​Meet 2016's developers, according to Stack Overflow's annual survey

In the largest developer survey to date, Stack Overflow's programmer community reveal what tools and platforms they use in their daily work.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Do you know who programmers really are? What they really do? Or what tools they use? Let's see how closely your guesses come to the reality of the 50,000 plus developers who responded to Stack Overflow's 2016 developer survey.


Stack Overflow is an online social community of 4.7 million programmers. Think of it as a Facebook for techies and you won't be far wrong.

Yes, there certainly are questions about "How to validate an e-mail address in Swift?" that only a developer could love. But then there are also questions about how to explain nuclear power to an eight-year old. And this one: "Star Wars or Star Trek?" The answer by the way depends on age. The younger the programmer, the more likely they were to prefer Star Wars to Star Trek.

If you guessed that most programmers are male, you'd be right. For all the efforts to bring more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, 92.8 percent of the survey's respondents were male.

That does not represent how many women are developers even in the Stack Overflow community. Stack Overview states, "In fact, we know women make up a more significant proportion of the developer workforce than this suggests. According to Quantcast, about 12 percent of Stack Overflow's readers are women."

The developers here also tend to be very web-focused. The top programmer occupation is full-stack web developers with 28%. That's followed by back-end web developers with 12.2%.

This web-focus, combined with the fact that the third place "occupation" was student suggests that Stack Overflow's community is made up of young programmers. The lack of senior-level titles -- there were only 28.3 percent senior developers and 9.2 percent managers -- confirms this. So, it's no surprise that the average developer in this survey is only 29.6 years old.

The top 10 leaders driving open-source tech

This developer community is unlikely to have a B.S. in computer science. A whopping 69.1 percent are self-taught. The second most common way to pick up programming skills was on the job training with 43.9 percent. Only 34.8 percent had a B.S. in computer science or related field.

As you'd expect with a group so heavily invested in web development, JavaScript is the most popular language: 55.4 percent. SQL came in second with 49.1%. It was followed by Java at 36.3 percent; C#, 30.9 percent; and PHP 25.9 percent.

Newer web-development technologies like React, Facebook's JavaScript language for user interfaces, Node.js, and Google's web app language AngularJS are growing in use. So is Swift, which is stealing market share from Objective C. Developers appear to be dropping CoffeeScript, Haskell, and Windows Phone. And though the survey showed many developers want out of Visual Basic and WordPress, those technologies don't seem to be shrinking quite yet.

Most Popular Languages
Stack Overflow

The languages that people really love, as opposed to use, start with Rust, an open-source systems programming language that originated at Mozilla. This was followed by Apple's Swift and F#, an open-source language that's commonly used to create JavaScript code.

On the flip side, the most hated languages start with -- surprise! -- Visual Basic. It's closely followed by WordPress, which is a platform and not a language, as ZDNet's own David Gewritz can attest. Matlab and SharePoint are in a dead-heat for third place. I'm not sure how Matlab can rank so highly -- or lowly depending on how you look at it, for the 21st century answer to FORTRAN. It's not a language that I'd expect this community to encounter very often.

When it comes to turning code into cash, the most profitable languages in the United States are Apache Spark and Scala at $125,000 annual salaries. These are followed with a three-way tie for third-place by Cassandra, F#, and Hadoop: $115,000. The sub-text here is that many of these are used in Big Data and cloud projects. The web may be where many of these developers spend their days, but for the big money they need to move on to enterprise-level computing projects.

Regardless of the language, developers still tend to use old-school tools. True, integrated development environment (IDE) tools have their place -- Visual Studio is tied for first place, 35.6 percent, and Eclipse takes fifth place, 22.7 percent. But, editing tools, Notepad++, 1st place, 35.6%; Sublime Text, third place, 31 percent, and Vim, fifth place, 26.1 percent, are well represented.

Stack Overflow

And, last but never least, what desktops are programmers using? It's still Windows, but "Last year, Mac edged ahead of the Linuxes as the number two operating system among developers. This year it became clear that trend is real. If operating systems adoption rates hold steady, by next year's survey fewer than 50 percent of developers may be using Windows."

As for Linux, Ubuntu is tops among them with 12.3% of the entire OS market for developers. Fedora, Mint, and Debian accounted for 1.4%, 1.7%, and 1.9% of all responses, respectively.

Finally, as it was when I first started programming -- with IBM 360 assembler, God help me -- and it still is today, Stack Overflow found that "Developers want to learn on the job, work-life balance, and money. But mostly developers just want to code" Some things never change.

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