O'Reilly veep of content strategy Mike Loukides aimed to discover "real trends" which "unfold on much longer time scales" rather than the current use snapshots in other surveys such as Redmonk's language rankings.
Investigating what people want to learn is a reasonable angle on this – especially if online learning is your business. The new report on 2020 covers "all usage of our platform, not just content that O'Reilly has published, and certainly not just books."
Loukides also gave more weight to usage than to searches. "Search data is distorted by how quickly customers find what they want," he said.
According to Loukides, online learning has boomed as a consequence of COVID-19 lockdown, with 24 per cent growth over 2019. He also said that the crisis has made more companies understand that they are to an extent online companies. "Suddenly, the ability to design, build, and operate applications at scale wasn't optional; it was necessary for survival."
The O'Reilly survey also picks Go and Rust as having healthy growth, while C++ and C hold steady. C# grew a little but by less than the 24 per cent overall growth, meaning a small proportionate decline.
Loukides also reported on non-language trends, and these are just as significant. Functional programming languages are not trending up: Haskell and Erlang are both down. "The real story is the integration of functional features into procedural and object-oriented languages," he said.
The original vision for the World Wide Web was radically empowering and democratizing ... Twenty-five years later, that's no longer true
There is also a look at DevOps trends – though Loukides said that "the term DevOps has fallen on hard times," with content called DevOps declining by 17 per cent year on year. The trendy term now is SRE (Site Reliability Engineering), though this involves "similar practices."
The DevOps/SRE field as a whole is growing strongly, with high interest in version control, testing, monitoring and observability. HashiCorp's open source Terraform, which automates cloud configuration, is 53 per cent up in O'Reilly's statistics.
Containers are hot but "Docker itself may have stalled," reported Loukides. Kubernetes shows 47 per cent growth – but Loukides opined that "the desire for simpler solutions will eventually lead to higher-level abstractions," suggesting that cloud vendors who wrap Kubernetes in easy to manage solutions may win over more hands-on usage.
Losers in the report include Chef and Puppet, tools for automating configuration. Loukides sees two factors behind this, one that Red Hat's Ansible "appears to have supplanted Chef and Puppet," and second that containers make VM configuration, the heart of Chef and Puppet, less important.
In the AI and machine learning space, Loukides identified AI as a big growth area, up 64 per cent year on year, and commented that "the future of AI is less about breathtaking breakthroughs and creepy face or voice recognition than it is about small, mundane applications."
That said, he remains adamant that GPT-3, an algorithm that generates human-like text, "has changed the world. We'll see AI being used to create fake news, and we'll find that AI gives us the best tools for detecting what's fake and what isn't."
The mainstream usage, though, is in things like medical sensors and factory quality control.
As for the tools used, the current trends put TensorFlow top, followed by Python's scikit-learn, followed closely by PyTorch. The much-hyped automated AI tools like Google's AutoML, Microsoft's AutoML, and Amazon's SageMaker "have gotten a lot of press attention … but we don't see any signs that they're making a significant dent in the market."
Any number of people have told us that they stay away from Google because they're too likely to say, "Oh, that service you rely on? We're shutting it down
The cloud story, according to the O'Reilly report, shows Amazon ahead but Microsoft and Google catching up. "Use of content about Azure shows 136 per cent growth," Loukides said.
Microsoft has "become a leader in open source," he added, thanks to cloud and GitHub, while Google's problem is not about technology but "its ability to reach customers."
Google's habit of shuttering services also counts against it. "Any number of people have told us that they stay away from Google because they're too likely to say, "Oh, that service you rely on? We're shutting it down."
Loukides is also opinionated on the matter of low-code and no-code programming – again influenced by the O'Reilly culture of democratization. "There will be a predictable backlash against letting the great unwashed into the programmers' domain. Ignore it. Low-code is part of a democratization movement that puts the power of computing into more peoples' hands, and that's almost always a good thing," he said.
The snag with all surveys is that they only reflect the views and preferences of those they survey – and despite the breadth of O'Reilly's learning platform, there is no reason to think that it attracts a neutral subset of IT practitioners.
It is also a paid-for platform in a world full of free learning resources, which skews the results. This one does better than most, though, in attempting to compare like with like and to identify trends, rather than simplistically comparing the popularity of languages and technologies that do very different things. ®