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StackOverflow Developer Survey: Results are Depressingly Unsurprising

StackOverflow’s Developer Survey: The Results

I look forward every year to the results from StackOverflow’s developer survey. I’m in the software industry myself, and I always find the demographic information enlightening. Here are a few highlights from my first glance at the StackOverflow Developer Survey Results.

A quick caveat: yes, this is one survey from one website. We know that rates of online engagement vary, and so we know that these respondents are specific to one website, and one group of people who actually respond to surveys.

Demographics Are Depressing, but Unsurprising

StackOverflow has always asked about the gender and background of developers, but this year, they added a few crucial questions that indicate how 2016 has changed the way we all think about intersectionality. For the first time, they asked about ethnicity, disability status, and parents’ education level. Unsurprisingly, the results track with common conceptions about the tech world: Respondents are overwhelmingly male, white, abled, and their parents are educated.

50% of respondents have parents with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and an additional 5.9% have a doctoral degree. Why does this matter? As StackOverflow said: “We asked this question in part because public policy researchers and some employers seek information about first-generation college students to improve their efforts to support them.” We’ve known for some time that the tech industry must make bigger efforts to recruit developers of any gender and ethnicity, and now we’re seeing that we ought to dig deeper to look at students who are pioneers in their own families.

The why goes deeper: just as we’re realizing that modern families experience higher poverty rates because their grandparents were redlined from owning homes, we have to acknowledge that, if parental education contributes to participation in the tech industry, improving public education in impoverished communities will contribute to more gainful employment in the tech industry generations down the line. Cut off education to those groups now, and you’re cutting off opportunity for their kids and grandkids.

Who Does What

Interestingly, the 7.6% of self-identified women respondents are more likely to be data scientists, mobile and web developers, quality assurance engineers, and graphic designers. Men dominate the field in general, but especially in the realm of systems administrators and DevOps specialists. (My own anecdotal experience bears this out — I was both a web developer and a data scientist, and I’ve only ever known male sysadmins and devops.)

From StackOverflow

Web, Web, Web

Web developers comprise the vast majority of of developers, with 72.6% of respondents identifying as a web developer. Given those numbers, it’s not surprising that the trend carries into ethnicity — over 70% of White/European, South Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, and East Asian developers called themselves web devs.

You may notice a few glaring absences from those ethnic breakdowns: StackOverflow “didn’t receive enough responses from developers of some ethnicities to include them here with reliable percentages. However, we do see that many developers who identify as Black or of African descent work as web developers and mobile developers, and many developers with Middle Eastern ethnic backgrounds work as web developers and desktop applications developers. Developers who identified as Native American, Pacific Islander, or Indigenous Australian work as web developers at a high rate.”

There are literally not enough Black or African-descent respondents to produce reliable statistics on how they break down by developer category, further supporting what we already know: the tech industry and schools need to do a much, much better job of developing coders. We can’t just develop code; we must develop coders.

The Importance of Formal Education

While 50% of all respondents majored in CS or software engineering in undergrad, 25% majored in something else entirely — either humanities or non-computer-focused engineering. The next question, on the importance of formal education, aligned with those numbers. 49% of CS majors said formal education was important or very important, but 32% said their formal education was not very important or important at all to their career success. As a print journalism undergrad major, I (like 90% of respondents) am self-taught when it comes to coding, and I spent about ten years as a developer and product manager. But I’m not a developer any more. I’ve combined those skill sets into product marketing. (Development + journalism = marketing.) As such, I’m not a regular visitor to StackOverflow; I do wonder how many folks like me are on the fringes of the tech industry… and how many of us are women.

The Value of Diversity and Job Satisfaction

Much of the survey, as usual, is devoted to job satisfaction; what I found most interesting here is “What Developers Value in Compensation/Benefits”: 57% say “vacation/days off,” beating out “remote options” at 53.3%. Given all that we see about employees working longer hours and taking fewer days off, I found this fascinating; perhaps we’re saving up for one giant trip? Personally, I burn through my PTO every year, and like taking time off. I also treasure the option to work from home from time to time, and my company is excellent on both counts. Third, of course, is healthcare, and my company pays my full premium and deductible. I took a pay cut because of those benefits.

The “Diversity” section yielded telling results, especially given what we’ve already seen of the makeup of developers. 38.9% of respondents agree that diversity in the workplace is important, and an additional 26% strongly agrees. When it comes to who values diversity, though, we see that the group who holds the most positions in tech value it the least:

White males value diversity less than any other demographic group.

From StackOverflow: “Respondents who identify as women were more likely to agree or strongly agree that diversity in the workplace is important than respondents who identify as men. Men of White or of European descent were much less likely to agree or strongly agree that diversity is important than men of any other ethnicity.”

What’s boggling about this is that you should know the right answer to this question. If someone asks you to rate the statement,“Diversity in the workplace is important,” and gives you five choices, you have half a moment to remember it’s 2017. You have another half a moment to remember anything you may have read, anywhere, that shows that gender and cultural diversity improves productivity and overall workplace outcomes.

After that moment of consideration, 40% of white males were either neutral or plain disagreed with the statement. Extrapolating from that to what we know about the overall respondents to the survey — 74.4% are white, and 88.6% are male — and you have a really, really depressingly high number of people in the industry who genuinely don’t think that diversity is that important to the workplace.

I’ll see you next year, when the next one comes out. I really hope we’ve improved by then.

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