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2013 Challenges for Developers, Part II: Demand for Multiple Language Skills

By this time last year, the term "polyglot programmer" had entered the IT lexicon, and there was plenty of talk about the strategic advantage of learning to use a wider variety of programming languages, frameworks, databases, interface technologies and other development tools. Last year's strategic advantage may be evolving into this year's survival strategy.

"I would argue that developers need to be fluent in multiple languages now," said Forrester analyst Jeffrey S. Hammond. "I see that in my data: I've talked about the multilingual developer who programs in no single language more than 50 percent of the time, and that's definitely on the rise. I don't see how you get away with just being a C++ developer or a C# developer or a Java developer anymore."

Hammond is a leading expert on open-source software, next-generation mobile, open Web and client architectures, and software development productivity. He writes regularly on those topics for Forrester's application development and delivery blog. He believes that the need for multiple language skills may be one of the biggest challenges facing some developers in 2013.

"There's just a tremendous amount of stuff that developers have to learn if they want to keep their skills up to what the market is going to be demanding of them in 2013 and beyond," he said. "Think about all the things you've got to understand now to build modern applications. You have to be able to use either a cross platform tool or you have to pick up Objective C or Android Java or C#. You have to learn how to consume and use all these RESTful Web services. You've got to understand the ins and outs of Amazon Web Services and how to build a scale-out system that runs in the cloud. It's a hell of a lot of homework, but necessary if you want to limit the constraints on your career opportunities in the long term."

What additional language skills are codederos likely to seek in 2013? 

"I'm seeing the re-emergence for JavaScript," Hammond said. "I'm seeing lots of demand in the mobile space for Node.js skills, and a lot of these JavaScript frameworks. And I'm seeing more and more HTML5 development being done. But in some ways, this may be the year for developers who don't know JavaScript to learn it—and to really understand that it's not just for making things pretty on the client side."

Jay Lyman, a senior analyst at 451 Research who covers open-source software in the enterprise, application development, systems management and cloud computing, sees the polyglot programming trend "unfolding in parallel to DevOps," as more software developers and system administrators leverage more tools and languages for different advantages.

"For example," Lyman said in an e-mail, "while Java and .NET still dominate enterprise applications, we see more use of PHP, Ruby, Python and other languages for Web, mobile and enterprise applications; Erlang or Scala for concurrency on the back end; node.js for greater performance; HTML5 and JavaScript for user interfaces, etc. We also see use of a greater number and variety of database technologies, including NoSQL databases, Cassandra and Hadoop for 'big data,' and also use of a variety of infrastructures to develop, deploy and support applications, including traditional datacenters [and] public and private clouds."

Mike Gualtieri, principal analyst at Forrester, agrees that the demand for multi-language skills is likely to put more pressure on developers in 2013: "A polyglot programming norm means more homework," he said in an e-mail. "The trend towards using multiple programming languages including scripting languages is a constant challenge for developers. It means that they have more homework to do to keep up with all the new languages and programming languages."

He added: "Is this God's programming Tower of Babel to punish Sun for screwing up Java and Oracle for acquiring Sun?"

Posted by John K. Waters on January 11, 2013