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Q&A: Why Coders Write Open Source

Jeffrey Hammond is an analyst at Forrester Research where he focuses on software development tools and techniques. He spoke with Dr. Dobb's editor in chief about this year's Forrester-Dr. Dobb's Developer Technographics survey.

Dr. Dobb's: What’s the biggest surprise this year?

Hammond: It's that mobile development has moved up by 33% over 2009 from 10-13%. And furthermore it's how developers are building apps. Sure iPhone is most popular at 55%, but Android is right there behind it -- targeted by 50% of mobile developers. It should be worrisome for RIM that blackberry is a distant fifth, behind Windows Mobile and iPad as a target.

Dr. Dobb's: What are the characteristics of technology adoption these days?

Hammond: We're seeing a move toward mobile as I mentioned before, and also an increasing interest in HTML, but also other RIA technologies like Adove Flash and Silverlight. And in the .NET space it looks like developers are finally starting to convert over to XAML. Adoption levels of the .NET framework 3.0 and later are much higher than we've seen in past surveys.

Dr. Dobb's: Why are developers contributing to open source projects?

Hammond: This is great -- it's my favorite part of this year's survey. The number one motivation for developers who have contributed to OSS projects is that they find it "fun to solve problems" at 62% that's almost 10% points higher than the next closest answer a "sense of accomplishment". Only 9% are paid to contribute. What we have going on here is developer working for their own pleasure -- open source projects seem to scratch that same internal itch that working on a good puzzle does. It speaks to the latent creativity we find in so many good developers.

Dr. Dobb's: What motivates developers these days?

Hammond: The desires are pretty simple -- the opportunity to master a new technology, to start up a business and have more control over what they do. The chance to solve complex problems and get rewarded for their efforts. It's how those motivations play out that creates such complexity and character in our industry. All you have to do is look at all the "side projects" that we engage in to see how creative developers truly are. I have to say I can't think of any other group of professionals I'd enjoy working with more.

Dr. Dobb's: Last year, you described management as "clueless" in regard to open source software. Still the same?

Hammond: No, that has changed big time. 2009 was the year that management caught up to developers with respect to open source adoption. They may still not be aware of all the different types of open source in use, but in critical areas like operating systems, RDBMSes and Applications servers they seem to know what's going on.

Dr. Dobb's: What's up IDEs this year?

Hammond: We continue to see Visual Studio and Eclipse as the most popular IDEs; that really hasn't changed much from last year. But there does seem to be a celebration of diversity when it comes to the tools that developers outside the Microsoft space use. If anything we're seeing growth in "other" IDEs and text editors and utilities like VI and Emacs continue to hold their ground.

Dr. Dobb's: If you were to characterize the types of developers, how would you do so?

Hammond: I've been doing a lot of reading about motivational theory these days, and some of the recent work I've read by Dan Pink is very appropriate for developers. Dan talk about Type I and Type X individuals: Type I's are intrinsically motivated, that is they are driven to perform by internal goals. These folks ARE developers, they don't just DO development. They're the same people who get involved in side projects outside work where they write code or the one who contribute to OSS projects because they enjoy it. It looks like there's a lot of Type I developers who are Dr. Dobb's readers, over 70% said they write code outside of work -- for whatever reason.

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