0.04%
14 16 + Go 1.220% +0.14%
15 12 - Ruby 1.211% -0.08%
16 15 - Swift 1.100% -0.12%
17 20 + Visual Basic 1.084% +0.40%
18 13 - MATLAB 1.062% -0.21%
19 18 - R 1.049% +0.03%
20 17 - Perl 1.049% -0.02%

PHP looks set to lose its spot in Tiobe's top 10 where it's had a place since 2001. Image: Tiobe

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