Should You Be Following the TIOBE Index?
Success in the IT industry, more than almost any other, requires businesses to be in a constant state of renewal. New technologies emerge, experience their rapid rise, and eventually are displaced by a newer, better tool. It is a cycle that every business deals with in the fight to remain up-to-date.
Often, the greatest difficulty comes from identifying technologies on the cusp of going viral. Investigating, selecting, and acclimating to new programming languages or frameworks can be a full-time job. Any resource that can streamline that exploration process is worthy of consideration. Is it possible that the TIOBE Index can be a shortcut to remaining on the cutting edge?
What Is the TIOBE Index?
In a nutshell, the TIOBE Index is a list of programming languages ranked by their popularity on a monthly basis. The TIOBE Software Company has issued their rating system since 2008, measuring a combination of factors (qualified talent, relevant course listings, and 3rd party vendors boasting the language) to determine which is most popular. Within those parameters, they review the most used search engines to get their results.
Though the TIOBE Index is by no means a metric for programming superiority, it can be an indicator of programming languages on the rise. Though the top languages on the Index tend to have a permanent imprint on the programming popularity list – Java, C, and C++ – the fluctuation of up-and-comers and graying languages tend to draw the most attention.
Is It An Accurate Indicator of Programming Trends?
There are definitely signs that the TIOBE Index is an accurate indicator of a given programming language’s rise and fall.
Let’s look at Objective-C. It rapidly rose from obscurity at the end of 2009 and ascended to the number three spot by the end of 2013. At the time, iPhone apps were becoming a lucrative pursuit. The decline of Objective-C at the beginning of 2014 came in part from the integration of Swift into more Apple products and the rising popularity of Android development (which uses Java heavily).
Other languages have visibly ascended the ladder on the TIOBE Index. Swift has jumped 5 index rankings in the last year as more developers adopt the programming language to supplement their Objective-C Skills. And R has become more prominent as data analytics and statistical computation programs further pervade the business world. In the past, you could even see the spread of Perl, Python, and Ruby as their popularity increased.
On the other hand, it is clear when a programming language is receding into obsolescence. The TIOBE Index provides a historic view of programming language popularity and has tracked the steady decline of Fortran, Ada, and LISP. Most are now only used in niche scenarios (scientific applications for Fortran, AI for LISP) or on extreme legacy technology.
The downside is that emerging languages take time to build up momentum online. By the time a programming language is accepted on the TIOBE index and moves to the top 20, where you the most complete data is provided, it may too late for early adopters. However, by regularly checking the list and tracking the languages on the lower end of the spectrum, a business can still get the edge on the competition.
Alternatives to the TIOBE Index
Just like any ranking system, the TIOBE Index is not perfect. There are those who feel other ranking systems are a better litmus test for emerging programming languages. The RedMonk Programming Language Rankings is occasionally cited as more accurate as it culls information from GitHub and Stack Overflow. Though it is easier to look at previous RedMonk lists, the Rankings are only released on a biannual basis.
In the end, the TIOBE Index and RedMonk Rankings each have their limitations, but both together can provide a more complete view of the popularity of programming languages, helping companies and IT professionals stay close to the cutting-edge.