To find the best software developers, journey to Middle-earth

A new analysis of top Stack Overflow users finds that the highest concentration of them can be found in New Zealand

Picture of a hobbit house used in the Lord of the Rings
Credit: Sheila Thomson

When you think of New Zealand, you probably think of beaches, kiwis (the flightless birds, not the fruit), and hobbits (since that’s where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies were filmed). Based on a new analysis of Stack Overflow user data, however, you may also want to think of something else: really good software developers.

Silk, a platform for creating data visualizations, recently gathered data on the top users on Stack Overflow, specifically those with a reputation score of 5,000 or above. They then created interactive charts and visualizations of the geographic distribution of those users, across the United States as well as around the globe. If you assume Stack Overflow reputation scores correlate positively with programming ability, the almost 15,000 developers included in these data are some of the best coders in the world.

When looking at the countries that have produced the most users with high Stack Overflow rankings, the results aren’t too surprising. The United States leads the way with 4,389 of them, followed by United Kingdom (1,347), Germany (664), India (595), and Canada (555). However, when we control for the size of the population, a different story emerges. Based on countries with at least one million people, New Zealand has the highest number of top developers per capita, followed by Sweden, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Australia. The US is ranked 13th in the density of top programmers, just behind Estonia and just ahead of Finland.

Globally, the top five cities based on the number of top Stack Overflow users are London (394), New York (270), San Francisco (269), Seattle (173), and Sydney (137). Silk doesn’t present per capita data at the city level.

Here in the U.S., not surprisingly, California leads the way in the number of top Stack Overflow users with 904, followed by New York (374), Washington state (300), Texas (204), and Massachusetts (187). However, if you again look at the distribution of top SO users per capita, things changes. In that case, the District of Columbia is first, followed by Washington (state), Massachusetts, Oregon, and California.

Another way to slice the data is to rank states by the average reputation score of its top Stack Overflow users. In that case, New Hampshire (36,859) comes out on top, followed by New Jersey (31,956), Iowa (27,316), Wisconsin (27,148), and Rhode Island (26,901); California is only ranked 14th by average Stack Overflow reputation (18,685).

The charts and visualizations created by Silk are fun to play around with, so have it; there’s lots more interesting information there.

The lesson? While there are plenty of smart developers in the places you’d usually suspect, like London, New York, and California, you'd have a better chance of running into one in New Zealand. Just don’t expect of them to look like hobbits.

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