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Who Are Software Developers?

Software development is an art and a science that is not attainable for just anyone. It takes a special type of person to write code. Developers are detail-oriented, very literal, and intelligent. Logic is paramount, and they share a passion for their craft that rises above the desire to make more money. They are also typically married, middle-aged, have children, and most likely a mortgage.

In one of a series of surveys that we've performed every six months since 2001 (interviewing each time more than 1400 developers worldwide), we find the typical developer is a married, middle-aged male, who has two to three children. Males have dominated the profession for as long we've been tracking this; and during that time, they have accounted for anywhere from 84% to 94% of the workforce. The number of male developers is currently close to the low, at 86%, which might indicate more females are taking up programming.

Age is another interesting demographic. In North America, the median age of software developers is now 36, a number that has been declining for the last three years. Age demographics shift depending on how many older people leave the work force as well as how many younger ones enter the profession. Notice in Figure 1 how North American developers eight years ago were by far the oldest when compared with other regions. Note how developers in the Asia/Pacific (APAC) region were much younger. This trend started to change in North America in 2008, and has been in a steady downturn ever since. The timing suggests the recession took a toll: U.S. workforces downsized and older developers went into retirement (either voluntarily or not). At the same time, the popularity of mobile devices blossomed, capturing the imagination of younger people who began writing mobile apps. The result was a dramatic demographic shift in age.

Figure 1: Median age of developers 2006–2013.

Meanwhile, developers in Asia are slowly getting older due to a relatively new workforce that is now starting to age. Despite this trend, they are still nominally younger than developers in other regions.

In direct contrast to outdated stereotypes, developers tend to be family men: 71% are married and only 3% are divorced. While there are different ways to measure marriage and divorce, a 3% divorced rate is unusually low, considering that some projections for the general population in the U.S. are closer to 40% divorced. So, all told, developers are not the lonely, antisocial nerds that they are portrayed to be, nor are they free-wheeling socialites. In fact, almost two-thirds of them have between one and three children, while only 32% are childless.

Another hallmark of software developers is that they are well-educated. Programming doesn't happen often without a lot of training and the recession only served to make more developers get advanced degrees. 85% of them have college degrees, about four in ten have Master's, and another 5% have doctoral degrees.

Moreover, developers seldom start coding because they are driven by monetary goals. They are attracted to the development process itself and would not switch careers even for a significant increase in their salaries (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Reasons for choosing a development career (y-axis is % of developers).

Developers worry most about their platforms or tools losing relevance in the ever-changing software environment, though as they get older, they start to worry about their skills becoming irrelevant.

They think of themselves, quite rightly, as being more logical than intuitive, but they also think of themselves as being moderately extroverted — not the introverted caricature we know from movies. Perhaps one day, the familiar caricature will give way to a more accurate picture.

Janel Garvin is the CEO of Evans Data Corp., a market research company devoted exclusively to the software development market.

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