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Developers won't ask bosses for help

Software developers are turning to YouTube to find out how to solve technical problems, rather than asking for help from colleagues

A survey by software analysis firm Cast found that less than a fifth of software developers ask their bosses for advice.

The survey of 500 developers in major UK, US, French and German IT businesses found that 41% turned to YouTube first to learn new programming tricks, followed by Google Communities (36%) and Microsoft Virtual Academy (36%).

Only 17% of developers said they used Stack Overflow or GitHub for help, while 81% said they would not turn to a manager for advice.

YouTube’s popularity as a training portal could be down to the high number of developers nowadays who are self-taught, Bill Curtis, chief scientist at Cast, suggested to Computer Weekly.

“A fairly large percentage of developers report that they are self-trained, not that they have a computer science degree from a reputable college or other kinds of formal training. They’re self-trained in Java or whatever language they’re using,” he said.

“That’s a bit concerning when you get into these large application systems. They don’t have the software engineering background necessary to produce the highest quality code and avoid some of the classic mistakes people make in building big systems.

“So it wouldn’t surprise me that someone with that sort of deficit in their background would go to a more tutorial-style of question and answer situation to learn more about an area they might be weak in,” he added.

In a similar vein, Curtis said the fact that only 54% of respondents claimed to have a comprehensive understanding of their organisation’s system architecture, and only 5% of developers believed their entire team understood their system architecture, was a worrying finding.

“A lot of the worst problems we’re seeing in big systems involve interactions among multiple components across the system. So if you don’t understand the architecture, you’re more susceptible to making mistakes that have system-level implications,” he said.

Accountability in code

Structurally sound software is a pillar of digital transformation strategies, and developers’ motivation to write quality code is an important factor for organisations whose success depends on it, particularly early adopters in financial services and retail. However, the report revealed the use of current quality standards left much to be desired.

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A fifth of developers (20%) cited pride in their work as the prime motivator, while 17% named innovative work as the prime motivator. But code quality standards were far behind, with only 8% naming this as a motivator.

The survey found that more than a third of developers were not graded on code quality or held accountable for poor code quality.

If a company experienced an IT outage because of poor code, 37% of total respondents said they would be placed under review and 36% claimed their jobs would be at risk, which Curtis flagged as one of the most unexpected findings from the survey.

“The most surprising result was how little developers are held accountable for code quality. That’s the most frightening in one sense, that two-thirds of developers don’t report any serious way they’re held accountable for code quality,” he said.

Dream jobs for developers

The research also saw Google crowned as the company most developers would like to work for, ahead of Apple, Facebook or a lesser-known startup.

Almost half (49%) of the UK respondents name-checked Google, followed by Apple (41%) and Facebook (25%), as their preferred place to work.

Google secured over 60% of the vote in the three remaining countries, further emphasising its popularity, while 9% of respondents, across the four countries, said they would prefer to work at a startup.

According to Curtis, Google, Apple and Facebook were “validated as one of the elite”, which is why developers would rather work for them than a startup.

“You’re challenged, you’re on the forefront of technology, and you’re constantly challenging what can be done and what you’re able to do [at the big firms],” he said.

“A startup would be popular, but there is a lot of risk to it, whereas with [Apple, Google and Facebook], there’s much less risk and a lot more excitement.”

Python, Java and JavaScript remain strong languages among developers, according to Cast. The survey found that 56% of developers who took part believed Java and JavaScript were the most important languages to master in the next five years, followed by C++ (38%), Python (35%) and SQL (30%).

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