Stack Overflow Developer Survey: Key Takeaways

Gary Gonzalez

Managing Partner

For the unaware, Stack Overflow is one the world’s largest developer communities and every year they publish an incredibly detailed report sharing the results of their annual developer survey. As a developer marketing professional, I can’t tell you what a godsend this is. It is nearly impossible to get good data on developers at scale, so the fact that they constantly get 70,000+ developers to share this much information is amazing.

I’ve learned two things after years of reading this report:

  1. It’s a must read if you work in tech marketing
  2. No one ever takes my advice and reads it

As such, I’ve gotten in the habit of pulling out what I think are the most important marketing highlights and making them a bit more digestible for a quick skim. I also use this as an opportunity to get on a soapbox and provide commentary on the findings based on my own experience and opinions. 

Aside from being a great exercise for my ego, my hope is that there are some helpful tidbits you can take with you as you work on building your own developer relations or marketing program.

Interest in becoming a developer continues to grow.

Learning to code online increased from 60% to 70% year over year.

Global developer populations have been growing steadily over the past decade and show no sign of slowing down. This underscores the importance of building robust developer programs to service the growing community, but this begs the question “where should we start”.

According to the survey, the number one place developers go to learn is online resources, which developers prefer in the following order:

  1. Docs
  2. Stack Overflow (reminder that this answer is biased because survey respondents are all users of Stack Overflow)
  3. Blogs
  4. How-to videos
  5. Written tutorials

Developers are more than just a segment  

Full-stack, back-end, front-end, and desktop developers continue to account for the majority of all respondents. Developers are wearing multiple hats. The majority of respondents said they considered themselves to be more than one type of developer - with DBAs, SREs, and Security professionals reporting the most variety. On average each of these roles reported being seven other developer types.

This is important to pay attention to when building target audiences and personas. As marketers, we so often want to put developers into neat little boxes and cute personas like “Danny the DevOps Pro”. The survey underscores that it’s important to acknowledge developers are more than just a “JavaScript Developer” or a “Database Admin”. They’re builders with a curious mind and often like to try their hand at a bunch of different things.

A cheat sheet for global targeting (kinda)

The United States and India continue to provide the highest volume of survey responses, followed by Germany and UKI (UK and Ireland). The top ten countries account for almost 60% of all respondents. These are the USA, India, Germany, UK, Canada, France, Brazil, Poland, Netherlands, Spain

This is an interesting one as we often get asked where developer programs should focus their global marketing. This data makes a compelling argument that you can hit over 60% of the global dev population by focusing on these ten countries. However, it’s important to acknowledge that this data is only reflective of western markets. You better believe that China has a huge number of developers, they just don’t use Stack Overflow very much, so they’re not reflected in the survey as much. The same can be said for other Asian tech hubs like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

The gender gap is still a bummer

92% of all respondents and 93% of Professional Developers identify as a man. The United States has the highest percentage of gender minorities (Woman, Non-binary, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming).

As a marketing professional I think it’s important to recognize that 9/10 times you’re marketing to a developer, they are male. As a human, I think we have a lot of work to do in order to create change and make this a more welcoming space for non-male identifying people. 

Prepare for Gen-Z

46% of Professional Developers are 25-34 years old. But we see that more than half of the respondents learning to code are 18-24 years old.

The majority of your target audience here are Millennials. Beyond that Gen Z is growing real fast. These generations want information fast and they’re getting it from different places than their older counterparts.   So do platforms like Discord and Slack (more on that later). Social media is also huge and yes, this also means TikTok in certain cases.

The importance of search

62% of all respondents spend more than 30 minutes a day searching for answers or solutions to problems. 25% spending more than an hour each day. Regardless of being an independent contributor or people manager, this is time that could be spent learning or building. For a team of 50 developers, the amount of time spent searching for answers/solutions adds up to between 333-651 hours of time lost per week across the entire team.

If I could only tell one thing to someone building a developer program, it’s that search is the most important thing to get right. Developers. Google. Everything. The data supports this every year. If you can only spend money on one thing, use it to make sure you’ve got your SEO and keywords sorted out.

Slack is where it’s at

Slack is the most loved synchronous collaboration tool and the most wanted tool.

This is a little nugget, but it’s an important one. Developers are already on Slack. It’s their favorite communication tool. Smart brands are making Slack (and Discord) an official part of their developer community engagement. Reach your developers where they already are, don’t make them go somewhere else they don’t want to be. More on this in a blog post from earlier in the year.

Blockchain is coming

Developers are torn on blockchain, crypto, and decentralization. 32% are at least favorable, 31% are unfavorable and 26% are indifferent. While those learning to code are more favorable than Professional Developers, more of them are also unsure

This is mostly interesting to me because of how many blockchain clients we have. The number of blockchain developer is growing every year and it’s going to start having a serious impact on the distribution of talent across the world. We’re getting very close to a tipping point where blockchain is going to be the hot space that top tier developer talent starts to flow.

 

Influence on technology purchases

66% of Professional Developers have at least some influence over their organization’s purchases of new technologies. This is up from 56% in 2020 when we last asked this question. Unsurprisingly, senior-level positions have the greatest amount of influence when purchasing new technologies. But with the exception of students, at least 60% of all developer types have at least some influence on purchasing.

This is huge and reflects a critical factor that everyone needs to consider when building a marketing program in the B2B tech space. No tech stack purchasing decision is made in 2022 without the input of a builder (developer). There’s a lot of richness that can be pulled from the chart linked above when crafting targeting strategies for both top-down and bottom-up marketing programs. Study it, use it. Thank me later.

Researching new tools and technologies

Starting a free trial (72%) is the most common way to evaluate new tools. But this is down from 77% in 2020. The other two most common ways of researching new tools are asking a colleague/friend (67%) and visiting developer communities (63%) like Stack Overflow. For Desktop or Enterprise application developers, they are equally likely to ask a colleague/friend and visit developer communities when they are researching tools.

A few different points to unpack here:

  • You need to have a free and easy trial for developers to access or else you’re completely breaking the customer journey. There is no better way to turn developers off from your product than to make it difficult for them to try it out. Developers are hands-on evaluators. They don’t care about your cute ad copy or clever graphics, they want to get hands-on to figure out how something works.
  • Peer-to-peer is huge. The ultimate pinnacle of a successful developer program is finding a way to elevate your happy customers into evangelists and advocates. It’s not easy to do, but if you’re able to crack the code, that’s where platform adoption begins to snowball at exponential rates.