Key Takeaways from the Stack Overflow Developer Survey

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By Eric Wise

The Stack Overflow Developer Survey is one of the largest of its kind, with responses from more than 80,000 software developers from 179 countries around the world. The Stack Overflow website has become a de facto repository for coding and technology related questions and answers with consistently high Google organic search rankings, all organized by an upvote system.

I always find the data and conclusions that can be drawn from the annual survey very interesting. Here are just a few.


While there has been a lot of press in recent years about companies such as Google and Apple removing degree requirements for employees, 75% of survey respondents identify themselves as professional developers and having a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, only 63% report having a degree in computer science, computer engineering, or software engineering.

Takeaway: Software development remains one of the highest-paying fields that you can get into without formal education, with one out of every four individuals not having a bachelor’s degree and more than one-third working without traditional, accredited training.

Eighty-seven percent of professional developers report teaching themselves a new language, framework, or tool without taking a formal course, while only 44% receive on-the-job training in software development.

Takeaway: Software development is a lifelong learning field where you are frequently asked to learn things alone. I’ve always warned incoming boot camp students that if you are not an effective independent learner, then this is not the right career choice.

I find 44% of respondents receiving on-the-job training to be shockingly low, given how critical IT systems are to businesses. On second thought, given the number of high-profile security breaches and the poor performance and usability of many apps I encounter, I guess it is not a big surprise! Creating a culture of learning is imperative for today’s companies.


Questions around competence in this year’s Stack Overflow Developer Survey jumped out at me. The survey asked respondents to evaluate their competence, and 70% of respondents said they are above average with less than 10% thinking they are below average.

Takeaway: We have often seen in our assessments that perceived competence is rarely the reality and have even had amusing survey results where individuals identify certain skills as their core competency but also want more training in those same competencies.

Thus, I believe the survey results related to competency are a clear example of the Dunning-Kruger effect and also demonstrates the weakness of data collected by self-reporting. As I pointed out in a previous post, the best way to get an accurate measure of competence is also to have peer assessments and mix in testing and assessment tools where available.

Bottom line, most humans are bad at self-assessment.

Technology Trends

The last part of the Stack Overflow Developer Survey that I like to evaluate is the trends for languages, frameworks, and platforms. In a world of hype, it’s always interesting to get data on desires and usage from the masses.

One of these is about containers, such as Docker. Over the past couple years, we have heard plenty of noise about containers making managing environments a lot easier; however, almost half of developers in the survey say they are not using containers today. Of those who are using them, only about 25% rely on them in production.

Takeaway: To me, the debate around containers is pretty straightforward. Either containers aren’t providing value, or the low percentage points to a tool and training issue. (Often newer tech is poorly documented with limited educational resources available, and busy professionals don’t have time for that noise.)

In regards to blockchain, the jury is still out with a little over half (55%) of developers saying it is useful, while a non-trivial number (31%) believing blockchain is a fad or irresponsible use of resources. It is worth noting that 80% of organizations report not using blockchain technology at all.

Takeaway: For me, this reinforces my opinion that the hype cycle on blockchainprimarily driven by cryptocurrencywas a bit too early and aggressive, leaving many developers disenchanted. There are some exciting applications of blockchain in use, and the technology continues to mature. I think it has a place in the world.

Finally, when it comes to programming languages, Python is the most wanted for the third year in a row.

Takeaway: This is no surprise given the astronomical growth of data science and Python’s importance in script automation/dev ops tasks. Python is my go-to answer for what language existing developers “should learn next.”

VBA, Objective-C, and PHP are the most dreaded languages, indicating that developers currently using them “have no interest in continuing to do so.”

Takeaway: In general, this means as a company if your platforms and applications heavily rely on these languages, expect to find recruiting increasingly difficult. I am not surprised that these three languages finished at the top of the dreaded list.

Interested in learning more about corporate training and workforce development programs in these high-demand technical skills? Start building your future-ready workforce today.


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