Are software developers respected enough?
Software drives our digital world and underpins nearly all modern technology. Every computer is controlled by software and computers are everywhere. Apart from the usual places they can also be found, for example in cars, planes, medical devices or ATMs. And then there are software developers, the people who are responsible that the “magic” works. This paper will evaluate the importance of software developers and how they are viewed in society. It could also provide new insights into their work and struggles, especially for readers who are not familiar with this area. The author will argue that software developers are not respected enough, compared to professions that also require a high level of specific skills and attention.
What is software development about
A developer is a problem solver, creator and innovator. We enjoy building things and solving problems. It is really nice when things come together to form a useful product or tool. It provides a great sense of accomplishment and pride. Software development is not only about creating a piece of software that somehow works. It is also about reliability, performance, extensibility and elegance. Two developers, given the same non-trivial specification, will never produce the same program.
Knuth (1997, p. 3) says that “the process of preparing programs for a digital computer is especially attractive, not only because it can be economically and scientifically rewarding, but also because it can be an aesthetic experience much like composing poetry or music”.
According to McBreen (2002), software development is a craft and software development craftsmanship is heir to the guild traditions of medieval Europe. This is not in conflict with the idea that software development is an art. Of course, some developers are far from producing art. The path from journeyman to master is long.
How are developers disrespected
Lack of respect is most visible when developers get older. Unlike doctors or similar professions they may not be considered better and more experienced. Instead it is often considered as a disadvantage because modern technology is changing rapidly and most of their knowledge is most likely obsolete and it is harder for them to learn something new. If an older developer loses their job it may be a serious problem for them to find a new one. There are not so many older developers in general. According to Stack Overflow (2018), about 75 % of professional developers who took the survey were younger than 35 and only 1.6 % were 55 years or older. We can only speculate on where they went. Some of them were certainly promoted to the management. One thing we do know is that most of them eventually ends their software development career even before retirement.
Some people, especially older ones, think that software development is not as important as other professions. They tend to think that such “typing” into computer has no real benefit. In fact, as mentioned in the introduction of this paper, every computer is controlled by software and computers are everywhere. It may seem that doctors are much more important because they save lives. This may be true. Many of them, however, only apply the knowledge they gained at school, prescribe drugs and rely on diagnostic equipment. And such diagnostic equipment contain electronics that need to be programmed.
There is an argument that software developers have low salaries. This may sound controversial but only without considering their productivity. Facebook, for example, has only a few thousand developers but provides services to billions of people. Facebook reached the 1 billion-user milestone in 2012 with only about 4 500 employees (Feldman, 2019; Constine, 2017). Only a fraction of them were developers. In such global companies, is not an exception that one developer can provide services to hundreds of thousands or even millions of customers.
There are programming jobs that have a low barrier for entry. It is especially common in web development. People with a minimum of programming knowledge, focusing on creating and styling simple web pages by using pre-created templates are called coders. These people may consider themselves as programmers or developers, but in fact they are not. Even in regular software development, a master's degree in computer science is not always required. Practice is usually more important than formal education. Programming can be learned by self-study. In fact, most programmers today start their journey self-learning how to code. But the problem is that self-taught developers often lack professionalism. According to Stack Overflow (2018), only about 75 % of professional developers have the equivalent of a bachelor's degree or higher and only about 65 % of them majored in computer science, computer engineering, or software engineering.
No one will prevent a novice programmer from writing bad code with hidden problems and from publishing such a creation. Negative experience of end users with these programs could be transferred to computers in general and this could also affect the status of professional software developers. In contrast to lawyers or doctors, there is no professional chamber or institution supervising the quality of software developers work.
For many people programming is just a magic. They are happy when their smartphone works as it should and they do not really care about how it works. They also do not care about software quality because there is no difference from their point of view. North (2011) pointed out that “non-programmers do not care about the aesthetics of software in the same way non-plumbers do not care about the aesthetics of plumbing”.
In the first part of this paper what software development is about was discussed from software developers point of view. In the second part a few cases that indicate that developers are not respected were introduced. And in the last part possible reasons why developers are not respected were discussed.
Some of the counter-arguments suggest that there may be legitimate reasons why are developers disrespected. Nonetheless, the impact of developers, through their creations, on modern society cannot be overlooked. Productivity and life quality boost of today is largely due to software developers. Future research should therefore concentrate on the investigation of ways how to improve prestige of this profession. It is unfortunate that, due to limited resources, the study did not include a questionnaire research. A few well-aimed questions for developers as well as for non-developers could bring new insights.
- Knuth, D. E. (1997). The art of computer programming, volume 1 (3rd ed.): fundamental algorithms. Addison Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc. Redwood City, CA, USA
- McBreen, P. (2002). Software Craftsmanship: The New Imperative. Addison Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc. Redwood City, CA, USA
- Stack Overflow (2018). Developer Survey Results 2018 [online]. Retrieved from: https://insights.stackoverflow.com/survey/2018 [2019-04-04]
- Feldman, S. (2019). Facebook: From Harvard Dorm To 35,000 Employees [online]. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/chart/16054/the-number-of-full-time-facebook-employees/ [2019-04-13]
- Constine, J. (2017). Facebook now has 2 billion monthly users [online]. Retrieved from: https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/27/facebook-2-billion-users/ [2019-04-13]
- North, D. (2011). Programming is not a craft [online]. Retrieved from: https://dannorth.net/2011/01/11/programming-is-not-a-craft/ [2019-04-13]
Edit 2021-03-26 – another aspect: unpaid opensource developers