Finance

Clojure, Erlang, lead the pack in salaries (COBOL leads in dread)

Stack Overflow's survey shows the highest-paying dev jobs involve languages with relatively few working experts
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

Remember that funny meme, “While you were out partying, I studied the blade the most obscure programming language you could find.”

No? Well, you’ll wish you did, because mastering lesser-used programming languages can come with a huge payoff, according to the 2022 edition of Stack Overflow’s developer survey.

Of the respondents who listed expertise in programming, scripting, and markup languages, some of whom shared their “current total compensation,” just 681 said they worked with Clojure, a dialect of the Lisp programming language. Their median salary stood at nearly $107,000—up from $95,000 from last year. Erlang is an older language, originally developed for telephone switches, that has now found contemporary use in scalable systems that need low downtime to support huge numbers of concurrent users, like WeChat and WhatsApp. Just 371 reported working in Erlang in 2022, and their median salaries rose from around $80,000 to $103,000 over the same time period.

COBOL, a business-oriented language that remains in widespread use despite being so old that many of its practitioners have retired, saw the biggest surge in reported salaries—from just $52,340 in the 2021 survey to $75,592 in 2022. That could have something to do with reported shortages of COBOL experts available to help fix legacy systems struggling during the pandemic, particularly some state-run unemployment-insurance systems. Just 210 respondents reported working with COBOL, with the only other languages with fewer devs working with it being OCaml, Crystal, APL, and SAS.

About eight in 10 respondents told Stack Overflow they dreaded anything to do with COBOL, and less than half a percent said they were interested in learning it. The only more-dreaded language was MATLAB, a tool for doing computation with matrices and vectors.

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As IT Pro noted, other languages that paid over $90,000 included F#, Ruby, Elixir, Scala, and Perl. The three most popular starter languages were JavaScript, HTML/CSS, and Python, which ranked low to middling in the pack in terms of median salary but still saw healthy bumps over last year. In last place was Dart, Google’s programming language for creating frontends for web and mobile applications. The median salary for Dart developers was just $43,000.

On the database side, DynamoSB and Couchbase devs both broke past the $90,000 mark in 2022. Experts in Chef, a DevOps software that nearly 69% of respondents said they dread using, reached $120,000.

The tide does appear to be rising for all boats. Overall median salaries for developers grew by about 23% in just one year, according to the survey. Stack Overflow’s David Gibson and Ryan Donovan wondered if “the switch to remote work triggered a new wave of entrepreneurship as well,” noting that the number of respondents stating that they were a freelancer, contractor, or other type of self-employed worker rose around five points to 16.6%. In the top five countries represented in the survey—the US, India, Germany, the UK, and Canada—the number of people who identified themselves as full-time staffers actually fell.—TM

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Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming. Our IT Brew newsletter delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.