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February 14, 2013

Demographics Shed Light on The Programmer Personality

Janel Garvin

People who aren’t programmers often imagine that they’re just like the familiar movie stereotype – the geeky nerd with no love life, no friends except other geeky nerds, and no interests outside of computers. 

The fact that the media has created such a concrete stereotype often confounds marketing people in the industry who may be charged with reaching out to and persuasively communicating with them – but yet don’t feel they understand them.

So, twelve years ago we branched out from our usual technology focused developer surveys and started an annual survey of developers focused only on their demographics, psychographics, purchasing patterns, and receptivity to various marketing methods. 

To some extent it’s true that developers are a breed apart in their psychological makeup but they also share very common features with the average person.  They have to be very detailed-oriented, very literal and intelligent to be able to write software in the first place.  On the other hand, they’re likely to be married with children.

The typical developer is a married, middle-aged male in his early forties who has 1 to 3 children.  Males have accounted for between 80 and 90 percent of the developer gender mix since we first started reporting on this in 2001.  The percent of females in the profession has slightly increased as a trend, but was only at 14% in this survey. 

He’s also married.  Seventy-one percent said they were married this survey period, with 26% single and only 3% divorced.  That divorce number is really remarkable considering that it’s less than a third of the 10% that the US Census Bureau reports for divorced Americans overall.  There’s something about developers that makes a marriage work.

Age demographics shift depending on how many older people leave the work force as well as how many younger ones enter the profession.  For example developers in Asia are slowly getting older due to a relatively new workforce that’s aging naturally without much attrition.  But in North America developers have been getting remarkably younger.  This year the median age for developers was 38, a big step down from the median of 45 we saw in 2009.  Such a dramatic shift is most likely both a result of older developers retiring or getting displaced during the recession of the last few years combined with an influx of younger developers attracted by new devices, technologies and distribution channels.

Developers answer to a variety of titles in their jobs, the most common being Programmer or Project Lead, though titles vary considerably by company size. More than half of the developers in this survey were programming for a living three years ago, but 18% were in a non-software related career.

They are well-educated – much more so than the general public.  Eighty-eight percent of them have college degrees, about four in ten have Master’s, and another 5% have doctoral degrees.  They are smart, detail-oriented and very literal.  Logic is paramount and they share a passion for their craft that rises above the desire for more money. 

Many demographic characteristics of developers are similar to the average person; but when it comes to their psychographics, they are distinct.  Writing a software program requires logic, a good and detailed memory, and a certain comfort with exactitude and creativity. Consequently, the people who write software programs tend to be smart, literal-minded, logical people with good memories, who are organized in their thoughts.

Developers seldom start coding because they are driven by monetary goals. Less than 20% report becoming developers more for the money.  Instead they are attracted to the development process itself and would not switch careers even for a significant increase in their salaries.  They worry most about their platforms or tools losing relevance to the ever changing software environment, though as they get older they start to worry about their skills becoming irrelevant.

Developers 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. 

Evans Data’s Developer Marketing 2013 has just been released to subscribers (see for TOC and sample pages).  It surveys over 450 professional software developers and covers a wealth of information for anybody who needs to better understand developers and how to reach them. In this article we share just some of the findings.