We wanted to get answers to those questions and more… so we reached out to our community and beyond. We ended up with a snapshot of the web developers out there to better guide our plans for the Mozilla Developer Network. While we know a lot about Mozilla hackers, add-on developers, and those working on mobile, we wanted to learn more about web developers, who are by far the largest segment that we touch. And while there is data available about their demographics and the technologies they use, we couldn’t find anything that would give us a better understanding of where they hang out and what they think of the companies that are working on the products and technologies they build and use.
I’ll summarize the results from the 1,331 responses we received from our “Web Developers & the Open Web 2010” (WDATOW 2010) survey, and share the infographic we created to capture some of the key findings.
We reached the greatest number of respondents via our Hacks blog and @mozhacks Twitter account, but we were also able to tap into our global community through our localizers, who helped translate the survey into 9 languages: English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Hungarian, Portuguese, Japanese, and Indonesian. We also posted requests for responses to various developer forums and websites affiliated with other companies, to ensure we had a broad sample that was as representative as possible. Of course we didn’t get as many responses from some of those channels, so the results should be interpreted with the caveat that active Mozilla community members are likely overrepresented.
However, that does not take away from the value of the information we have gathered. We identified “Mozilla” developers and “Other” developers based on answers to a few questions and found that the cross-over profiles of both categories of people were very similar. You can find out more on page 11 in the full report. We identified both categories based on the overall feedback on Mozilla sites vs other company sites, as well as how often they visited those sites, with those that primarily visited MDN making up the “Mozilla” developers, and those that did not being labeled “Other”. Therefore, while some of the open-ended questions might have a lot of subjective and fairly biased opinions, most of the questions produced fairly consistent responses from both groups when it came to the technologies and resources.
We had a very diverse set of respondents that spans the entire globe. While most other research has large US samples, with only a few other countries represented, for our survey, only 20% of the respondents were in the US. Given the high response rate from Europe, we ended up with a well-balanced international sample. That’s why some of our results may not look like web developer profiles that you have seen elsewhere. And that’s a good thing: we are providing another data point for comparison and further analysis.
Web Developer Profiles
We started the survey with some basic questions that would allow us to segment the developers taking the survey. One interesting finding that didn’t seem to match other research we had looked at was the primary OS used by developers. While we would expect most web developers to be on Mac OS X, followed by Windows and a small percentage on Linux (like in the Web Directions survey), we had a more evenly distributed breakdown. Recent Windows versions combined made up 46%, followed by a strong showing of Linux users at 30%, and Mac OS X with a 24% developer base. I would say that a strong bias towards open source in the sample combined with the fact that we had a lot of responses from outside the US are the reasons for Linux being more popular. Also, while a lot of people self-selected as both a web developer and designer, the sample definitely skews towards web developers, so perhaps that explains the Mac OS X numbers.
It was also interesting to see the years of experience spread out across veterans and newbies, with about 48% of the sample having less than 5 years of experience and 52% having 6 or more years in web development.
There were no surprises from the industries question, with most web developers working in technology at 38%, followed by media at 18%. And while there were smaller percentages working in other industries, 11% of those surveyed were students who have not yet entered the work force. For more on developer profiles see the full report.
Where Developers Spend Time
Perhaps the most important series of questions in this survey focused on the web resources and communities that developers rely on for their day-to-day work. Whether it was for looking up documentation or asking questions to debug their code, we wanted to get an idea of the most popular websites for web developers.
We picked a list of websites based on initial feedback from web developers during the survey design process, and the results clearly show that all of them are popular and engender a lot of opinions on aspects of those sites.
We not only asked which resource and community was the respondent’s favorite, but also provided a list of attributes for them to rate. PHP.net was the most popular resource at 32%, followed by jQuery.com and w3schools. And Stack Overflow was by far the most popular developer community at 40%, followed by GitHub and Wikipedia.
We intentionally included a diverse set of websites in order to see how developers rated them on our list of criteria. Since MDN supports both resources and communities, we wanted to get data on a broad set of sites. Be sure to take a close look at the ratings to see how all the websites did across a number of important attributes. You can find them starting on page 20 of the full report.
We were looking for a way to find out what works across a variety of site characteristics. For example, our Hacks blog is mostly posts about web technology, the MDN Doc Center is all about documentation, and our various programs and campaigns via Mobile, Add-ons, and Labs provide a more interactive forum for developers to get involved. Based on the ratings and open-ended feedback, we have learned a lot about which existing sites do well in terms of effectiveness, documentation, navigation, aesthetics, etc.
All of this information is valuable for us as we evaluate and prioritize projects that will help us grow and improve our MDN community.
We also asked which next-generation technologies were interesting to our respondents, and found out that HTML5 video, canvas, and SVG were all important to developers. 3D using WebGL seemed less interesting to them, but that might be due to the technology being not yet ready for prime time and the lack of examples in the wild. We hope to change that with the capabilities in Firefox 4 and beyond.
Company Affiliated Websites
Although all of the sites in this category serve different purposes and have varying feature sets, it was still important to get a feel for where developers were spending their time and how they viewed the developer sites from companies like Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Oracle, and Sun.
Given our sample, we expected most developers to have heard of and frequently visited Google’s and Mozilla’s sites. The data clearly shows both as popular destinations for web developers. But it’s important to note that these two sites offer different benefits to developers. Google Code is a great open source code repository and community, while the MDN website remains a very popular web documentation resource.
The other sites are mostly focused on promoting and supporting the company’s products and technologies, so it wasn’t surprising to see that many of our respondents had never, or rarely, visited them. Again, given our audience, we expected to see this and it was nice to confirm our assumptions.
Our survey report, as well as the high-level data reflected in our infographic, give us a snapshot of the web developers we serve through our MDN website and programs. With the insights from this survey, we now know where in the world our audience is, where they go for information and help, and what they think about the companies that help define the web.
A few key areas we need to work on right now are localization, documentation, and developer tools. From the knowledge we have gained, we now have data to back up some of the assumptions we have made to date, the details we need to refine our MDN roadmap, and user feedback to guide our developer engagement efforts from a marketing and communications stand point.
As we kick off the new MDN docs platform project, build out a demo gallery to showcase the latest in HTML5 and CSS3 the web has to offer, and continue to find ways to connect with the web developers that visit us every day, this survey and future developer research will continue to guide us.
Thanks to everyone who participated and we hope that you find the infographic interesting. We tried to capture the major findings in a way that would allow anyone to quickly get a sense of what the web developer community looks like today. If you’re interested in seeing the full report, it is available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/39278543/Web-Developers-the-Open-Web-Survey-Results.
– Jay & the MDN team
UPDATE: I apologize for anyone that had problems viewing the full report on scribd.com. I did not realize you needed an account to view public slides. The report is now available for download in .pdf, .odp, and .pptx formats.