Is Python the Best Programming Language for Startups?

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Wanna start a fight? Simply suggest to a room full of engineers that one programming language – say, Python – is better than another, sit back, and watch the drama escalate from debate to profanities to fisticuffs. Give it a try – it’s guaranteed* to work.

Software developers will happily argue all day long over which programming language would be best for a particular application that a startup wants to build. And if there’s one language that’s sure to have its name dropped in the discourse, you can bet your bottom dollar it’ll be Python.

Python has been on the market for nearly 30 years, and is still considered to be one of the top programming languages in existence. According to BuiltWith, there are nearly 1 million (980,308 at time of writing) websites that use the technology, and the TIOBE Index – a programming community index that measures the popularity of programming languages – currently ranks Python as the third most popular language in the world.

(Image source: tiobe.com)

Why is Python so popular? Well, fans of the language like it for its simplicity and what they call its “beauty”. The Python philosophy – known as “The Zen of Python” – says that “There is only one ‘best’ way to do something, and that is how it should be done.” A pretty sound guiding principle.

Python is also versatile, and can be used for projects of practically any size. Giants like Google, Facebook, Reddit, Spotify, Netflix and Dropbox (to name a few) all have major dependencies on the language. And many fast-rising startups have the technology in their tech stack, too, including TravelPerk, Festicket, 21 Buttons, Affirm, Robinhood, and Oscar Health (according to current job listings for software engineers).

(Image source: python.org)

What Startups Need from a Programming Language

Startups planning for product development need to consider many things when it comes to picking the right programming language. Often working with a tight budget, careful consideration must be given to speed of development, popularity of language, cost of developers, libraries, integrations, security, scalability, stability, and so on.

It’s a critically important decision to get right. There are literally hundreds of languages a startup can choose from, with the popular ones like Python, Java, and C++ being just a few.

But the choice should be made wisely. Of all the programming languages available, not all will be right for a particular project a startup has in mind. Market research is paramount to success, and the language you end up choosing should be one that serves your product’s needs – and thereby the needs of your potential customers – and be beneficial to the growth of your business.

All startups are as different as the products they are developing for the market. That said, there are some common needs that nearly all share when it comes to a business plan for development:

  • The MVP (minimum viable product) needs to be built as quickly as possible
  • Iterations need to be fast
  • It should be easy to implement new features when necessary
  • Scalability is a must in order to grow the business in the future
  • Integrations with other software must be easy and seamless

Even so, there is (quite frankly) no definitive right or wrong answer as to whether Python – or any other language for that matter – is the best programming language for any given startup. But it certainly is a popular choice, and so there must be some good reasons as to why so many companies favor the language for development.

Let’s consider what they are.

An Advanced Language That’s Easy to Learn

Having been around for nearly three decades, Python’s position on the tech scene is incredibly strong. Supported by a huge and passionate community of developers, the language has evolved significantly over the years and is now at an advanced stage, ensuring stability and reliability where it’s used.

Python’s guiding principles manifest in a language that is intuitive, neat, well-structured and easy-to-use. It also comes with a gentle learning curve that makes it easy for developers to master within a reasonable timeframe. In fact, such is the ease-of-learning and minimalism of the language that even less-experienced developers are able to get to grips with it and contribute to projects almost immediately. These are all inviting qualities that combine in a language that is particularly well-suited to startups with budget, time, and profitability considerations to take into account.

One of the Most Popular Programming Languages in the World

We can already see from the TIOBE Index that it’s the third most in-demand programming language in the world. But Python’s popularity is also echoed in the job market, too. Research from Coding Dojo analyzing data from job website Indeed.com on 25 programming languages, stacks and frameworks to determine the top seven most in-demand coding languages for 2018, sees Python take the number two spot on the list.

(Image source: codingdojo.com)

More recently, a separate report coming directly from Indeed.com revealing which programming languages were the most in-demand by employers between May and August 2018 puts Python at number four, behind Java, JavaScript and HTML. Such fluctuations are not uncommon, but it should be acknowledged that further research from Stack Overflow reveals Python to be the fastest-growing language of them all. It also predicts that by 2019, Python will significantly outstrip all other programming languages in terms of active developers.

(Image source: stackoverflow.blog)

What this means for startups contending with tight budgets is that the high-demand for Python engineers keeps hiring costs somewhat competitive. It also means that there is a large pool of developers to choose from. This can be a double-edged sword, of course, in the sense that startups will have to conduct careful research into anyone they choose to hire, and select only those with solid references and demonstrable and relevant experience.

Another thing to consider is the fact that with Python’s great popularity comes an equally great community. And this community makes it incredibly easy to find full and readily-accessible support for any type of problem or complexity that may be encountered during development. There are literally hundreds of thousands of Python developers and supporters all over the globe dedicated to improving the language’s core features and functionalities – a fantastic resource that startups should take into consideration.

Versatile and Scalable

Startups need investment. To get investment, they need a functional prototype they can use to pitch to investors. One great thing about Python is that it is designed to promote rapid application development, helping startups get an MVP ready extremely fast.

It can also be applied to pretty much any development scenario. Need code that works on MacOS, Windows and Linux? Python’s got you covered.

The language plays a key role in areas as diverse as gaming, graphic design applications and even machine learning (ML) – which could indeed be a key consideration for startups building products that require ML functionality. Since Python is a high-level, simple language, it makes for fast prototyping and tweaking of ML algorithms.

The simplicity of the language also means that not only is it easy to maintain, but it can handle quick growth as well. Startups need flexibility in order to grow. However, precisely when scalability will become a priority cannot always be predicted – which is precisely why startups need to be working with a language that can easily scale up and down. With the simplicity and minimalism of Python, any obstacles encountered along the path to growth can be easily surmounted. What’s more, with its vast and well-supported libraries, adding new features to a product is relatively easy.

Final Thoughts

So – is Python the best programming language for startups? It’s certainly a strong contender, and will be an excellent choice in a great deal of use cases. The language is free to use, quick to learn, user-friendly, popular, stable, scalable, and one of the very best options for machine learning and data analysis. In addition, since the language is so fast to develop with, not only is it possible to get an MVP in front of potential investors quickly, it also enables rapid testing of new ideas, features, and functions, saving startups time and reducing development costs.

For these reasons, Python continues to be one of the most invaluable tools for multi-billion dollar corporations and startups alike. But is it the best? Well, I of course have my opinion, but I don’t want to start a fight…

* Not a guarantee.

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Terry Brown

Terry is an experienced product management and marketing professional having worked for technology based companies for over 30 years, in different industries including; Telecoms, IT Service Management (ITSM), Managed Service Providers (MSP), Enterprise Security, Business Intelligence (BI) and Healthcare. He has extensive experience defining and driving marketing strategy to align and support the sales process. He is also a fan of craft beer and Lotus cars.

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