NEW DELHI: Recently, one of India’s top software companies was faced with quandary. It had won a $200 million (Rs 1,200 crore) contract to develop an app store for a large US bank, but did not have adequate numbers of programmers who could write code in Python, the language most suited for the job. Eventually, it paid thrice the billing rate to a group of freelance Python programmers in the US. And learned a valuable lesson about the importance of a language named after the British television comedy series Monty Python.
For a nation regarded as a software programming powerhouse, the episode has salutary lessons. While skills in traditional computer languages meant for stitching software applications and maintaining large mainframe computers are a strength, ignoring Python could prove to be a costly mistake.
“Because companies like Infosys and TCS prefer proprietary languages like Java or dot NET most students think of these as an option in college. That is the reason you don’t get good quality talent in the industry to work with us in Python,” said Jofin Joseph, cofounder and chief operating officer of Profoundis, a Kochi-based technology startup which has been struggling for about a year to hire young Python programmers.
Python is by no means a new language — it was developed in the late 1980s by a Dutchman Guido van Rossum. It is open source, easy to write and can be used for a variety of applications such as development, testing and scripting. Because of its simplicity and elegance, Python has been embraced by top technology companies such as Google, Dropbox, Mozilla, Quora, Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Seagate, Qualcomm and IBM.
In spite of its popularity among developers, Python is yet to find a place in the teaching curriculum of schools or universities, most of which continue to teach the conventional languages such as C, C++ and Java, unlike countries like the United States and United Kingdom where universities and schools now impart Python training.
According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which tracks programming languages by popularity, Python is the second most popular programming language this year for development on the web after Java. According to HackerRank, which provides a competitive platform for coders, out of a total of 38 programming languages worldwide, 13.95% of all code submitted was in Python, while 19.92% submissions were in Java, and 15.72% in C.
The maximum number of solutions were submitted in C++ with 37.7%. For Python to have such a large share in the submissions compared to legacy languages suggests that coders have started adopting it in a big way, said Anirvan Mandal, product developer at HackerRank.
Indian IT outsourcers like Infosys, TCS, Wipro began by building software when Python was not as popular, and most code was built in languages such as C, C++, Java or .NET. “To rewrite something from C to Python would take a long time, so these companies find it easier to maintain existing code in those languages,” said Mandal. On the other hand, Ajit Kumar, a president at HCL Technologies, said that for IT outsourcing companies, proficiency in Python is now considered as an additional skill for developers.
In May, Google India announced the second edition of its “Code to Learn” contest, where students from classes 7 to 10 have the option to code in Python. “Our intention of including Python in the Code to Learn contest was to introduce a new language to interested students. A lot of professional software developers use Python these days and a number of universities are teaching it as the first programming language but it has less adoption in academia in India,” said Ashwani Sharma, India head for university relations at Google.
However, hiring agencies said that Python is a hot skill that is commanding a premium over traditional languages. For Python programmers with about six years’ experience, the salary could be up to 30% higher than for those with skills in traditional languages. “Of the most commonly required programming languages, Python was the only one to see a year-over-year increase,” said Alka Dhingra of recruiting firm TeamLease.