Interview with David Robinson, Data Scientist at Stack Overflow

Python’s growth comes from the enormous expansion of data science and machine learning

Gabriela Motroc
David Robinson

It’s safe to say that Python is everywhere we turn, from DevOps to machine learning and data science. Stack Overflow seems to agree — according to their calculations, Python is the fastest growing programming language right now. We talked with David Robinson, Data Scientist at Stack Overflow about Python’s growth and the possible reasons behind it.

JAXenter: In a recent post, you said that “Python has a solid claim to being the fastest-growing major programming language.” June 2017 was the first month that this programming language was the most visited tag on Stack Overflow within high-income nations — just a few years ago, it was less visited than any of the five other major programming languages (Java, C#, C++, JavaScript, and PHP). How did this happen? How did it manage to jump past Java?

David Robinson: Java and Python are generally used in rather different contexts, so it’s less a story of the two languages competing with each other rather than the changing size of various fields. Python’s growth comes from the enormous expansion of data science and machine learning, for which it is one of the most popular choices of language, along with R. Java is separately notable for mobile development on Android and for desktop and enterprise software. The only area where they directly “compete” is when they are used for web development (and both have been pretty steady in that area).

JAXenter: Does it have the potential to become the most visited tag next year? 

David Robinson: Based on current trends, Python is absolutely poised to become the most visited tag in 2018, at least within the set of high-income countries. It is already the most visited tag within the United States and the United Kingdom in 2017. However, it’s always possible that outside factors can change its direction.

I work in R and I think there’s a lot of exciting work going on within the language.

JAXenter: Adam Geitgey, Software Engineering and Machine Learning consultant, was very clear about what new programmers should learn if they wanted to make use of machine learning — Python. Could this be one of the reasons why Python is growing so quickly? 

David Robinson: Our analyses do suggest that the growth of machine learning, and of Python as a first choice within that field, was the primary cause of Python’s growth.

JAXenter: For those working in R, do you think they should consider learning Python as well or perhaps drop R entirely?

David Robinson: I don’t think so, for reasons I discussed in the conclusion of this article. There is plenty of room in the field for both languages, and they have different strengths. R is also among the fastest growing languages based on Stack Overflow traffic, although it is more specific to the field of data analysis. I work in R and I think there’s a lot of exciting work going on within the language.

SEE ALSO: Python is the fastest-growing major programming language, says Stack Overflow

JAXenter: Another reason for Python’s popularity could be DevOps. According to Richard Gall, in this year’s Skill Up survey, Packt found that Python was the primary language used by those working in DevOps. Gall goes on to point out that Python’s accessibility explains its popularity. Do you agree with him? 

David Robinson: I certainly agree that Python’s reputation as an accessible language helps its growth and that it’s a popular choice among DevOps. However, our analyses suggest this is probably not the primary cause of its growth in the last few years since the number of developers visiting Python alongside DevOps-related tags has been growing only gradually, while the number visiting Python alongside data-science-related tags has grown tremendously.

JAXenter: Why should developers learn Python? 

David Robinson: I think Python is a safe choice for developers early in their career to learn thanks to its popularity and its use in growing fields. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the right language for every situation.

Thank you!

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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