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How Many Developers Are There?

July 6, 2016

At Evans Data we started estimating the worldwide developer population in 2006, and to make it more useful, we also overlay the results from our semi annual Global Development survey which is conducted worldwide in 7 languages.  That way we can tell you not only how many developers there are in China, Portugal, or wherever but also how many Chinese developers target mobile devices or use Java, etc etc.  We have published updates every six months and are now on our 20th edition.


It’s not easy making estimates of the worldwide population of developers.  If a country publishes that data, then we use that information, but very few countries do that, so instead we take data from a variety of reliable published sources (like World Bank, CIA, IMF, and so on) which correlates with developer population and feed it into a proprietary model.  Over the years our source list has grown and our model has become more mature and sophisticated.  We are very confident in our developer population estimates.


But sometimes we get questions when our estimate doesn’t match that of another source, like BLS or another vendor, and usually that is due to definitions.  For example take IDC’s population estimates.  In 2007 IDC published a “Worldwide Professional Developer Population” report and estimated that in 2007 there were 13,085,000 developers worldwide and that by 2011 there would be 17,214,000. However in 2010 they published this same “Worldwide Professional Developer Population” report and that year estimated there were only 8,500,000 developers in 2007 and that there would only be 10,450,000 in 2011. Not only had 6.76 million developers disappeared from their 2011 forecast, but 4.5 million had disappeared from the past!  What could have happened?  In their latest 2014 estimate they now think that there are 11 million professional developers but that there are also enough hobbyists to bring the number up to 18.5 million worldwide total.  So the answer was in their definitions.


In our Developer Population Study in 2014, we estimated there were 19,031,400 developers worldwide – pretty close to the total 2014 IDC estimated.  Today we estimate there are just over 21 million, but we’re not adding on 7 or 8 million hobbyists because we’ve never seen any evidence of any kind to justify a sizable number of people writing code who are not coders.  We see plenty of moonlighters – developers who work on their own projects on their own time, but are still employed as developers in the daytime, but not actual hobbyists.  In fact, when we ask developers about their involvement with the creation of software, the number of hobbyists typically doesn’t reach past 4 or 5%.


However, we do include managers in our total count. Our Developer Population Study not only includes coders but also people who code and manage a team, people who only manage a development team, and upper level CTOs and CIOs.  The total number of developers who only code plus those who code and also lead a team accounts for about two-thirds of our developers, and those who are solely development managers are another 20%.  The other 15% are the hobbyists, students, academicians, and people who write code for their jobs but don’t consider themselves to be professional developers.


So it all comes down to definitions.  We like to count everyone who is actively involved in the creation of software from rank and file coders to architects to team leaders, development managers and all the way up to the CTO.

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