Which programming language should I learn first?

Aspiring programmers and data scientists often ask, “Which programming language should I learn first?” It’s a valid question, since it can take hundreds of hours of practice to become competent with your first programming language. There are a couple of key factors to take into consideration, like how easy the language is to learn, the job market for the language, and the long term prospects for the language.

In this post, we’ll take a data-driven approach to determining which programming languages are the most popular and growing the fastest in order to make an informed recommendation to new entrants to the developer community.

Common Programming Languages (Source)

Quantifying Popularity

There are several ways you could measure the popularity or growth of programming languages over time. The PYPL (PopularitY of Programming Language Index) is created by analyzing how often language tutorials are searched on Google; the more a language tutorial is searched, the more popular the language is assumed to be.

Another avenue could be analyzing GitHub metadata. GitHub is the largest code host in the world, with 40 million users and more than 100 million repositories (source). We could quantify the popularity of a programming language by measuring the number of pull requests / push requests / stars / issues over time (example, example).

Finally, the popularity proxy I’ll use is the number of questions posted by programming language on Stack Overflow. Stack Overflow is a question and answer site for programmers. Questions have tags like java and python which makes it easier for people to find and answer questions.

We’ll visualize how programming languages have trended over the last 10 years based on use of their tags on Stack Overflow.

Data Explorer

So, how are we going to source this data? Should we scrape all 18 million questions or start hitting the Stack Exchange API? No! There’s an easier way: Stack Exchange (Stack Overflow’s “parent”) exposes a data explorer to run queries against historical data.

Screenshot of the Stack Exchange Data Explorer

In other words, we can review the Stack Overflow database schema and write a SQL query to extract the data we need. Before writing any SQL, let’s think about how we’d like the query output to be structured. Each row should contain a tag (e.g. java, python), a date (year / month), and count of the number of times a question was posted using that tag:

Year | Month | Tag | Question Count

The SQL query below joins the Posts, Tags, and PostTags tables, counts the number of questions by tag each month, and returns the top 100 tags each month:

Below are the first ten rows returned by the query:


Great, now we have the data we need. Next, how should we visualize it to measure programming language popularity over time? Let’s try an animated bar race chart using Flourish. Flourish is an online data studio that helps you visualize and tell stories with data.

In order to get the data into the right format for Flourish visualization, we’ll use R to filter and reshape the data. To smooth the trend, we’ll also calculate a moving average of tag question count.

After uploading the reshaped data to Flourish and formatting the animated bar race chart, we can sit back and watch the programming languages fight it out for the top spot over the last decade:

It’s hard to miss the steady rise of Python, hovering in fourth and five place from 2010 to 2017 before accelerating into first place by late 2018.

Why has Python become so popular? First, it’s more concise and requires less time, effort, and lines of code to perform the same operations as languages like C++ and Java. Python is well-known for its simple programming syntax, code readability and English-like commands. For those reason, not to mention its rich set of libraries and large community, Python is a great place to start for new programmers and data scientists.

The story our animated bar chart tells is validated by the reporting published by Stack Overflow Insights, where we see Python growing steadily over time, measured as a percentage of questions asked on Stack Overflow in a month:


Using question tag data from Stack Overflow, we’ve determined that Python is probably the best programming languages to learn first. We could have saved ourselves some time and done a simple Google search or consulted Reddit to come to the same conclusion, but there’s something satisfying about validating the hype with real data.

Trends in Vault Banking Rankings

As a society, we love to rank things. We rank colleges (US News & World Report), companies (Fortune 500), sports teams (AP Top 25 Poll), and even people (IMBd STARmeter).

Sometimes rankings are useful, since they collapse many data points into a single metric, allowing for easy comparison. The problem is when rankings build on subjective methodologies or abstract criteria are taken as absolute truth, rather than a directional guide.

With that disclaimer as backdrop, it’s no surprise that Vault.com surveys professionals to rank the top employers in industries like law, consulting, and banking. The rankings they produce are based on surveys that try to measure things like prestige, culture, satisfaction, work/life balance, training, and compensation.

Vault rankings are created using “a weighted formula that reflects the issues professionals care most about”, such as prestige, culture, and satisfaction (source)

Obviously, the inputs (“prestige” and “culture”) are inherently abstract and highly subjective, so the output (rankings) is likely to be noisy and subjective as well. That said, I was interested to see how rankings, specifically in banking, had changed over time, so I compiled the Top 50 lists from 2011 to 2020.

The lists are composed of companies across the banking spectrum, from bulge bracket firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to elite boutiques like Centerview and Evercore to middle market banks like Piper Sandler and Raymond James.

Below are the results for the bulge bracket and elite boutique segments, along with a few observations, based on loose categories suggested by mergersandinquisitions.com.

  • Dominance of GS: Over the ten year period, Goldman only dipped below #1 briefly, in 2012-13.
  • Decline of JPM: Despite clenching the #1 spot in 2012-13, JPM declined in the following years, landing at #5 in 2020.
  • Growth of BAML: Starting in #9 in 2011, BAML’s rank steadily improved over time, hovering at #3 in 2020.

I compiled this data manually, but used r and ggplot to clean and filter the data and create the charts. You can find the full repo on Github here.

Import, Define ggplot Theme



Thanks for reading! Feel free to check out my other blog posts or click a tag below to see related blog posts.

Studying Trends in World Religion using R

Using a data set from the Pew Research Center, this post is about unpacking trends in world religion. The data set contains estimated religious compositions by country from 2010 to 2050.

Sourcing the Data

Made readily available via Github, the file was easy to import into the R environment. Reshaping the data (wide to long format) using the tidyverse “gather” function simplifies plotting down the road.

After reshaping, the data resembles the table below:


Let’s start by visualizing religious composition by region over time.

A few observations:

  • Asia-Pacific has the least concentrated religious mix, with a “rainbow” assortment of Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists.
  • Christianity is on the decline in North American and Europe.
  • Simultaneously, the percentage of people reporting to be “unaffiliated” with any religion is growing in North America and Europe.

Next, let’s take a look at the least religious countries.

Any patterns of interest?

  • Most of the least religious countries are in Europe and Asian.
  • The Czech Republic tops the list with 76% unaffiliated, beating communist North Korea by a full five percentage points.
  • 50%+ of the China, Hong Kong, and Japan population is non-religious.

Lastly, what will change between 2010 and 2050?

For simplicity, I’ve only included differences greater or less than 2%.

  • Again, we see evidence of a decline in the percentage of Christians globally, although it appears to be most concentrated in Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Meanwhile, a larger portion of the population in places like Europe and Asia-Pacific is expected to be Muslim or non-religious.


This was a good exercise in brainstorming ways to slice a seemingly simple data set in pursuit of insights. You can find the data set for your own analysis here, or find the code that produced the visuals here.

Featured photo by Janilson Alves Furtado from Burst.

Analyzing iPhone Usage Data in R

I’m constantly thinking about how to capture and analyze data from day-to-day life. One data source I’ve written about previously is Moment, an iPhone app that tracks screen time and phone pickups. Under the advanced settings, the app offers data export (via JSON file) for nerds like me.

Here we’ll step through a basic analysis of my usage data using R. To replicate this analysis with your own data, fork this code and point the directory to your ‘moment.json’ file.

Cleaning + Feature Engineering

We’ll start by calling the “rjson” library and bringing in the JSON file.

json_file = "/Users/erikgregorywebb/Downloads/moment.json"
json_data <- fromJSON(file=json_file)

Because of the structure of the file, we need to “unlist” each day and then combine them into a single data frame. We’ll then add column names and ensure the variables are of the correct data type and format.

df <- lapply(json_data, function(days) # Loop through each "day"
{data.frame(matrix(unlist(days), ncol=3, byrow=T))})

# Connect the list of dataframes together in one single dataframe
moment <- do.call(rbind, df)

# Add column names, remove row names
colnames(moment) <- c("minuteCount", "pickupCount", "Date")
rownames(moment) <- NULL

# Correctly format variables
moment$minuteCount <- as.numeric(as.character(moment$minuteCount))
moment$pickupCount <- as.numeric(as.character(moment$pickupCount))
moment$Date <- substr(moment$Date, 0, 10)
moment$Date <- as.Date(moment$Date, "%Y-%m-%d")

Let’s create a feature to enrich our analysis later on. A base function in R called “weekdays” quickly extracts the weekday, month or quarter of a date object.

moment$DOW <- weekdays(moment$Date)
moment$DOW <- as.factor(moment$DOW)

With the data cleaning and feature engineering complete, the data frame looks like this:

Minute CountPickup CountDateDOW

For clarity, the minute count refers to the number of minutes of “screen time.” If the screen is off, Moment doesn’t count listening to music or talking on the phone. What about a pickup? Moment’s FAQs define a pickup as each separate time you turn on your phone screen. For example, if you pull your phone out of your pocket, respond to a text, then put it back, that counts as one pickup.

With those feature definitions clarified, let’s move to the fun part: visualization and modeling!


I think good questions bring out the best visualizations so let’s start by thinking of some questions we can answer about my iPhone usage:

  1. What do the distributions of minutes and pickups look like?
  2. How does the number of minutes and pickups trend over time?
  3. What’s the relationship between minutes and pickups?
  4. Does the average number of minutes and pickups vary by weekday?

Let’s start with the first question, arranging the two distributions side by side.

g1 <- ggplot(moment, aes(x = minuteCount)) +
  geom_density(alpha=.2, fill="blue") +
  labs(title = "Screen Time Minutes",
       x = "Minutes",
       y = "Density") +
  theme_minimal() + 
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))

g2 <- ggplot(moment, aes(x = pickupCount)) +
  geom_density(alpha=.2, fill="red") +
  labs(title = "Phone Pickups",
       x = "Pickups",
       y = "Density") +
  theme_minimal() + 
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))

grid.arrange(g1, g2, ncol=2)

On average, it looks like I spend about 120 minutes (2 hours) on my phone with about 50 pickups. Check out that screen time minutes outlier; I can’t remember spending 500+ minutes (8 hours) on my phone!

Next, how does my usage trend over time?

g4 <- ggplot(moment, aes(x = Date, y = minuteCount)) +
  geom_line() +
  geom_smooth(se = FALSE) +
  labs(title = "Screen Minutes Over Time ",
       x = "Date",
       y = "Minutes") +
  theme_minimal() +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))

g5 <- ggplot(moment, aes(x = Date, y = pickupCount)) +
  geom_line() +
  geom_smooth(se = FALSE) +
  labs(title = "Phone Pickups Over Time ",
       x = "Date",
       y = "Pickups") +
  theme_minimal() +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))

grid.arrange(g4, g5, nrow=2)

Screen time appears fairly constant over time but there’s an upward trend in the number of pickups starting in late March. Let’s remove some of the noise and plot these two metrics by month.

moment$monyr <- as.factor(paste(format(moment$Date, "%Y"), format(moment$Date, "%m"), "01", sep = "-"))

bymonth <- moment %>%
  group_by(monyr) %>%
  summarise(avg_minute = mean(minuteCount),
            avg_pickup = mean(pickupCount)) %>%
  filter(avg_minute > 50) %>% # used to remove the outlier for July 2017

bymonth$monyr <- as.Date(as.character(bymonth$monyr), "%Y-%m-%d")
g7 <- ggplot(bymonth, aes(x = monyr, y = avg_minute)) + 
  geom_line(col = "grey") + 
  geom_smooth(se = FALSE) + 
  ylim(90, 170) + 
  labs(title = "Average Screen Time by Month",
       x = "Date",
       y = "Minutes") +
  theme_minimal() +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))

g8 <- ggplot(bymonth, aes(x = monyr, y = avg_pickup)) + 
  geom_line(col = "grey") + 
  geom_smooth(se = FALSE) + 
  ylim(30, 70) + 
  labs(title = "Average Phone Pickups by Month",
       x = "Date",
       y = "Pickups") +
  theme_minimal() +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))

grid.arrange(g7, g8, nrow=2)

This helps the true pattern emerge. The average values are plotted in light grey and overlayed with a blue, smoothed line. Here we see a clear decline in both screen-time minutes and pickups from August until January and then a clear increase from January until June.

Finally, let’s see how our usage metrics vary by day of the week. We might suspect some variation since my weekday and weekend schedules are different.

byDOW <- moment %>%
  group_by(DOW) %>%
  summarise(avg_minute = mean(minuteCount),
            avg_pickup = mean(pickupCount)) %>%

g10 <- ggplot(byDOW, aes(x = reorder(DOW, -avg_minute), y = avg_minute)) + 
  geom_bar(stat = "identity", alpha = .4, fill = "blue", colour="black") +
  labs(title = "Average Screen Time by DOW",
       x = "",
       y = "Minutes") +
  theme_minimal() +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))

g11 <- ggplot(byDOW, aes(x = reorder(DOW, -avg_pickup), y = avg_pickup)) + 
  geom_bar(stat = "identity", alpha = .4, fill = "red", colour="black") +
  labs(title = "Average Phone Pickups by DOW",
       x = "",
       y = " Pickups") +
  theme_minimal() +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))

grid.arrange(g10, g11, ncol=2)

Looks like self-control slips in preparation for the weekend! Friday is the day with the greatest average screen time and average phone pickups.


To finish, let’s fit a basic linear model to explore the relationship between phone pickups and screen-time minutes.

fit <- lm(minuteCount ~ pickupCount, data = moment)

Below is the output:

            Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)    
(Intercept)  39.9676     9.4060   4.249 2.82e-05 ***
pickupCount   1.7252     0.1824   9.457  < 2e-16 ***
Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 50.07 on 320 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared:  0.2184,	Adjusted R-squared:  0.216 
F-statistic: 89.43 on 1 and 320 DF,  p-value: < 2.2e-16

This means that, on average, each additional phone pickup results in 1.7 minutes of screen time. Let’s visualize the model fit.

g13 <- ggplot(moment, aes(x = pickupCount, y = minuteCount)) + 
  geom_point(alpha = .6) + 
  geom_smooth(method = 'lm', formula = y ~ x, se = FALSE) +
  #geom_bar(stat = "identity", alpha = .4, fill = "blue", colour="black") +
  labs(title = "Minutes of Screen Time vs Phone Pickups",
       x = "Phone Pickups",
       y = "Minutes of Screen Time") +
  theme_minimal() +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))

You can find all the code used in this post here. Download your own Moment data, point the R script towards the file, and Voila, two dashboard-type images like the one below will be produced for your personal enjoyment.

What other questions would you answer?