Originally developed more than 30 years ago by Guido van Rossum, the Python programming language has steadily grown in popularity across the intervening decades. Python currently holds the distinction of being the world's top programming language, at least as determined by a couple of major indexes that measure the popularity and usage of different languages. (More about that in a moment.)
Python applications appear everywhere. You'll find Python-based apps used by well-known web companies such as Instagram, YouTube, and DropBox, just to name a few. The pervasive popularity of Python in the programming industry makes it a very useful skill for the savvy developer's toolbox.
Whether you are just beginning your career as a software developer or are a seasoned professional seeking to move up to the next level, Python's position as a global leader can benefit you. Right now and for the foreseeable future, Python programming skills are certain to get your résumé a second look.
What is Python?
Python is open source code and distributed under an approved Open Source Initiative (OSI) license. Developers are not only free to use Python, but Python may be distributed (for free) in commercial applications. The Python trademarks and license (version 2.1 and later) are currently owned by the Python Software Foundation or PSF.
PSF is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to "promote, protect, and advance the Python programming language." Recurring PSF activities include worldwide Python-focused events and gatherings, the annual North American PyCon conference, grants supporting Python-specific development projects, and much more.
According to Next Technology, Python is among the most widely-used and sought-after programming languages. Python beat out numerous established programming languages such as Java, C, C#, C++, PHP, and Visual Basic to earn the number one slot on both the TIOBE and PYPL indexes for the past several years.
TIOBE (which stands for The Importance of Being Earnest) is an organization dedicated to "assessing and tracking" the quality of software. Python earned entry into the TIOBE Programming Language Hall of Fame for 2020 and 2021. The TIOBE Hall of Fame designation is reserved for the programming language that experiences the highest rise in ratings in a given year.
The PYPL (PopularitY of Programming Languages) Index is a key indicator in predicting trends related to the popularity of software programming languages. PYPL predictions are derived by analyzing data obtained from Google Trends.
Essentially, the theory behind the PYPL index is that the number of times a request for training for a specific programming language appears in a search request is an indicator of the popularity of the programming language. Indexes such as PYPL and TIOBE enable software developers and employers to identify the hot trends and plan for future skills requirements.
Why is Python so popular?
Python is an extremely user-friendly, general purpose software programming language which makes it attractive to developers for use in a variety of settings and application types. Some of the many factors contributing to Python's popularity include:
The Price is Right: Python is not only free to use but is also freely distributable — even in commercial applications — making it an attractive cost-savings measure for both individuals and companies.
Ease of Use: According to PSF, Python's syntax is clear and easy to use. The ease of use makes learning Python accessible to seasoned programming professionals as well as entry-level programming candidates with little or no experience.
Flexibility: Python is a general-purpose programming language, which makes it suitable for a variety of purposes. It's often used to create websites, games, and AI software, along with numerous other applications. A back-end programming language, Python is increasingly popular with data scientists and IT professionals working with machine learning.
Reduced Time to Test: Python contains a number of interactive features (quick code tests, for example) that result in much less time to test applications as compared to other programming languages. This reduces required test times and enables developers to get applications up and running and in the hands of consumers more quickly than is the software development norm.
What do Python developers do?
Regardless of the programming language used, all software developers perform similar types of tasks for their employers. As the Python subject matter expert, Python developers are frequently called up on to analyze organizational needs and recommend software changes or upgrades based on identified requirements.
Depending on the individual role, Python developers may also be called upon to design, test and implement solutions. It's also common to recommend best practices for ongoing reviews and maintenance of such applications.
Python developers should be prepared to work with internal stakeholders to identify organizational needs and gather feedback on proposed solutions. They also work with stakeholders to adjust solutions which may need to be refined to complement organizational goals.
Training and background
As with all careers, preparation is everything. It's important to know how you plan to use Python in your career and understand employer requirements for that field. In general, most employers require that candidates for software development roles possess a bachelor's degree in in computer science, computer and information technology, engineering, math, or a related field.
If you're intending to use Python to work in specialized fields, such as data science or artificial intelligence, then the bar may be even higher. It's likely that high-end Python employers may look for candidates who possess advanced computer science-related degrees such as a master's degree or PhD.
On the other hand, if you're seeking to use Python for web development or web design purposes, then it's possible that your Python programming skills may speak for themselves. In many such lower-level cases, prospective employers may take your Python portfolio as proof of skills and aptitude and not require a degree at all.
Successful Python developers also need to demonstrate that they possess practical, hands-on Python programming skills. It's also useful to be well-versed in other common programming languages. Practical skills can be obtained from a variety of resources including on-the-job training, selfstudy, formal-study, or certifications.
If you're interested in self-study materials, then the Python Software Foundation maintains an extensive list of resources for prospective Python developers. PSF materials are primarily available via two web pages: one geared to beginners with little or no Python (or programming) experience, and a second web page containing resources for experienced developers who wish to contribute to Python.
On the Beginner's Guide to Python webpage you'll find an overview describing what Python is along with links to valuable resources including data camps, coding bootcamps, cheat sheets, tutorials and much more. Those wishing to contribute to the Python project should check out the Developer's Guide accessible at the same site.
Candidates seeking a bit more formal education may be interested in the certifications from the Open Education and Development Group (OpenEDG) Python Institute. The Python Institute offers a robust certification roadmap geared to Python developers of all skill levels, from beginners to seasoned professionals, along with several Python specialty certifications.
Current available certifications include:
PCEP™ — Certified Entry-Level Python Programmer (geared to beginner or entry-level candidates)
PCAP™ — Certified Associate in Python Programming
PCAT™ — Certified Associate in Testing with Python
PCAD™ — Certified Associate in Data Analytics with Python
PCPP1 — Certified Professional in Python Programming 1
PCPP2 — Certified Professional in Python Programming 2
Additional professional level-certifications targeting unit testing, test automation, and security are planned for the future.
You can also find numerous courses available through training providers such as Udemy, Coursera, and Code Academy. Many institutions of higher education also offer formal Python training. Regardless of your preferred learning style, there's sure to be training materials right for all learning styles.
In addition to brushing up your technical skill set, don't forget to work on soft skills as well. Developers are required to work closely with internal stakeholders, which calls for excellent communication and interpersonal skills. An eye to detail, along with key analytical skills, are also a plus for successful candidates. Problem-solving skills are essential, along with an ability to think outside the box.
Looking to the future
Employment opportunities for Python developers should be plentiful for the foreseeable future. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, projected job growth for software developers is anticipated to be 22 percent between 2020 and 2030. Job growth for web developers is slightly lower, with projected growth at 13 percent for the same time period.
Both of these projections, however, are higher than for other industries. It should also be noted that these figures are generalities for all software and web developers and do not account for Python's popularity. Given Python's popularity and market share, it's likely that Python-specific numbers may be much higher.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports median salaries for software developers as $110,140 annually. When searching for "Python developer" on Glassdoor, however, this figure was more representative of an entry-level Python developer position.
On the low end, Glassdoor reported earnings for Python developers of slightly more than $112,000, with earnings for Python developers topping $167,000 on the high end.