Programmers Start Young
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Over half of the respondents to this year's Stack Overflow Developer Survey wrote their first line of code between the ages of 11 and 17. Somewhat surprisingly, school doesn't figure as much for where younger developers learned to code as for the older ones.

We've already had a first look at the results of this year's  Stack Overflow Developer Survey when we looked at its findings regarding respondent's preferences for programming languages and IDEs, see  What Programmers Want, Love Or Dread.

The survey conducted in May 2021 had over 80,000 respondents of whom over 50,000 are considered "Professional Developers". Almost half these professional developers are in the 25-34 year-old age group and 90% are between 18 and 44.

As far as education is concerned 80% of professional developers have completed some form of higher education, a bachelor’s degree being the most common (almost 50%) with a further 25% having earned a Master's Degree.

Across the whole survey, the distribution in response to the question "At what age did you write your first line of code or program? (e.g., webpage, Hello World, Scratch project)"  showed a very marked tendency towards high school age:


On the other hand, in response to the question "How did you learn to code?" school came second to online resources. Are we seeing the effect of the Hour Of Code which has now been underway for more than 9 years? While the overarching aim of is to ensure that computer programming becomes part of the school curriculum, its initial success was to deliver an online experience of coding.


Looking at the breakdown by age of respondent's use of resources there are marked differences. In the youngest two age groups online resources predominate whereas for the two oldest groups school twice as many respondents learned to code at school than using online resources.


Help from a colleague is highest among the oldest age group and on the whole older developer, i.e. those over 44 turn to books and physical media (paper presumably) as their preferred resource.

There is a strong correlation between age and participation in online courses. Overall  40% of respondents had used this form of learning with it being most popular with the youngest developers. The same relationship holds for coding bootcamps but this applies only to a small minority, 10% of respondents mentioned this type of learning resource.  

The fact that programmers start to gain programming skills at a young age, and also that they have a strong tendency towards lifelong learning to continue to learn new skills to expand their technological repertoire is something that we've commented on before, see The When and How Of Learning To Code reporting on Stack Overflow's 2019 Developer Survey. It is good to see that the trend continues.


More Information

Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2021

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 August 2021 )