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Python vs. Ruby: The Two Languages Compared



If you’re looking for a new programming language to learn, you may have stumbled upon the question, “What is the difference between Python and Ruby?”

It’s a great question, because both languages are modern, powerful, and have good learning curves which make them ideal languages for beginners to learn.

To help you answer this question and learn more about these two languages, we have decided to compare Python and Ruby like-for-like. This will give you a sense of what similarities and differences exist between the languages, so you can make a more informed decision about which is best for you.

We’ll start by talking about the programming languages themselves, then we’ll perform a comparison to help you decide which language is worth your time learning.

The Basics: What Are Python and Ruby?

Python and Ruby are both programming languages. In order to make a good comparison between these two technologies, we need to first understand their histories and the principles upon which each language was built.

What Is Ruby?

Ruby, created in 1995 by a Japanese programmer Yukihiro Matsumoto, is a general-purpose programming language. This means that the language is designed to support a wide range of use cases, which has resulted in the language being used for everything from web development to mathematical calculations.

Ruby is an object-oriented programming language, which means that it uses the object data structure to make code more efficient and to allow you to reuse parts of your code. Object-oriented programming languages are modular and encourage you to block your code into functions and classes.

The Ruby language is a blend of a wide range of the author’s favorite programming languages, which means that it is written from the perspective of “these are the features that were lacking in other languages”. As a result, Ruby has become well-known for the comprehensive nature of the language—if you need a feature, it should be there somewhere in the Ruby programming language.

What Is Python?

Python, developed in 1991 by Guido van Rossum, is also a general-purpose, object-oriented programming language. So, it uses a similar structure based on functions, classes, and objects as Ruby. But, structure aside, Python is its own language.

The main focus of the Python programming language is readability and making it as easy as possible for you to understand code. This has prompted Python to develop a syntax—which refers to the rules that govern coding in a particular language—that is often compared to the English language.

For this reason, among others, Python is often recommended as a good language for beginners. The syntax is simple to understand, and reading a Python program is somewhat similar to reading everyday English—something that cannot be said for other languages like C++ and Java.

What’s the Difference between Python and Ruby?

Now we know the background histories behind these languages, we can ask ourselves, “What is the difference between Python and Ruby?”

To answer this question, we’re going to divide our comparison into four factors. They are as follows:

  • Principles: Every programming language has its own principles upon which the technology is built. This factor refers to what principles matter most in each language.
  • Use Cases: This refers to the intended uses for each programming language, as well as the scenarios in which each language is commonly used.
  • Learning Curve: The learning curve is always top-of-mind when learning a new skill. This factor discusses how easy or difficult it is to learn either language.
  • Career Prospects: Many people learn to code to accelerate their careers. This factor addresses the salary and job prospects that are associated with both programming languages.

Let’s break down each of these factors, one-by-one.

Principles

The best place to start in comparing these two languages is to consider the principles upon which they were built. This gives us a better idea of how the creators intended the language to be used, which can help us better understand each language.

For Ruby, the key principle upon which the language was built is flexibility. As we mentioned earlier, the author of Ruby blended together various concepts from other programming languages to come up with the basis of Ruby. This is because the author was looking for a more diverse and specific feature set than other languages had to offer.

Python, on the other hand, optimizes for simplicity. We mentioned earlier how Python has a simple syntax that is great for beginners. Well, this is such an important point it is worth repeating. Python was built with beginner coders in mind, and the entire language is constructed to support the needs of people who may not have any technical experience at all.

It would be unfair to say that Python is not flexible, or that Ruby is not simple. On the contrary, Python’s standard library makes it an incredibly flexible language, and Ruby still has a relatively simple syntax in relation to other languages like Java. However, most developers would agree that Ruby’s focus is on flexibility, whereas Python’s is on simplicity.

Ruby is also updated more frequently than Python. This is because the language’s developer community is always looking for new ways to help keep the language modern and relevant. Python, on the other hand, is updated less frequently, which helps the developer community maintain the language’s simplicity.

Use Cases

Python and Ruby both have slightly different use cases.

The Ruby programming language is primarily used for web development.

While you can use Ruby for a wide range of purposes—like mathematical calculations, data analysis, and web scraping—they are not as common. When developing websites with Ruby, the Ruby on Rails framework is often used, which today powers sites ranging from GitHub to Shopify to Hulu.

Python, on the other hand, is used for a more diverse range of purposes. Indeed, Python is commonly used in web development—paired with frameworks like Flask or Django. In fact, sites like Lyft, Reddit, and Airbnb all use Python as part of their web infrastructure. But Python is capable of doing so much more—the language is very common in data science and machine learning settings, for example.

If you’re looking to develop a website, Ruby is a great technology to learn; if you are seeking greater range, and may want to explore data analysis or other fields in the future, learning how to code in Python is a good investment.

Learning Curve

With technology evolving so constantly, considering the learning curve for a new programming language can be a good idea. By knowing how long it will take you to master a skill or by having an approximation, it will be easier for you to determine which skill you can reasonably learn given the timeframe you have available to you.

For Python vs. Ruby, there is a clear winner: Python. Python is often taught as the first main programming language kids learn in school, and with good reason—it’s so easy to use. Python is world-renowned for its beginner friendliness and coupled with the massive body of support resources available for the language, it is definitely a language that you can learn in a shorter period of time.

With that said, there is nothing particularly difficult about the Ruby syntax. The language still offers a syntax with a relatively shallow learning curve. But, when compared with Python, it is clear that Python’s learning curve is the best.

Career Prospects

While you may have different goals in mind, many people who embark on the journey of learning how to code are doing so to advance their career prospects. As a result, when comparing Python and Ruby, we need to consider how each technology will impact your career.

Of course, learning how to code in any language will have a positive impact on your career, especially because coding skills across the board are in demand. Some skills are more in demand than others, though, which is important to consider when comparing programming languages.

According to Hired.com’s 2020 State of Software Engineers report, the number of interview requests for each candidate surveyed for the report was higher for Ruby (8.2) than it was for Python (6.1). This shows that while both skills are still heavily sought-after, Ruby may have a slight edge when it comes to demand.

In addition, according to Paysa, the average Python developer earns an average salary of $106,547, whereas the average Ruby developer earns an average salary of $109,469 (data collected April 27, 2020). This reinforces how, while both skills are still in demand in the job market, Ruby again has a slight edge.

Either way, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in software engineering will increase by 21 percent by 2028, which is deemed “much faster than average.” While there may be a slight gap between Python and Ruby in terms of earnings and demand, learning either skill will still have a positive impact on your career.

The Bottom Line

So, now we come to the final question, “Which language should you learn, Ruby or Python?”

There is certainly no “right” answer to this question. As we have already discussed, knowing how to code in any language is an advantage. But, the factors we have considered in this article will help you make a more informed decision about which language to learn.

If you’re looking for a really simple language to learn and one with a reputation for being favorable to beginners, then Python is a great investment. In addition, while Python may be known for its simplicity, it is still used in a wide range of professional environments, and the salaries offered to Python developers attest to the demand that exists for Python skills.

On the other hand, if you are up for more of a challenge and have more time to invest in learning how to code, then Ruby may be for you. Also, if you’re looking to become a web developer, learning Ruby (and its associated web development framework, Ruby on Rails) can be a smart choice.

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