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Reverse Aging in North American Software Developers

August 7, 2012

After measuring the demographics of software developers worldwide for fifteen years, we at Evans Data have a lot of solid trending data on who exactly developers are including their gender, education, experience, marital status and age.  And while demographics have never been my personal favorite among the topics we cover (I much prefer technology adoption), I have to admit that recent changes in developers’ regional age profiles are very interesting.

What’s happening is that developers in the APAC region, who have been the youngest for years, are aging.  There’s no surprise there as the software industry is new in Asia  relative to other parts of the world, and all we’re seeing is the early adopters now becoming older.  They’re still younger than other regions since there are still many new developers entering the field, but overall the profile is gaining some maturity.  In the EMEA region, we still see a relatively youthful population because the population of developers is shifting towards Eastern European nations and Russia.  Although the entire region is still relatively young, the western European developers are definitely aging.

But North America is a very cohesive and homogenous population and what’s remarkable is that in North America developers in the last couple of years have reversed their perennial aging and are actually getting younger!.  This is significant because it demonstrates a basic change in the dynamic of the developer population.  For most of the last fifteen years North American developers have been the oldest in the world.  Software started in North America and practitioners have remained in the work force.  North American developers continued to get older until 2008 when they reached a peak median age of 46 (the median age being the middle age where half are older and half are younger).  Today, just two years later, the median age is 38.

So what happened?  We can have two powerful forces at work in the last two years that would shape the developer population and predict this result.  The first is the rise of social computing and applications and mobile apps.  All of these are very fresh new paradigms which have a great appeal to younger people.  There’s no longer a need to spend years in corporate America working your way up through the ranks to become a development manager.  Quite the contrary, young developers can now develop and sell their own apps without the benefits of a formal distribution channel and they can develop programs that are geared for a younger audience.  The other thing that happened was a large recession.  In recession, the highest paid employees (unless they’re rock stars) are often let go first and that often equates to the oldest ones who have been in the firm the longest time getting small raises over the years until they’re now attractive layoff targets.  They’re also the ones who can best be offered retirement buyouts.  So we have lost a lot of older developers to recession while at the same time adding more youthful developers – anxious to make their mark in the exciting new world of social and/or mobile.  That equals demographic shift.

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