The programming language Python is booming as data science and AI jobs get hotter. Here’s why it’s the ‘Netflix of programming’ that’s helping more developers land six-figure salaries.

  • In the past few years, Python has become one of the most popular, fastest growing, and best loved programming languages.
  • It has grown quickly because of its ease of use, utility, and open source nature, experts say, as well as because of the boom in artificial intelligence and data science jobs.
  • For example, the popular AI project TensorFlow runs uses Python, as does Facebook’s Instagram.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The programming language Python has made learning to code much easier, including for would-be developers without computer science degrees. 

Since it launched in 1991, it has gained popularity among engineers and non-programmers alike, including data scientists, students, and business professionals. Dr. Chuck Severance, a clinical professor at the University of Michigan School of Information who teaches a 10-week Python course on Coursera, calls Python the “Netflix of programming.”

It’s approachable, widely useful, and extremely popular right now. In just the second week of August, nearly 8,000 people completed his course, and many former students have walked away with new jobs, he says. Python’s popularity has grown largely because of the explosion in data science jobs, experts say, which the language is particularly well-suited for. 

Python even surpassed Oracle’s Java for the first time in usage and popularity in 2019, according to GitHub, to become the second most-used language after the web programming language JavaScript. A June survey from developer-focused analyst firm RedMonk found the same results. Usage of Python on GitHub projects grew 151% last year.

“Python has been making an ascent,” KellyAnn Fitzpatrick, industry analyst at RedMonk, told Business Insider. 

And not only is the language widely used and growing fast, developers love it. According to developer Q&A site Stack Overflow, Python is the third most loved programming language.

Python is a good beginners’ language 

Because it’s a relatively simple language, Python is increasingly used as to teach students how to program.

“The reason why Python is so popular is it’s easy to learn,” AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at Indeed, told Business Insider. “It does not require cloud access and does not require excessive license. There are plenty of resources for people to learn how to download it, how to start learning. Also, it’s versatile.”

For the first time, Python overtook Java as the most-studied language in 2020, according to a survey from software developer company JetBrains. 30% of respondents have started, or continued, to learn Python, and many beginners and nonprofessional developers are using it, including in fields like medicine and government.

“It’s so powerful and easy for beginners at the same time,” Anastassiya Sichkarenko, marketing analyst at JetBrains, told Business Insider. “It has a great future.”

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Peter Wang, cofounder and CTO of the data science platform Anaconda, says that what makes Python special is how it can be used for so many types of tasks.

“The future of Python ties to the future of software development in general,” Wang told Business Insider. “It’s the future of machine learning. It will be a mainstay. Python will be a significant part of that movement. My hope is that it never loses its accessibility and never loses its roots as a pedigree in teaching language.”

Languages that are good for web programming — like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript — are not as useful for tasks like crunching or analyzing numbers as Python is. And while languages like Java and C# are well-suited for large teams working on large projects, Python is versatile enough for teams or individual projects. It’s an easy language for beginners to start with, but also useful for enterprises. 

Another factor behind its rapid spread among developers is that it’s an independent, open source language that’s free for anyone to use or download, without a specific company pushing it. As a result, much of its growth has been organic. 

“Python has had a community focus that is unique among massively popular programming languages,” Christopher Neugebauer, vice chair at the Python Software Foundation, told Business Insider. “It’s not a language designed by a small number of people. It’s been made available by collaboration over the Internet.”

Today, apps like Instagram run on Python, and just recently, Facebook made one of its Python-based security projects — Pysa — available as open source. And there’s a large ecosystem of popular Python projects, including the mathematical computing project NumPy,  the scientific computing project SciPy, and TensorFlow. And a crop of AI and data science companies have emerged based on Python, too. 

Read more: Everything you need to know about TensorFlow, Google’s own home-made AI software that’s now helping NASA discover planets and beating champions at Go

Adam Smith Kite
Adam Smith, founder and CEO of Kite
Kite

There’s been a surge in jobs that need Python skills

Python is most often used in web development, data science, data analysis, statistics, machine learning, and scientific computing, like analyzing genes.

Data science has grown especially fast in the last five years, says Dmitry Trofimov, project lead for the Datalore project. As jobs like data scientists and data engineers have been growing, Python, too, has boomed. For example, data scientists may use Python to analyze how often people click on ads to better target them to customers.

“Python is definitely not slowing down,” Trofimov told Business Insider. “It’s accelerating. It’s pretty stable and pretty fast, mostly because of data analytics and data science.”

According to an Indeed report in November 2019, Python is the third most in demand tech skill and was listed in 18% of job postings.

Stack Overflow has also seen an increase in jobs that require Python. In 2017, there were 500 jobs per month on Stack Overflow that required Python skills.  In 2018, there were about 750 per month. It’s now 1000 jobs per month.

Python programmers in the US make an average salary of $120,000, according to Stack Overflow, and $59,000 globally.

Still, as coronavirus pandemic has thrown nearly every industry into disarray, different organizations have seen different impacts on the demand for Python. 

On Indeed, there has been a decline in demand for data science jobs since March, along with other types of software engineering jobs, while companies are prioritizing jobs like IT and systems engineers to help employees working from home. Likewise, HackerRank saw a 27% decline in roles for Python developers during the pandemic.

However, HackerRank did see a 9% growth in demand for data scientists, who frequently use Python.

“The data that companies are working with right now is unprecedented, and has virtually no correlation to anything most companies have faced,” Vivek Ravisankar, cofounder and CEO of HackerRank, told Business Insider. “It’s confusing at best, and useless at worst due to the unique circumstances we’re facing. This confusion brings an increased need for data scientists, who can parse through increasingly complex data and draw out trends and notable insights that could help companies get a leg up on their competitors.”

The firm notes that it’s possible this growth may have occurred even without the effects of COVID-19, since data science has been one of the fastest-growing job roles for several years already.

Vivek Ravisankar, CEO and co-founder of HackerRank
Vivek Ravisankar, CEO and co-founder of HackerRank, shared his top books on coding with Business Insider.
HackerRank

Even though the pandemic has put many tech companies under uncertainty, Indeed’s Konkel says companies see data science as an investment, and many jobs outside tech — like medical research — require Python skills. 

“If someone was interested in learning Python pre-COVID, I would encourage it,” Konkel said. “I wouldn’t interpret it as a silver bullet.”

The future of Python

In the last nine to twelve months, Stack Overflow has seen an acceleration in the number of questions asked about Python each day, though that rate exploded during the coronavirus pandemic. Starting in the second half of March, questions about Python went from 750 on average per day to between 1100 and 1200 questions. 

Jason Punyon, developer at Stack Overflow, suspects that this is because Python was already popular, but that during the pandemic, people have more time to pick up and toy with the language. 

Python is also a gateway language: It helps people learn about what programming is and become more confident about learning new languages. Because it’s possible to pick it up without a computer science degree, Python can help narrow the diversity gap in programming, University of Michigan’s Dr. Severance said. 

“If we think about economic justice and who your parents are and what economic status you lived in and where you were born, it’s really difficult for a person that did not get born into an ideal situation to find their way into and survive a computer science degree,” Severance said, citing how women and minorities have long been underrepresented in the programming field.

There are now more opportunities for people of all ages, races, genders, and economic backgrounds to learn programming through online resources, and he says that Python is “the enabler” for that. Tech does, of course, still have a long way to go, he added. 

“For me, I’m proud that I graduate more people than every computer science department in the whole world,” Severance said. “To change the world in a positive way through technology, this is just the beginning.”

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