Software & Web Development

Developers: Stupidly committed, God-like power… still bizarrely overlooked

Over a couple of months in 2014 I spent some time trying to track down “grassroots programmers”. This was my term for the people who feel driven to pursue IT work outside of work hours. As I pointed out at the time some people might call them “hobbyists”, but this doesn’t really cover it, because I was particularly interested in people who also earn their living in IT.

Because of this I was fascinated to stumble across Stack Overflow’s 2016 Developer Hiring Landscape report [gated] recently. Based on feedback from an incredible 50,000 worldwide respondents – from 173 countries – this provided some excellent insight into just how many developers spend their free time ‘at work’.

It showed 83.24% spend at least an hour a week working for fun outside their regular job. While at the really committed end of the scale 4.46% spend over 20 hours a week on their own projects. Over half (51.61%) spend one to five hours at it.  

The really striking thing about all this is the sheer level of internal drive and passion in evidence. Most people don’t take this approach to their jobs – many just sigh, whinge and make a fuss about how much they have to do.

Instead this level of motivation is typically associated with artists, writers, musicians and anyone else who creates something themselves… and therefore takes it very seriously. Developers are no different. Yet what is bizarre is that these types of highly committed jobs tend to receive the lowest work status. And even in the modern digital age, where tech companies rule the roost and we’re all obsessed with iPhones, this still largely applies to developers.

Not so long ago “everywhere outside Silicon Valley programmers were treated like assembly line workers,” says Joel Spolsky CEO and founder of Stack Overflow at a recent London event.

Stack Overflow provides a platform for developers to share information and find career opportunities. It helps individuals find jobs “based on actual knowledge rather than the history of where they worked,” explains Spolsky who, of course, has a vested interest in the subject.  

“Smug business people think they’re inventing the future,” he says. But the way the world is being run at the moment actually based on the thousands of tiny individual decisions made by developers. This spans from prosaic choices, like Uber telling you which side of the street to stand on, to the more invasive daily control exerted on an Amazon warehouse employee by the device strapped to their arm.

Developers are not typing code they are “writing the script for the future” he asserts.

This is perhaps no more fundamentally demonstrated than the intense emotional impact the Facebook timeline can have on users. Here, the type of news displayed and order of news delivered in as morning can alter how a person feels for the entire day.

As Spolsky puts it “Facebook is making godlike decisions”. And ultimately all the tiny steps it takes to get there are being made by developers.  


Also read:

Grassroots Programmers: Love vs. Money

“Grassroots Programmer” Viewpoint Q&A: PhD Student

"Grassroots Programmer” Viewpoint Q&A: 50-Year Career


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