As Tech Pros Age, They Prefer Swift, Go and Kotlin: Study

Programming languages will always interest most tech pros, even if they give up coding for another line of work, such as full-time management. And as a new poll suggests, the older tech pros get, the more they fall in love with newer languages.

As part of its 2018 Developer Skills survey, HackerRank asked tech pros about their favorite programming languages; it also queried which language (or languages) they were planning to learn next. Using a ‘love-dislike’ algorithm, HackerRank identified which languages were popular, and broke its findings out by age group: 40.6 percent of respondents enjoy Go, for example; 26 percent love Kotlin; and 24.6 percent feel affection for Swift. The chart below illustrates this age/popularity dichotomy.

Why is Go so popular as tech pros age? It’s very possible these older tech pros are well-versed in Java and C++, but are looking to something less fussy; in that case, Go is a good option.

The popularity of Kotlin and Swift is interesting for a few reasons. Both languages are meant as replacements for Java and Objective-C, respectively; both are poised to become de facto languages for Android (Kotlin) and iOS (Swift). Because they have the same generational synergy, we can safely assume both mobile platforms will be in good shape for years to come.

One other thing to note: these polling trends begin to unravel when tech pros pass beyond the age of 55. It’s unclear what HackerRank’s sampling pool is, so we’re cautioning against putting too much into that data point; that Swift jumps up, as Go and Kotlin plummet, suggests some unnatural skewing.

We may also be seeing the younger crowd favor the languages they’re learning in school. Python, C, C++, Java and JavaScript – all languages in heavy rotation at universities – rank better with tech pros who are just beginning their careers. HackerRank’s survey shows that as tech pros age, their interest in Java wanes, and they become more interested in Java replacements such as Kotlin, which offer certain advantages.

Unfortunately, Objective-C didn’t make HackerRank’s language list, so we can’t compare it to Swift. TIOBE data shows Swift often outranks Objective-C (even when it slides down the rankings), and the newer language is set for ABI stability later this year. Within 12 months, comparisons between old and new may not matter quite as much; Swift will be a robust, platform-ready language usable for any iOS-centric purpose.

There were other languages in HackerRank’s survey that also show promise. R seems out of favor for most age groups; it was only older tech pros who were eager to pick it up, probably because they were more interested in working with data than building applications (R is used heavily in data analytics). Haskell was also popular as tech pros aged, likely for the same data-centric reasons.

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