13 things we learned about programmers in 2014

Software developers are seemingly everywhere these days, but what do we really know about them? In the year that’s about to end, we learned a few things, at least.

Man wearing a shirt that says I’m a super-duper programmer!

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Programmers are playing an increasingly important role in the world these days. Whether it’s creating commercial enterprise software for corporations or free apps for our mobile phones, those who can write code are helping drive the economy and, seemingly, just about every other aspects of our lives today. But, to many of us who aren’t software engineers, programmers are a bit of a mystery. Luckily, this past year provided us with a number of stories, studies and tidbits about software developers to help fill in some of the gaps. Click on the Next arrow above to read 13 things we learned about this mysterious species of worker in 2014.

See also:

Superbugs: 10 software bugs that took way too long to meet their maker

Lazy like a fox: 8 ways great programmers save time and energy

Head-scratchers: 10 confounding programming language features

Superclass: 14 of the world’s best living programmers

History's 15 most popular computer scientists

Pants on fire: 9 lies that programmers tell themselves

A receptionist sitting behind a desk with a Google sign behind her.
Credit: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
A programmer at Google makes $3 million a year

In January, it was reported that an engineer at Google was making $3 million dollars a year in salary and stock awards. Even for these days, when software developers make lots of money, a programmer making $3 million per year is particularly unusual. While the engineer in question was not identified, many assume that if anybody there is making that kind of money, it would have to be Jeff Dean, widely credited as the brains behinds Google’s fast search results and often cited as one of the greatest living programmers.

Freshman members of the incoming 114th Congress on the steps of the Capitol.
Credit: REUTERS/Gary Cameron
There aren’t many programmers in Congress

In March, we learned that Dave Cole, a programmer and former White House technology advisor, was attempting to join a very rare class: software developers in Congress. While Cole ran a very open (source) and spirited campaign to represent New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, he ultimately lost in the Democratic primaries. That means that when the incoming 114th Congress is seated in January, only a very small handful will have had any experience actually writing code for a living.

A small statue of a graduate holding his degree.
Programmers from state schools get the best ROI on college

In April, we learned which U.S. colleges and universities provided the best return on an investment in a computer science degree. Calculating ROI based on the expected income over 20 years versus the net cost of the education, PayScale found that state schools, led by the University of Virginia, provide the best ROI on a CS degree. State schools were also well represented in a list released by LinkedIn in October which identified the best schools to get a degree from if your goal is to work as a developer for the most desirable companies, though a private school, Carnegie Mellon University, topped that list.

A slate sculpture of Alan Turing.
Alan Turing is the most important programmer of all time

In April, MIT’s Media Lab launched project Pantheon, which ranks the cultural significance of thousands of people throughout time using Wikipedia data. Based on these rankings, even the best computer scientists lag well behind people like Aristotle (ranked #1), Jesus (#3) and William Shakespeare (#15) in cultural impact. However, a number of well known programmers are included in the rankings, with Alan Turing being ranked the most popular of all time (#2,196 overall).

Pie chart showing the number of lines of code used for HealthCare.gov by language.
Credit: ITworld/Phil Johnson
Programmers didn’t need half a billion lines of code to create HealthCare.gov

In May we learned that a claim made in 2013 that HealthCare.gov, the federally run online marketplace for health care under the Affordable Care Act, consisted of 500 million lines of code was most likely way off the mark. A commenter on Reddit, who claimed to have worked on the site during a post-launch cleanup, provided a breakdown of the site’s lines of code counts by language that totaled a relatively meager 3.7 million lines (two thirds of which were Java). Of course, almost 4 million lines of code is still a lot, even more than is used by the Mars Curiosity rover.

A black t-shirt that says Python is the new black.
The next generation of programmers are starting with Python

In July, we learned that Python is the language used in introductory computer science sources at the vast majority of the top U.S. CS departments. This jibes well with anecdotal evidence that many programmers believe Python is the best choice for a starter programming language. We also learned this year that Python isn’t just a good language for newbie programmers; demand for coders who know it, newbies or otherwise, is way up and, oh by the way, Python developers tend to contribute the most to open source projects.

Apple’s Craig Federighi introducing Swift at WWDC.
iOS/OS X programmers are swiftly switching to Swift

In July, we learned that, just six weeks after Apple released Swift, its new language for iOS and OS X development which is meant to eventually replace Objective-C, developers appeared to already be making the switch. Swift repositories in GitHub seem to be displacing new Objective-C repositories and Swift made an immediate and continuing impact on the TIOBE and PYPL indexes of programming languages (both of which are based on web searches related to programming languages). At this rate, Objective-C’s days may well be numbered.

A horse race, with one horse pulling away from the rest.
Programmers working in economics should use C++

In July, we learned that C++ is the programming language that programmers working in economics or, rather, economists who have to write code, should know. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research examined the performance of a handful of programming languages when solving the stochastic neoclassical growth model, a common problem for economists. While compiled languages like C++, Fortran and Java all completed the job faster than scripting languages like Python, Julia and Matlab, C++ was the clear winner as the language economists should know to get the fastest results.

A sign that says OMG JavaScript! taped to a wall.
JavaScript programmers are in the greatest demand

In August, we learned from a study of 300,000 developer job listings in the U.S., U.K. and Australia by MS Gooroo that JavaScript was, by far, the most in-demand programming skill. That wasn’t the only good news for JavaScript developers in 2014; we also learned that JS is the top language choice by startups and that it dominates GitHub. Finally, we also learned that Dart, the language designed by Google to take on JS, still has a long way to go before it can challenge JavaScript’s supremacy.

A highway sign for Happy, Texas.
Clojure programmers are the happiest programmers

In August, we learned that Clojure programmers, of all people, appear to be the happiest software developers. This conclusion was drawn from an analysis of the words used in 300,000 comments on 40,000 posts made in a number of programming language forums (subreddits) on Reddit. While Clojure developers used words indicating happiness the most, PHP developers, on the other hand, talk the most like sailors, using curse words more often than other developers.

A Help Wanted sign.
Java programmers are paid the most

In August, we learned that jobs for Java developers paid the highest average salary (about $84,000/year) of all languages. The findings were from a study of 300,000 developer job listings in the U.S., U.K. and Australia by MS Gooroo. Java’s overall position as one of the top languages was reinforced by the fact that, despite some recent slippage, it has remained at or near the top of the programming language heap, whether ranked by web searches, GitHub repositories or Stack Exchange questions.

Cream being poured into a cup of coffee in an artistic pattern.
Coffee makes programmers happy

In September, we learned (yet again) just how much programmers like their caffeine. A study of company reviews and developer job listings on the career site Glassdoor found that employers who listed good coffee as a perk when hiring programmers were more likely to get rated higher by their employees. This helps explain why companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon go out of their way to make sure their developers (and everybody else working there) have access to high end joe.

A U-Haul truck from the state of Washington.
Programmers in the U.S. get paid the most in Washington state

In October, we learned from Bureau of Labor Statistics data that, here in the United States, programmers earn the most in the Evergreen State, with an average annual salary of $109,000 and change. However, when other countries are considered, developers in the U.S. aren’t the highest paid in the world. A Bloomberg study in June that considered median developer salaries relative to per capita GDP ranked Switzerland as the country where programmers are compensated the best, while the U.S. came in third.