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Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the greatest of them all - Python or Java?

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The technology industry has always been prone to hype. Today, the obsession with artificial intelligence (AI) is almost overwhelming and as someone who has worked with Java for over 25 years I have to admit to a certain degree of envy. It is no surprise that as AI and machine learning continue to trend, computer science graduates are gravitating to the Python programming language as it plays such an integral role in this world.

That said, I think it would be a mistake to put all your eggs in the AI basket. If you are a graduate or already working in the IT industry consulting your ‘Mirror, mirror on the Wall’ and thinking about whether your future lies with Python or Java, then I would like to convince you that Java is indeed the greatest of them all.

You can say I’m biased, but there are huge opportunities for programmers willing to turn their gaze to Java in 2024. The noise around AI may turn heads, but its appeal will rise and fall as the discipline matures. If you want more certainty from a career in IT, then Java is very much the incumbent and THE mature technology in the enterprise.

Reasons why Java skills are in demand

In the enterprise technology world, there is a commercial reality which is underlined by Hackerrank’s analysis at the start of 2023 of the most in-demand skills for employers. In that ranking, Java clearly came out on top. Certainly, an exciting time to be a Java developer.

Why do I believe this? There are many good reasons why Java will continue to lead in its demand among IT skills in 2024, but let me distil it down to the three most prominent ones:

1. Java is everywhere

We conducted our annual research on the State of Java which confirmed it is being used in the majority of enterprise applications and IT infrastructure environments. This universality means there are significant opportunities for those with Java skills. A major issue we have found though is version complexity. Our analysis suggests that many companies are using more than one version of Java from JDK 6 and 7 to JDK 8, 11 and 17. In an enterprise environment, downtime has real financial consequences, so knowing there are so many versions of Java in these set-ups creates complexity and more worryingly security vulnerabilities. 

We saw with the Log4j vulnerability how much potential damage could be caused if code is not up to date. Indeed, recent Veracode research suggests many companies still have not fully updated their Java code base to protect against future breaches. The bottom line is that companies will need individuals with Java skills to ensure applications remain stable and secure and there will be a consistent demand for commercial support to provide the essential fixes, security patches and expertise to support these teams.

At a time when organizations are striving to transform their enterprise IT environments, it is critical that the underlying Java applications and infrastructure are optimized. This creates opportunities for coders, because working with our customers we have also found that optimizing Java environments has had a significant positive knock-on effect for cloud computing usage. 

Historically, we have found customers paying for more public cloud capacity than they use, but if they optimize their Java-based applications and infrastructure they can significantly improve throughput which in turn reduces the number of nodes they require in the cloud. We have also seen examples where organizations have had instances up and running on standby because they are worried about Java warm-up times, which also adds unnecessary costs. 

A good Java coder will be seen as a huge asset to an organization if they can deliver cost savings on public cloud expenditure and improve IT performance.

2. Java is alive and well

While Oracle may own the trademark there is an incredibly robust open source community, which underlines the health of the technology. This community is contributing innovations and building out Java-based frameworks, libraries and tools, which ensures its continued relevance in the enterprise. More than 9 million developers use Java to create applications for everything from smart cards to enterprise servers and the cloud. 

Java powers more than 4,500 branded products. Furthermore, there is a well-established standards structure which gives enterprises the confidence that the technology will be developed in a consistent, reliable manner. You only have to look at the concerns about dependency on ChatGPT highlighted during the recent uncertainty surrounding the OpenAI leadership team to understand why enterprise users cannot become dependent on a technology that is not stable or dominated by one player. 

That Java has so many contributors and established ways of operating means that those with Java skills can also be confident there will be opportunities for them long into the future.

3. Java is at an inflection point

At the start of 2023, Oracle announced it was changing its pricing policy for Java, which has upset many in the community. Based on our discussions with customers we are seeing more and more looking at alternative non-Oracle Java distributions. Clearly, this increases demand for Java skills, but more importantly this disruption will lead to further innovation as other vendors look to provide solutions that will not just match but improve on what Oracle already offers like delivering more distributed architectures; faster startup/warmup times; more performant JVMs; and telemetry to monitor for vulnerabilities in underlying Java code. 

These three factors secure the future for Java as we will see new developments and applications of the technology which will maintain its vibrancy. In turn, this will create opportunities for individuals to carve out a name for themselves by contributing to future developments in the community, suggesting Java will be around for long-time after all the hype around other technologies has died down.

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This article was produced as part of TechRadarPro's Expert Insights channel where we feature the best and brightest minds in the technology industry today. The views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily those of TechRadarPro or Future plc. If you are interested in contributing find out more here: https://www.techradar.com/news/submit-your-story-to-techradar-pro

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