The Top 20 Most In Demand Software Skills for 2021

BY Ernesto Spruyt

What are the most in demand software skills in the market right now? What languages would you advise an aspiring developer to focus on? These are questions we get regularly from developers, journalists and clients alike. So we’ve taken a dive into the numbers and have made an educated guess of what software development skills will be most in demand for the upcoming year.

Advertised software jobs and salaries

We figured the most telling data would be about what businesses currently are looking for and what they’re willing to pay. By far most available data concerns the US. But we think it’s fair to assume that these are representative for where things are going globally. After all, many tech trends are initiated there. Further, we cross checked some sample data with other countries outside the US, which more or less confirmed this assumption.

So, we’ve based our research on data from StackOverflow, Dice and The annual StackOverflow survey contains loads of interesting data, including on current developer salary levels. Meanwhile, Dice produces an annual tech salary report that contains elaborate information about current salaries and how they relate to the past year. Further, Indeed can be used to track the number of vacancies that mention a certain language.

As we’re looking for trends, we haven’t put too much value on the absolute numbers. Especially since these are US figures and our developer base is in Africa, where both wages and cost of living are categories lower (we pay extremely well compared to the local African market, but still rates for quality developers in Africa are generally at least 5 times lower than in the US). But since software development is a global business, we think these trends in the US are probably reflective if not predictive of what will be the most in demand software skills worldwide. So let’s look at the trends…

Most commonly in demand software skills

We’ve gathered data on 20 software languages/skills that we filtered out of the StackOverflow survey based on perceived popularity and available data. So if you feel an important language or framework is missing do not hesitate to point this out. The 20 researched skills are (in alphabetical order): Bash/Shell/Powershell, C, C#, C++, Go, HTML/CSS, Java, Javascript, Kotlin, Objective-C, Perl, PHP, Python, R, Ruby, Scala, SQL, Swift, TypeScript, VBA.

Now, without further ado, what were our findings?

1. Python, SQL and Java are the most advertised software skills

We’ve counted the number of times each language appears in a job vacancy at Indeed. This ranges from around 2,500 outstandings job postings with Golang at the bottom to 84,000 outstanding postings for Python at the top. SQL comes second just behind Python, but it has to be said that we noticed that in many cases SQL was demanded in combination with a host of other skills.

In total there are about 500,000 outstanding postings for these 20 skills at the moment. 2/3 of which are for the top-5:

  1. Python
  2. SQL
  3. Java
  4. Javascript
  5. C++
  6. C#
  8. Ruby
  9. Perl
  10. C
  11. Bash/Shell/Powershell
  12. PHP
  13. Swift
  14. TypeScript
  15. Scala
  16. VBA
  17. R
  18. Objective-C
  19. Kotlin
  20. Go

The bottom three are Objective-C, Kotlin and Go which together account for less than 8,000 outstanding job postings.

2. Hiring a Scala, Go or Perl developer is most expensive

Whereas Go might not be literally among the most in demand software skills, it is definitely among the relatively most scarce skills. When looking at the salaries offered for developers, Go tops the list:

  1. Scala
  2. Go
  3. Perl
  4. Objective-C
  5. Ruby
  6. Kotlin
  7. C
  8. Swift
  9. Bash/Shell/Powershell
  10. Java
  11. Python
  12. TypeScript
  13. C++
  14. R
  15. C#
  16. SQL
  17. Javascript
  18. HTML/CSS
  19. PHP
  20. VBA

Interestingly, the top-5 skills that are high in absolute demand and are not so high in relative demand (i.e. expensive). They are all somewhere in the middle salary range. Moreover, Javascript and SQL both more at the lower end.

So the conclusion is that where abolute demand is high, generally speaking the supply of developers proficient in those languages is also substantial. Salary levels say something about relative demand. That is to say, how scarce are the skills in relation to demand.

3. Demand for Perl, VBA and C++ developers has most momentum

It’s also interesting to look at which software skills are becoming more or less expensive. This tells us something about whether the relative demand for those skills is increasing. In other words, which skills are becoming more difficult to source.

Based on the Dice data we’ve made a ranking of the offered salary level per skill at this moment and compared it to that of last year. What stood out is that the momentum in ‘expensive’ skills such as Scala, Go, Objective-C and Kotlin is rather weak (all four in the bottom 5). And that Microsoft related skills all have solid momentum: VBA (Visual Basic for Applications, a language developed by Microsoft for its own applications), C# (the core language of .NET) and even C (kernel of most operating systems is in C), whose momentum is neutral.

  1. Perl
  2. VBA
  3. C++
  4. PHP
  5. C#
  6. Javascript
  7. Ruby
  8. SQL
  9. R
  10. TypeScript
  11. HTML/CSS
  12. Bash/Shell/Powershell
  13. Python
  14. Java
  15. C
  16. Scala
  17. Swift
  18. Objective-C
  19. Go
  20. Kotlin

4. On average Perl, Ruby and C++ are the top 3 software skills with most demand pressure

So what happens if we put all this together and make an equally-weighted ranking based on number of outstanding job postings, salary level and salary momentum? That should give us a good impression of what are the most in demand software skills in the coming year. Ratatata…..and the winner is: Perl!

  1. Perl
  2. Ruby
  3. C++
  4. Python
  5. SQL
  6. C#
  7. Java
  8. Javascript
  9. C
  10. Bash/Shell/Powershell
  11. Scala
  12. PHP
  13. TypeScript
  14. HTML/CSS
  15. VBA
  16. Swift
  17. R
  18. Objective-C
  19. Go
  20. Kotlin

This is actually a very interesting outcome as Perl and Ruby are both languages that are generally considered doomed. But if we look at the actual number of vacancies they are still on 8th and 9th place. And perhaps the negative press they got made it unattractive for developers to take them up as a new skills, creating a relative scarcity in the process. So although maybe in the long run they will not be the most popular languages, in the nearer term they top our most in demand software skills list for 2021!

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