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From the DevMonitor: What Do Stack Overflow's Survey Results Say To Dev Programs?

Stack Overflow’s massive popularity with developers puts it in a good position to assess developer trends and sentiments, so its annual developer survey results are worth a look. Its most recent results were released in March, and as usual, provide some interesting insights for developer program providers into how developers are working, and how their needs can best be met.

So, how many developers are there, anyway?

We’re frequently asked to quantify the number of developers in the world (often to facilitate an “Even if we only capture 1% of them…” thought), and it’s not an easy question to answer accurately. We have seen estimates from analyst firms as low as 18 million, up to a carefully calculated 43 million from a European software company.

Stack Overflow’s figures provide another take on the number, albeit indirectly. The site had 46 million visitors in January 2016, and it estimates 16 million of those were professional developers. WIP’s own research has found that half of developers say they visit Stack Overflow at least weekly; by extension we can estimate based on SO traffic there are 32 million+ developers. A rough estimate admittedly, but one that falls in line with the 30-40 million developers figure we feel comfortable with.

Who do you think you are?

Nearly 30 percent of respondents to the SO survey self-identified as “Full-Stack Web Developers,” compared to 12 percent who say they are backend only and 6 percent who say they’re frontend only. This gives a bit of insight into the bulk of the SO community – focused around web development – but also how technology is changing developer roles.

The survey results show that JavaScript is the most popular technology among respondents, even when separating out results for backend developers alone. When separate results for frameworks like Angular, Node.js, and React are added in, it is clear that JavaScript is hugely important both on the front and backend of modern web applications.

The results also note that just about 8% of developers consider themselves “mobile developers”, whether that’s mobile in general or specific to a single platform. Again, this is likely a result of changing technology and context, as mobile has become so pervasive among developers that it’s simply seen as part of modern development rather than a completely distinct domain in its own right.

Breaking those mobile figures down, 3% of respondents said they were Android developers; 2.5 percent said they were iOS developers, while just 0.1% called themselves Windows Phone mobile developers (more on Windows Phone’s struggles below).

We see this as well in our DevMonitor tool, where in terms of both Developer Interest on Stack Overflow and New Project Creation on GitHub, Windows Phone barely registers compared to Android and iOS.

Talking tech

One of the more interesting areas of the survey covers the technologies developers are using, the tech they love, and the tech they hate. As mentioned earlier, JavaScript leads the way among the most popular technologies, followed by SQL/SQL server, Java, and C#. But keep in mind that “popular” here means most frequently used – there are separate figures for the most loved technologies, where a number of lesser-used tech lead the way: Rust, Swift, F#, Scala, and Go. There is also not much overlap among the technologies that are gaining in popularity on SO, led by React, Spark, Swift, Cassandra, and Raspberry Pi.

There are a few important takeaways here for developer programs:

  • Are you providing tools and resources that support the technologies and languages your developers are using? Keep in mind the SO survey is general and reaches across a large population of developers, and that your targeted groups may have some different needs and preferences.

  • Are you providing tools and resources in the technologies and languages that developers want to use? Both technology and developer preferences are constantly changing, and it’s important you understand how they are evolving in your own community, so you can provide the right sets of tools.

More bad news here for Windows Phone: it had the biggest drop among technologies represented on Stack Overflow, off 65% from last year. This echoes what we see in GitHub project starts from the DevMonitor, where the level of new Windows Phone projects has been steadily falling over the past year.

Developer priorities and challenges: How are you helping?

There are some really interesting data points from the questions the survey asked developers around their priorities and challenges, which some significant implications for developer programs. Answers to these questions cover issues developers face within their work environments, but also technical issues and developer motivations.

Just over 70% of developers said a priority was learning new technologies, with 64% saying building something new was important to them. We know developers like to kick the tires of new things and are constantly learning – does your program support this through its activities and resources?

In the same vein, the second most frequently cited challenge among respondents was poor documentation. This is something your program can directly influence through the quality and depth of the docs you provide! Having great documentation should be table stakes for any developer program, but sadly it’s not. Great docs are a very strong and effective means of differentiation for your program against its competitors.

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