Software Development: Occupational Snapshot 2017

By Nancy Ordman

What software development jobs pay the most in 2017? Stack Overflow, the 7+ million member developer community, has answers to this and many other questions in its annual community survey. A record number of respondents—64,000—took the time to fill out the survey last January.

Image credit:CC BY-SA 3.0 Nick Youngson

Some findings surprised Stack Overflow’s analysts:

*Nearly half of respondents learned to code within less than a year to four years before accepting their first development jobs.

*Although only 13 per cent are actively looking for a new job, 75.2 per cent want to hear about job opportunities.

*Telecommuting is a popular perk; over 50 per cent gave remote-work options top priority.

*The majority reported that they are underpaid.

Some developer characteristics stay the same. The gender breakdown is 89.5 per cent male, 7.2 per cent female, and 3.3 per cent other.

Following are some survey highlights. The full survey is available here. Stack Overflow will provide anonymized survey results in a few weeks for those who’d like to do their own analyses.

How to become a developer

Formal education—a bachelor’s degree in computer science/software engineering, computer/electrical/electronic engineering, or computer programming—remains a standard path to a job as developer; over 75 per cent of professional developers reported that they’d pursued this path. The preponderance of respondents has bachelor’s (42 per cent) or master’s (21.7 per cent) degrees.

Developers also teach themselves; over 90 per cent claim self-education, in addition to or instead of formal education. How do they teach themselves? Official documentation and Stack Overflow Q&A are in a dead heat, at 80.2 per cent and 80.1 per cent respectively.

Although most developers have formal educational qualifications, the field is open to those who start out in different fields and who then take advantage of formal and informal education sources.

What languages, frameworks, and platforms are popular?

Stack Overflow has a clever way to ask about the developer’s tools of the trade: which language (framework, platform) do you love the most? Dread the most? Which ones do employers ask for most often?

The winners—what employers want—are Python, followed closely by JavaScript (languages); Node.js, AngularJS, and React (frameworks/libraries), and Android and Amazon Web Services (platforms). These can vary by specific responsibility; for example, a system administrator would use different software than a web or desktop developer.

Is the work satisfying?

On a one to 10 scale, more than 65 per cent of developers rate their job satisfaction at 7 or higher. Career satisfaction not related to a specific job is even higher at over 75 per cent.

What are good ways to find a job?

The general job-search wisdom, that networking is the best way to find open positions, applies to developer positions; about 27 per cent reported that they found their current jobs through a friend or former colleague. Surprisingly, tech-specific job boards ranked dead last as job sources, useful only four per cent of the time. Internal recruiters account for about 18 per cent of job offers. Expect to spend one to five hours a week actively looking for a new position.

What specialties pay the most?

The survey provides salary information for specialties overall and by geography (US, Canada, UK, Germany, France, and India). Combining all responses, DevOps specialists come out on top, with average salaries of around $60,000 (salaries are averaged over all geographies), with machine learning in second place ($57,000) and statistical/mathematical background ($55,000).

Splitting up specialties and salaries by geography reveals some interesting variations. DevOps and Data Scientists are always in the top five specialties. The top specialty differs in each country. In the US, machine learning specialist tops the stack, with an average salary over $100K. In Canada, Data Scientist and statistics/mathematics background are in a dead heat. The UK ranks DevOps, statistics/mathematics background, and machine learning as the top three. In India and Germany, Embedded Applications Developers have the highest demand. France pays the most for Quality Assurance Engineers.

US salaries are about twice as high as those in Canada, the UK, Germany, and France. In India, the top salary is less than the equivalent of $15,000.

Is the salary adequate?

Very few developers consider themselves to be overpaid (around seven per cent). Over 50 per cent are greatly or somewhat underpaid. Salary level depends upon employer, with government and non-profit employees reporting underpayment most often.

A few more interesting questions

How do developers pronounce “gif”? Most of them use a hard “g.”

Can a developer who shares an office use a noisy keyboard? The community is split, with 54 per cent saying “yes.” One hopes that only the “yes” respondents share offices with each other.

Can you deliver code that’s just good enough?

Yes, say 60 per cent. Optimize it later.

What is the demand for software developers?

The survey does not cover this vital piece of information. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand between 2014 and 2024 is predicted to grow 17 per cent, compared to a seven per cent growth rate for all occupations.

BLS concurs with survey results about average salaries, listing 2016 median pay at $102,280 per year, compared to $37,040 for all workers.

Summing up, software development is a well-paid occupation with ongoing high demand, good job satisfaction, and a wide variety of roles and room for growth. To see how this year’s results compare to earlier surveys, see 2016, 2015, and earlier years on the Stack Overflow website.