Is There Such A Thing As A Hobbyist Programmer Anymore?

According to IDC, Hobbyist programmers are on the rise. It said of the 18.5 million software developers globally, some 40% are “Hobbyists”; people who write code even though it is not their primary occupation. But is this right? IDC has a broad remit for “Hobbyists”; anyone who codes for more than 10 hours a month when it’s not their primary paying job, whether it be for fun, to get rich quick or for work.

This seems wrong.  Yes they all come under a separate umbrella to the full-time professional programmer, but lumping the guy who codes as part his job with the guy who makes Flappy Bird clones for a quick buck and the guy who just actually sees computers as a fun way to spend free time under one term seems like a misnomer to me. Stories about the report garnered a lot of reaction from the “Hobbyists”, many of whom were unhappy about the term. They had a valid point; if coding is an important secondary part of your job, is that a hobby? No, of course not.

Phil Johnson over at ITWorld outlined how IDC probably should breakdown its catch-all term;

  • True hobbyist programmers - These are people who code just for the love of it and have no desire or plan to make it a career
  • Accidental programmers - These people have to do some programming as part of their jobs; some may not enjoy it, and may not be any good at it, but it is a professional skill their job requires
  • Entrepreneurs/would-be programmers - People who are writing code in support of a startup, or are coding with hopes of someday making it a career; this includes students

The Decline of Hobbyists & Rise of App-sters

So are there any true hobbyists left? The Entrepreneurial ones have left, no doubt heading for Android or iOS, and the latest report on the Linux Kernal shows it is mostly the home of professionals. More than 80% of contributions came from developers at big companies such as Red Hat, Intel, IBM etc., while the number of unpaid volunteers is falling ever lower.

So where are the volunteers going? To the App store! The saga of Flappy Birds I think highlights the mindset of a lot of today’s programmers; even the simplest game developed off the cuff and put out to the public for free can suddenly make a man rich [though the trappings of success aren’t always that great].  As much money as there is in the mobile app market, and try as they might, very few people can actually earn a proper living from making apps. And instead we’re left with debacles over in-app purchases and Flappy Bird clones.  Not that there’s anything wrong with making money from your creations. It can be a good way to change your career or make a bit of extra cash on the side. But it means you can’t be called a true hobbyist.

Hobbyists Still Exist – Albeit With a Change Of Perception

I confess that the title may have just been an attempt to get a rise. Of course hobbyists still exist. You only have to look towards the Raspberry Pi for proof. Over two million of the little open source boards have been shipped in just two years, and the wide variety of projects people have used it for is nothing short of impressive. The Pi highlights the point that hobbyists who just want to do cool stuff with tech are still alive and thriving.

But whether or not you agree, I think it’s fair to say the focus of coding has changed. Instead of it being a thing people do, it’s being foisted upon people as a life skill akin to reading or making a good brew. In the UK we’ve got the Year Of Code initiative to get kids coding, but it’s being shown to kids in such a ‘learn this or never get a job’ fashion, it’s unlikely to really take off,  something I wrote about not long ago. Likewise, can coding still be a hobby when we’re telling homeless people they need to learn it in order to get off the streets? Maybe, but I think the elevation of coding from pastime to life-saving skill inevitably changes people’s perception, and therefore enjoyment, of it.

Are you a hobbyist programmer or frustrated indie developer? Comment below.






« News Roundup: A Purpose for Smartwatches, Social Swearing and Tech Philanthropy


What is the Future of Identity Management? »
Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

  • twt
  • twt
  • twt
  • Mail


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?