This post was updated on July 19, 2017
Just how many developers are there in the world? This seems like a pretty straightforward question, but the answer to it is far from simple. It comes down to one fact: counting people is hard. To start with, how do you even define a developer these days? Programming languages are becoming increasingly involved in natural sciences, meaning that everyone from biologists to mathematicians to astronomers might use code at some level.
The most commonly estimated figure in various software developer statistics is 20 million developers. Meanwhile in 2014, IDC calculated that there were approximately 18.5 million programmers worldwide. More recent data provided by Evans Data Corporation, which regularly conducts in-depth surveys of the global developer population, suggest that the total number of developers in the world is 21 million.
Whatever the real number of developers is, one thing is certain: it’s definitely larger than 21 million. Proof? There’s 21 million active GitHub users alone. While some may be duplicates, it seems implausible that GitHub would have more users than the entire industry.
The one thing we can safely assume is that there are currently over 21 million developers in the world, but any figure beyond that would be no more than a wild guess.
Because of the aforementioned difficulties in counting people, figuring out the number of software developers by country doesn’t seem like a doable task. However, we did manage to find two reliable sources that claim to know how many software engineers there are in the US: Data USA estimates that there are around 1.17 million developers in the US, while Evans Data Corporation pegs the figure much higher, at around 4.4 million.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job gives an estimate that is pretty close to the one provided by Evans Data — 4.2 million. This was calculated while trying to figure out how many developers there are across different US states. Here are the results of that research:.
It’s worth noting that the 4.2 million includes technical writers, electrical and hardware engineers, CAD programmers, actuaries, statisticians, economists, mathematicians, and generally everyone who writes or reads code on a daily basis, in addition to software developers.
If we only take the “classic” definition of a software developer, we’re actually only looking at around 3.4 million people.
When it comes to the state-by-state breakdown, the highest percentage of programmers are concentrated in Washington DC. In fact, 6.46 percent of workers who live there meet the most extended definition of a developer in this research. Virginia and Maryland followed with 4.43 percent and 4.41 percent respectively.
In terms of raw numbers, California leads the way with 628 thousand “classic” developers. Texas and New York come in second and third with 325 thousand and 218 thousand respectively.
Questions like “How many C++ programmers are there?”, “How many C# developers are there?” or “What’s the number of Java developers in the world?” regularly pop up all over the web.
The problem is that methodologies for counting developers specializing in specific languages are even blurrier than the ones used for estimating the total number. To statisticians’ great dismay, most developers have a knowledge of at least two or three languages other than the one specified in their job title.
Still, we’ve found some rough estimates online that you may find useful:
Regular surveys conducted by Evans Data Corporation offer plenty of other software developer statistics. Below are the ones we think are the most interesting:
All in all, there’s not really a way to check how accurate any of the numbers above are. It’s not that we doubt the credibility of the sources we used — it’s the definitions that pose the problem. Data Evans Corporation, for instance, counts everyone who’s actively involved in the creation of software from rank and file coders to team leaders and managers, all the way up to CTOs.
Both Data USA and DQYDJ used data provided by the US Census Bureau but somehow ended up with very different figures. Again, this most likely the result of differing definitions.
The one thing we know for sure is that the number of people writing code is only likely to grow in the coming years. The BLS predicts that by 2024, the number of jobs for software and app developers will have increased by 12.5 percent compared to the 2014 levels (the national average is expected to be 6.5 percent), and the situation won’t be much different in the rest of the world. And with all the jobs in other fields that require some level of development prowess, it looks like one day programming may well become the new literacy.