An increasing amount of programming is being conducted by non-professional programmers, a new IDC study has found.
Of the 18.5 million software developers in the world, about 7.5 million -- roughly 40 percent -- are "hobbyist developers," which is what IDC calls people who write code even though it is not their primary occupation.
"While hobbyist developer populations were not forecast previously at IDC, it is expected that this population has seen a much faster rate of increase over recent years than the population of professional software developers and will likely grow at a faster rate in the future," stated the report, compiled by IDC's program director for software development research, Al Hilwa.
The boom in hobbyist programmers should cheer computer literacy advocates, who have been championing the idea that more of the general population should learn to code, in order to better understand the ways of the computers they rely on so heavily.
A hobbyist developer is, by IDC's definition, someone who spends 10 hours a month or more writing computer or mobile device programs, even though they are not paid primarily to be a programmer. They may program for any one of number of reasons.
They may be writing the programs for fun, or they may be trying to make some extra money -- or even strike it rich -- by developing an app for an app store. They may be citizen programmers assembling programs to help their chosen causes, or contributing to an open source project. Students also fall into the hobbyist category.
Or, they may also sling code for work: think of the system administrator sculpting scripts that automate routine processes, or the manager who builds a simple reporting application using Microsoft Access or a desktop business intelligence platform.
IT companies and other organizations that conduct their business chiefly over the Internet should keep this growing pool of programmers in mind, IDC advised.
"Many companies in tech these days are focused on consumers or citizen developers to customize or play around with their platform on a more casual basis," wrote Hilwa in an email.
Hobbyist programmers can be more up to date on the latest technologies, and may also make for a good source of talent when the market for professional programmers grows competitive, IDC noted.
In fact, countries with strong technology sectors typically have higher concentrations of professional developers in relation to hobbyist developers, because many of the hobbyists get sucked into the industry, IDC found. Those countries with weaker technology sectors tend to have a greater proportion of hobbyists, which can be problematic for those countries in that their hobbyists could turn their talents to nefarious activities, such as writing malware, or leave the countries altogether for work opportunities.
Certainly it is a good time to be a dilettante programmer. Open Web standards and open source software can drive the cost of development down to zero. The Internet hosts an abundance of free documentation and tutorials, such as Stack Overflow and Codecademy.
Also, an increasing number of software programs and services, such as Salesforce.com, can be extended through modules or user-customized additions, easing the need for full-fledged developers to create some new functionality. "The change from code-centric to configuration-centric application development enables some knowledge workers and business analysts to accomplish what once required professional developers," the report noted.
Overall, IDC estimates there are about 29 million people in the world work in IT. In addition to the 18.5 million software developers -- of both the professional and hobbyist varieties -- there are also about 18 million operations and management workers. IDC predicted that jobs for programmers will grow at a faster rate than those for operations and management.
"The ever-increasing pervasiveness of software and its embedding into many new connected devices, also known as the trend toward the Internet of Things (IoT), will stimulate the need and consequent availability of software developers worldwide," the report stated.
IDC is a wholly owned subsidiary of International Data Group, the parent company of IDG News Service.
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