The number of programming languages is so vast it can be tricky to know which to focus on, so here are the languages that developers say are a must.

JavaScript and Java were jointly ranked as the most important languages for programmers to learn, in a poll of 500 US and European developers by software analysis specialist CAST.

SEE: The truth about MooCs and bootcamps: Their biggest benefit isn’t creating more coders (TechRepublic)

The top two languages were unsurprising to Lev Lesokhin, EVP of strategy and analytics at CAST, who said while demand for JavaScript continues to explode for front and backend web development, there is a perennial need for Java skills, due to the language’s extensive use within enterprises.

“Within the IT world, Java still accounts for the lion’s share of development, and when you look at something like HTML5 development, that’s all JavaScript,” he said.

“These days a lot of the smart client web interfaces, whether it’s in Android or a regular website, a lot of that work is JavaScript.

“There’s a lot of that work to be done and there’s really not enough people to do it. That tends to be more entry-level type of work, but even for the more mature developers, I believe it’s an important skill for them to have.”

SEE: Hiring kit: JavaScript developer (Tech Pro Research)

The next three most highly rated languages in the list included both technologies on the rise and old favorites, with 38% rating C++ as the most important to learn, 35% choosing machine-learning favorite Python and 30% SQL.

Of those, Lesokhin was surprised that SQL, a language for querying databases developed in the early 1970s, was still thought of so highly, but attributed its importance to its continued widespread use.

“That was quite interesting because SQL is one of these non-glamorous things, and now in the world of NoSQL [Not Only SQL], I would have thought there would have been fewer people trying to learn SQL, but it’s still a very important language.”

The list of in-demand skills tally with those identified by a Coding Dojo survey earlier in the year.

However, it was the omission of COBOL from the list that stood out for Lesokhin. At first glance it might not be obvious why anyone would still want to be learning a mainframe programming language older than The Beatles. But Lesokhin says there are still two good reasons, the money and job security.

“If you want a high-paid job for life, you just need to learn COBOL,” he said.

“Something like half of the applications in financial services are still COBOL,” he said, referencing the data that CAST collects from enterprise as part of its work analysing applications.

“They’re not going away very quickly, as it’s very hard to decommission these things.”

Lesokhin’s claims of COBOL being richly rewarded reflect a wider trend of firms willing to pay top dollar for niche languages, highlighted in this year’s Stack Overflow survey. That survey found that developers specializing in the relatively rare languages of Clojure, Mozilla’s Rust, the Erlang spin-off Elixir and the Google-created Go were the highest paid.

However, there is a difference between the highest-paid languages and most in-demand. A search for COBOL jobs on in the UK returns 57 positions, compared to 844 JavaScript programmer roles. Obviously proficiency in JavaScript is a skill required for many different roles, such as web or backend Node.js developer, but it illustrates the difference in demand.

SEE: Mastering Python (TechRepublic Academy)

While there may be fewer advertised vacancies, Lesokhin maintains there are plenty of opportunities for COBOL programmers, due to existing developers not being replaced as they retire.

“In terms of the number of developers that are out there, there are not nearly as many [as other languages]. Part of the reason is you’re not really developing new capabilities in COBOL, you’re just tweaking the existing stuff.

“Most of it is frankly maintenance, it’s certainly not the sexiest, and one of the things we see from this survey is what motivates developers is recognition and self-fulfilment.”

The CAST survey queried developers about many aspects of their roles, including their dream companies to work for. Topping the list was Google, according to 60% of developers, followed by 44.5% listing Apple, 34.5% Facebook and just 31% Netflix.

Google’s overwhelming popularity can be explained by the high regard that most developers have for the firm, Lesokhin said.

“If you say that you’ve come from Google it’s a big feather in your cap from a career standpoint,” he said.

“It really does open doors, probably more so than having graduated from a top engineering university.”

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