The most valuable software developer skills in 2020

Credit: Andrew Neel

As one of the biggest growth areas of the past decade, software development skills remain in high demand, even in today’s economy. But some skills are more desirable than others.

Choosing the right ones to concentrate on is particularly important as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the global job market. In the UK alone, the number of advertised software developer and software engineering roles were both down 33 per cent in July compared to the previous year, according to job board CV-Library.

So which developer skills are the most valuable in today’s market? We’ve pored through the data to find the most bankable developer skills for the coming years—and how best to set yourself up for success in a fraught job market.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Developers are often judged and assessed on their proficiency with certain programming languages and frameworks, but it’s important to remember that these are transferrable skills.

Stack Overflow asked thousands of developers how frequently they learn a new language or framework for its 2020 Developer Survey, with around 75 per cent of respondents saying they learn a new technology at least once a year.

“Languages and frameworks are very similar, so the differences between programming languages are much smaller than the spoken word. Moving from PHP to Python is not like learning French,” Hew Ingram, engineering lead at recruitment technology specialist Applied says.

For example, Ingram says if he was hiring for a React developer he “wouldn’t really mind if they had done React before, if they had done Angular, JQuery, or even vanilla JavaScript, they will be able to pick up React really quickly.”

In software development, like many career paths, the ability to demonstrate transferrable skills is more valuable than a laundry list of proficiencies, and many hiring managers are growing increasingly language-agnostic, according to HackerRank.

Some skills are hotter than others

That being said, there are skills and frameworks which are in high demand right now that will prove more valuable on your resume than proficiency in ubiquitous languages like JavaScript or C++.

Rust and Dart are both lightweight programming languages that have gained popularity among developers, topping the list of fast-growing programming languages on GitHub between 2018 and 2019. As the GitHub State of the Octoverse report observed:

With Flutter in our trending repositories, it’s not surprising that Dart gained contributors this year. We also saw trends toward statically typed languages focused on type safety and interoperability: the Rust, Kotlin, and TypeScript communities are still growing fast. 

Similarly, Google’s Go programming language is booming in popularity according to tech hiring marketplace Hired, which saw Go-skilled engineers earning an average of nine or more interview requests per candidate, with Scala and Ruby close behind at more than eight interview requests per candidate in 2019.

Still, Java and JavaScript may be the most bankable programming languages to learn if you are just starting out. In fact, Java remains the second most-in-demand language for employers behind SQL, as per analysis from popular jobs site Indeed.

Then there is Python, which has quickly risen up the skills ranks in the past decade. Python is popular with data scientists and stands as the third most-in-demand language, according to millions of US job postings on between 2014 and 2019.

The money can be good, too, with the average salary for a Python-proficient developer at $91,000, according to PayScale. By way of comparison, a Java developer averages $74,000.

Again, the GitHub State of the Octoverse report offers some context: 

Behind Python’s growth is a speedily-expanding community of data science professionals and hobbyists—and the tools and frameworks they use every day. These include the many core data science packages powered by Python that are both lowering the barriers to data science work and proving foundational to projects in academia and companies alike. 

Last year also marked the first time that Python outranked Java as the second most popular language on GitHub by repository contributors. The king is dead, long live the king.

Going cloud native