Stack Overflow’s 2021 Developer Survey and Ruby

Matthew • August 12, 2021

Stack Overflow has just released its annual Developer Survey for 2021. Since it contains some numbers relating to Ruby, and graphing software and blogging software exist, I figured I’d graph those numbers and blog about them.

I was able to find the data back to 2013 quickly. Where available, I took the numbers reported for professional developers and not the entire population of respondents since that’s of most interest to me.

I think we need to approach this data as pretty coarse-grained. That is, the number of survey respondents varies pretty significantly from year to year. So, we can rely upon it for only the broadest of trends.

So, without much further ado, here are the charts. First, here’s the trend in the percentage of survey respondents who are using Ruby.

Percentage of Stack Overflow's 2021 Developer Survey Respondents Using Ruby

First of all, I’m sure this number is lower than it was at Rails’ peak popularity, probably around 2010. (Google Trends says 2007.) While Ruby’s popularity may be trending down, I could also argue that it might be cyclical at this point? Anyway, as a lover of Ruby and Rails, I’d love to see this number rocketing up. But this feels kind of stable to me, and I’ll take it.

And here is Ruby’s ordinal rank among all of the “Programming, Scripting, and Markup Languages.”

Ordinal Rank of Ruby’s Popularity in Stack Overflow’s 2021 Developer Survey

This one is up and to the right, baby! Woo hoo! Oh, wait.

So, Ruby is decidedly out of the top ten and possibly destined to sink further? I do wonder if this is a product of Ruby’s declining popularity, or instead due to the appearance of many new languages on the scene in the past decade or so. It looks like it’s Go and Kotlin that have pulled ahead.

In conclusion, I’m a partisan here, and I’d love to see these numbers unequivocally more vital. But my rosiest interpretation is that these are the numbers of a healthy technology and community.

But I still feel pretty great about being in the Ruby world! Anecdotally, it feels like Ruby and Rails are on fire these days. There are several new Ruby implementations underway. Folks are doing some exciting work on other web frameworks. Shopify, GitHub, and Basecamp are all making significant contributions to Rails, making it ever more feature-rich.

On the employment side, Rails developers seem to be in demand as ever. When I curate job descriptions here at Ruby Job Board, a bunch of them are looking for Rails and some other technology (e.g., Elixir.). Along with comments like this, it makes me wonder if folks who decamped from Ruby as their backend web development language are making their way back? Anyway, that’s something I’m hoping to unpack later and in more detail.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn. Thanks for reading!

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Matthew Bellantoni is a seasoned technology manager experienced growing teams from 0 people to under 100 people, from $0 to $100M in revenue, at companies in SaaS, eCommerce, marketplace, and enterprise software. His time has typically been at fast-growing VC-backed companies, mainly using Ruby on Rails, where he's been senior management usually reporting to the CEO. (He's also written a Ruby on Rails gem with over a million downloads.) You can contact him at matthew@rubyjobboard.com or at @mjbellantoni.