Open Source in Emerging Markets: a Few Points of Statistical Comparison

Developers in countries like China, India, and Brazil are much younger than are programmers in other parts of the world. And they're more likely to use open source.

Among the facets of my persona is my Analyst Hat. For several years, I've contributed to a few research reports from Evans Data Corp., such as those that evaluate developer trends in Asia Pacific (APAC) regions and among Linux and open source developers. (You can download excerpts after a free sign-up, which also makes you eligible to participate in the surveys, and you can download stuff like Scripting Languages User Satisfaction, 2009 Rankings.)

[ See also: Convincing the Boss to Accept FOSS ]

Most of the information I work with is proprietary, but this morning John Andrews, Evans Data president and CEO, led a webinar on "Contrasting Software Development Trends Between the Emerging Markets and the Rest of the World." He addressed several issues I won't go into, such as the differences in language use, tools, and technology adoption. But I wanted to point out a few statistics of interest to the open source community.

In particular: the emerging markets — which include India, China, and Brazil — have more FOSS adoption and a higher concentration of effort in open source. Three quarters (74%) of developers in emerging markets use open source software for at least part of their work, compared to 65% of developers worldwide. In this context, "use" means personal use or corporate use, and could include both developer tools and desktop or server applications.

That 11% difference is particularly important because of the growth of the emerging markets. That is, the number of software development jobs are growing worldwide (yes, really, they are) but three times as many programming, testing and other development jobs are being generated in the emerging markets as there are in APAC regions, North America, and Europe. The point is, anything that's taking off in the emerging markets is likely to have a major long-term influence.

I'm not truly surprised at these statistics, since there's a pretty obvious correlation. In addition to other unique characteristics, developers in emerging markets are much much younger than they are elsewhere, and they have very little professional experience. In North America, for instance, the average developer has been working in the field for over 20 years; it's something like 5 years in the emerging markets, and over half are under 30 years old. (The phrase "No adult supervision" comes to mind, I confess, but then I wrote my first line of code professionally in 1984.) Yet these developers are highly educated; most have bachelor's or master's degrees.

Bottom line: younger developers, left to their own devices, with lots of college experience? That must mean an opportunity or need to turn to open source. And there's less money to go around in these countries, another FOSS adoption plus. But don't generalize too much here, though; these markets are absolutely dominated by Microsoft technologies, from operating systems to IDEs.

Overall, I like to think that these statitics bode well for open source. It's even better to think of the positive learning opportunities in a worldwide FOSS community. The less-experienced developers, whereever they are, can get help from knowledgeable programmers, whereever they are. It might be one-on-one mentoring (you'll see more about this topic from me soon), it might be open source sprints and code-a-thons, it might be advice about the things to consider in releasing your corporate apps' code as open source. Or it might simply be the opportunity to read the code written by people who know more than you do.

I dare say there are other repercussions that I'm not considering. What do you think they are?

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