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From Views on Ethical Coding to Favorite and Dreaded Languages, Stack Overflow Gets Inside Developers’ Heads

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In January 2018, Stack Overflow, the Q & A website for developers, handed out their eighth annual developers’ survey, with 100,000 people – mainly developers – responding, the highest engagement to date.

Representing industries as diverse as web development, fin-tech and IT consulting services, the results provided a fascinating insight into the developer community as a whole, both who they are (mainly white males with bachelor degrees) and what they think about a variety of issues related to their industry.

Four of the interesting topics that developers were quizzed on were ethics, AI, languages and employment. Here is what emerged:

Would Developers Write Unethical Code?

The good news (for society in general) is that only 4.8% of the 70,000 respondents to that question had no compunction whatsoever about writing code for a product or purpose they considered clearly unethical. However, that is still over 3,000 coders who seem to be able to separate their morality from their line of work.

A sizeable number (36.6% – over 25,000) refused to be drawn and answered ‘it depends.’ Well over a half (58.8%) took the moral high ground and said: ‘no way Jose!’

There was more fence-sitting when it came to reporting ethical dilemmas though. This time, almost half (46.6%) said that it would depend on the specific situation. A sizeable 35.7% would bring it up but keep it within the office walls. Of the black and white brigade, 13.1% would denounce the evildoers publicly while 4.6% would go for the head in sand approach.

Another question asked who was ultimately responsible for the writing of unethical code. The majority (57.5%) placed the blame squarely on the bigwigs upstairs. The rest were fairly evenly split between the person who came up with the idea (22.8%) and the person who wrote the code (19.7%).

Developers were then asked whether they were obliged to consider the ethical implications of their code. Nearly 80% agreed that they were and in a further free response question, some even saw themselves as the last line of defence against unethical code.

Is AI Embraced or Feared?

Artificial Intelligence divides opinion with even heavyweights such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg seemingly on opposite sides of the opportunity and threat divide. But what do those who are most likely to bring AI into being think about the issue?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most developers (72.8%) were excited about the future of AI although there was a sizeable number (19%) of naysayers. However, it was concerned about fairness and decision-making that worried developers more than the potential of Skynet becoming reality.

The most exciting thing about AI, according to the developers surveyed, was the potential for automation of jobs with 40% support. Algorithms making important decisions and the point at which AI becomes smarter than humans came out equal at around 23% while 12.4% thought that fair decision-making was quite an exciting prospect.

When it came to fears, algorithms making big decisions and AI becoming smarter than humans came joint top at around 28%. A fifth were concerned about the automation of jobs above all else.

Nearly half (47.8%) took ownership of AI by saying that the developers should be responsible for looking at the ramifications. Just over a quarter (27.9%) thought that the buck should stop with the government while 7.7% took the laissez-faire approach.

What are the Most Popular (and Fastest Growing) Languages

Kotlin, Python, Rust, PHP, Swift, Ruby, Scala, C++, Haskell – the number of coding languages continues to grow by the day. But which ones do developers use, which do they avoid like the plague and which have they put on their wish list?

JavaScript held its place as the most popular language but the biggest riser was once again Python. Having risen above PHP last year, it nudged C# aside in 2018 to sit seventh in the list behind HTML, CSS, SQL, Java and Bash/Shell.

In terms of favorite coding language, Rust came out on top (take a bow Graydon Hoare) with 78.9% approval. Kotlin came just behind with 75.1% followed by Python (68%). TypeScript, Go and Swift also featured highly.

The language developers most wanted to see the back of was Microsoft’s Visual Basic 6 with 89.9% wishing legacy really meant legacy. Cobol (84.1%) and CoffeeScript (82.7%) were the next despised languages while VB.NET, VBA and Matlab also fared badly.

Which language did developers most want to learn? Python’s popularity has clearly made a mark with a quarter of developers keen to learn the ropes. JavaScript took second spot with 19% and Go completed the top three with 16.2% developers wanting to get educated in that language. Kotlin, TypeScript and Java also made the grade.

What do Developers Look for in a job?

A lot has been written about the changing priorities of the workforce and how salary is no longer the decisive factor when it comes to choosing a job. Well, it appears that developers haven’t read that script because compensation and benefits still came out on top when looking at priorities. And for those who might suggest that Silicon Valley type benefits packages are top of their mind, a further question clarified that 70% of developers valued salary above any other benefit. No other sweetener even reached the 10% mark! In second place behind salary and benefits came the languages, technologies and frameworks developers would get their teeth into in their next role. Career development opportunities came in third.

However, in such a male-dominated survey the men were clearly distorting the results. When the genders were separated out, women had a completely different priority list with the office environment and work culture coming top of the list. Opportunities and technologies came second and third respectively with salary way down in fourth.

So to summarise, on the whole, developers are a pretty ethical bunch. They are excited about AI’s potential to automate jobs and they use JavaScript but would love to get their hands on Python. When it comes to their next role, a basic IT support job would be fine for men as long as the pay packet was fat enough. For women, culture and career opportunity are far more of an attraction.

For a deeper dive into the developer mindset, see the Stack Overflow survey results here.

About Brent:

Brent Whitfield is the CEO of DCG Technical Solutions Inc. DCG provides IT services for Los Angeles area businesses who need to remain competitive and productive, while being sensitive to limited IT budgets. Brent writes & blogs frequently and has been featured in Fast Company, CNBC, Network Computing, Reuters, and Yahoo Business. https://www.dcgla.com was recognized among the Top 10 Fastest Growing MSPs in North America by MSP Mentor. Because of Brent’s experience as an MSP, he is actively serving on partner advisory councils for many of the major MSP vendors providing backup, RMM, and software to the market.  He also leads SMBTN – Los Angeles, a MSP peer group that focuses on continuing education for MSP’s and IT professionals.  Twitter: @DCGCloud

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