Java may not be ready for retirement, but a lot of people are looking for alternatives. Does that mean Java development is a dead-end skill? No. While its use is narrowing, Java is so widely used, no one believes it’s going to be replaced any time soon.
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It’s the second-highest-growth language on software-development project hosting site GitHub, behind CoffeeScript. It’s the No. 2 language by number of associated tags on Q&A site Stack Overflow. On the other hand, it’s slipped behind C to the No. 2 spot on the TIOBE Programming Community Index.
Paul Jansen, managing director of TIOBE Software, doesn’t believe companies are moving away from Java, he just thinks they’re looking at alternatives. Major corporations, such as banks and insurance companies, rely on Java’s stability for back-end systems. In that sense he agrees with the idea that Java is the new COBOL, used for legacy maintenance. Where companies are looking for new tools is in the area of new development.
Forrester analyst Mike Gualtieri, who in November 2010 urged moving on in enterprise application development, isn’t ready to equate Java with COBOL. However, he sees companies more likely to use multiple languages, such as Python, while still relying on Java for services. He argues that business process management and business rules systems can offer faster, more agile results.
However, RedMonk co-founder and analyst Stephen O’Grady believes that like last year’s styles, Java has merely fallen out of fashion. He doesn’t buy the idea that while it was great five or 10 years ago, it has no relevance today. “People want to write Java off, but it’s still hugely important to projects like Hadoop, Cassandra, Hudson and Jenkins, HBase.” he says. “Java certainly has been an enterprise-heavy language, it’s been used to write a lot of business applications, which don’t necessarily get developers excited, but it’s still being used to write a lot of projects that do get developers excited.”
Options for Developers
O’Grady sees two potential paths for Java developers: Leverage their skills and experience with these high-profile projects, or freshen their skills with new languages like Android.
Still, Jansen says Java development remains a stable career option, even if it’s not as sexy a language as Scala, Clojure, Groovy, JRuby or Jython, which also run on the Java virtual machine. “Once you master Java there are lots of other languages you can relatively easily jump to,” he says. “However, if you want to work in specific IT fields such as Web front ends and Web applications, gaming or embedded software, Java is not the right choice (anymore).”
Gualtieri agrees that Java development can keep you employed if you want to work in enterprise IT, but it’s not the go-to-language of startups or for non-Android mobile development.