Hobbyist programmers: Don’t call us hobbyists

Calling people who write code but aren’t employed as programmers “hobbyists” is offensive to some

Last month IDC (disclosure: IDC is part of the same corporate family as ITworld) came out with a report finding that 7.5 million of the 18.5 million programmers in the world, fully 40%, are "hobbyist" programmers. IDC's definition of a hobbyist programmer is somebody who spends 10 or more hours a month programming, but is not paid primarily to be a programmer.

hobby-290x218_0.jpgImage credit: flickr/Nicholas Eckhart
Coding is more than a hobby to some non-programmers

The article was featured on Slashdot where, naturally, it attracted lots of comments. One interesting theme that emerged was that a number of people took offense at being called a hobbyist. For the most part, this reaction seemed to come from people who had to do some coding as part of their full time job, but who weren't officially employed as programmers.

"My job title is research scientist, though I'm more of a data scientist. In any case, you can't do my job without a fair amount of coding. I would certainly not classify myself as a hobbyist." barlevg
"There isn't an engineer, statistician, physicist, etc. out there who hasn't written or doesn't write a significant amount of code in the course of their using a computer as a tool. They're hardly hobbyists." Anonymous
"I could work as a programmer, however since the pay as an analyst is much better that is where I am. The work is still coding, though the it is different and involves a lot more math and statistics than regular app development. I'm not considering my self a hobbyist programmer though. This is what I do for a living :)" TyFoN

There are also people who are coding in their spare time as part of a business start up, who also didn't appreciate the hobbyist designation.

"Look, a lot of people are trying to start a business, it should be treated the same as work experience. So lets drop the hobbyist title." GoodNewsJimDotCom

There were, however, comments from people who did seem to be true coding hobbyists, that is those who program purely for fun in their free time, don't work as programmers and don't aspire too. They didn't mind being called hobbyists.

"Coding is a hobby and I prefer to keep it that way. I'm a hospital pharmacist and there is no way I could sit in front of a computer 40 hours per week." Anonymous
"Programming is fun and although I don't get paid to churn out code I still enjoy dabbling in it. By that I'm clearly a hobbyist and find no offense in that term whatsoever."  MoonFog

Clearly, IDC has cast a wide net with their definition of hobbyist programmer. I would love to see a more detailed analysis of those 7.5 million hobbyists and see how they really break down. I see (at least) three different type of "hobbyist" programmers:

  • True hobbyist programmers - These are people who code just for the love of it and have no desire or plan to make it a career

  • Accidental programmers - These people have to do some programming as part of their jobs; some may not enjoy it, and may not be any good at it, but is a professional skill their job requires

  • Entrepreneurs/would-be programmers - People who are writing code in support of a startup, or are coding with hopes of someday making it a career; this includes students

I suspect the number of true hobbyist programmers is much, much less 7.5 million, and that the latter two designations - particularly "accidental programmers" - are far bigger groups, and will only continue to grow for the foreseeable future. 

Are you listening, IDC colleagues? Keep it in mind for your next study.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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