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Coders In Wealthy and Developing Countries Lean on Different Programming Languages

But does it matter?

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Aug 30 2017, 4:00pm

 Image: An147yus

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Stack Overflow is far and away the reigning king of developer forums. It's more than just a handy resource or meeting ground for distressed tech professionals, it's a form of default documentation for programming technologies. As a result, the site has access to all kinds of interesting data on coding trends, emerging technologies, etc. Some of Stack Overflow's semi-regular data analyses are kind of silly—"Developers Who Use Spaces Make More Money Than Those Who Use Tabs"—but some offer unexpected insights into a highly dynamic industry.

This week, Stack Overflow data scientist David Robinson published an interesting observation: There exists a small but meaningful divide between the programming technologies used in wealthy countries and those used in developing countries. To be sure, programmers everywhere tend to build things with the same tools, which makes sense because software is a global industry. In my own engineering side hustles I regularly work for and with people all over the world. But there are some curious exceptions.

The first is in data science, which tends to employ the programming languages Python and R.

"Python is visited about twice as often in high-income countries as in the rest of the world, and R about three times as much," Robinson writes. "We might also notice that among the smaller tags, many of the greatest shifts are in scientific Python and R packages such as pandas, numpy, matplotlib and ggplot2. This suggests that part of the income gap in these two languages may be due to their role in science and academic research. It makes sense these would be more common in wealthier industrialized nations, where scientific research makes up a larger portion of the economy and programmers are more likely to have advanced degrees."

C and C++ use is similarly skewed toward wealthy countries. This is likely for a similar reason. These are languages that are pushed in American universities. They also tend to be used in highly specialized/advanced programming fields like embedded software and firmware development where you're more likely to find engineers with advanced degrees.

And then there's PHP. Waayyyyy at the bottom of the above chart is CodeIgniter, which is or is very close to the most disproportionately represented language in the analysis. It's a PHP framework. PHP is itself skewed toward lower-income countries, but CodeIgniter is deep. "Further examination shows it is especially heavily visited in South/Southeast Asia (particularly India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines) while it has very little traffic from the US and Europe," Robinson suggests. "It's possible that CodeIgniter is a common choice for outsourcing firms building websites."

I'm not sure there's a profound explanation for these disparities. You would find the same thing in most other globalized industries, surely. Software development likes to imagine itself as a uniquely egalitarian white-collar trade, but skillsets follow education and education follows money.

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