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The rise of hobbyist programmers

Amateur programmers are becoming increasingly more prevalent in the IT landscape, a new IDC study has found

By Joab Jackson
December 19, 2013 04:02 PM ET

IDG News Service - 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.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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