Software

The death of Ruby? Developers should learn these languages instead

Ruby's popularity has dropped in the workplace and in coding bootcamps, while leaders question the open source programming language's staying power.

Once the darling of the developer community, Ruby's popularity has plummeted in the past few years, leading some tech leaders to wonder if the language may eventually die out completely.

The evidence is in the jobs: Java, JavaScript, .Net, HTML, and Python topped the list of languages found most often in tech job postings in the past year, according to Indeed, while Ruby came in far down the list, at No. 9.

In IEEE Spectrum's ranking of the top programming languages, Ruby comes in at No. 12—down from No. 8 in 2014.

The lack of job prospects led coding bootcamp Coding Dojo to drop Ruby courses from all of its six campuses across the US by the end of the year, while adding a full-stack course in Java.

"We looked at local markets to see the most relevant technologies, and we found that Java was at the top of the charts, and Ruby on Rails seemed to rank much lower in demand in terms of startup positions, and general demand and interest," said Speros Misirlakis, head of curriculum at Coding Dojo.

SEE: How to learn programming: 3 languages to get you started

The web application framework surged in popularity in the early 2000s, as it allowed developers to build and launch applications quickly, Misirlakis said. The language itself includes many English words, making it easy to pick up, he added. However, it suffered from problems with scalability, and its applications tended to run slower, Misirlakis said.

Ruby also does not allow computer scientists to gain the same types of insight into their data as other languages do, said Karen Panetta, an IEEE fellow and associate dean for graduate education at Tufts University. "It might be a good language for if somebody wants to start out doing programming, but true computer scientists don't look at it as introducing the true paradigms of computer programming," Panetta said. "If you just want to get the job done, it's okay."

Many companies, including Twitter, abandoned Ruby for other languages that offer easier expansion and lower long-term costs, such as the MEAN stack, or constants such as Python and Java, Misirlakis said.

On Stack Overflow, Ruby on Rails has dropped in terms of both percent of new questions being posted, as well as traffic going to existing questions, according to the community's data scientist David Robinson. It went from 2% of questions visited in 2012 to less than 1% in 2017 so far. Generally, the framework and language have seen steady declines over the past five years, Robinson said.

"There is a natural lifecycle of a lot of technologies," Robinson said. "A lot of the energy and excitement goes into some systems over others."

JavaScript and Python are two reliable languages to learn at this point in time in terms of consistent job demand, Robinson said.

"Python is the fastest-growing major programming language of the last five years," Robinson said. "It's expanded into web development, data science, scientific programming, and many other fields." Python also has several syntax similarities to Ruby, so it's not surprising to see some developers moving over to it, he added.

SEE: Mastering Python (TechRepublic Academy)

And Javascript is the most-used language in the world, a Stack Overflow survey found. Node.js also began growing in popularity at almost the exact time Ruby started shrinking, according to Stack Overflow's trends data. "So much innovation is going on within it," Robinson said, including the use of HTML5, Node.js, Angular, and React in the front and back end.

IEEE Spectrum ranked Python, C, Java, C++, and C# as the top five most popular programming languages for 2017. Language demands can often vary depending on company size and strategy, according to Shu Wu, director of Indeed Prime.

However, Ruby may still have decades to go before it truly disappears from use, Robinson said. "Languages almost never die," Robinson said. "People build a lot of useful infrastructure in them, and those can last for decades beyond when they're essential parts of the ecosystem. It's not a question of alive or dead, but a question of growing or shrinking."

For example, Perl began dropping in demand in terms of jobs in 2008, but it still has a number of loyal users, Robinson said.

"I don't think it will ever disappear completely," Misirlakis said. "There are advantages in the technology that are pretty unique to Ruby on Rails. Demand has gone down, so I don't think it will be the hot new thing again anytime soon. But that could change over time."

It's important for any developer to be agile and learn different languages, Misirlakis added. "Every developer realizes you can't specialize in one language and expect that to be true for 20 or 30 years," he said. "People should be open to learning multiple technologies, languages, and frameworks."

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Image: iStockphoto/SIphotography

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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