Stack Overflow Developer Survey: Dangers of AI, DevOps, Ethics, Python, More

With more than 100,000 developers weighing in, the 8th annual Stack Overflow Developer Survey breaks new ground this year, exploring subjects such as the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI), coding ethics, the growing DevOps and machine learning movements and much more.

To help digest the huge amount of data, the coding Q&A site boiled the results down into several top takeaways, in some cases comparing and contrasting results with last year's survey:

  • DevOps and machine learning are important trends in the software industry today. Languages and frameworks associated with these kinds of works are on the rise, and developers working in these areas command the highest salaries.
  • Only tiny fractions of developers say that they would write unethical code or that they have no obligation to consider the ethical implications of code, but beyond that, respondents see a lot of ethical gray. Developers are not sure how they would report ethical problems, and have differing ideas about who ultimately is responsible for unethical code.
  • Developers are overall optimistic about the possibilities that artificial intelligence offers, but are not in agreement about what the dangers of AI are.
  • Python has risen in the ranks of programming languages on our survey, surpassing C# in popularity this year, much like it surpassed PHP last year.
  • When assessing a prospective job, different kinds of developers apply different sets of priorities. Women say their highest priorities are company culture and opportunities for professional development, while men say their highest priorities are compensation and working with specific technologies.

Looking at Dangerous, Exciting Aspects of AI
Reflecting the general debate that has ranged far outside the development industry, coders could come to no consensus on the perceived dangers of AI.

When asked "What Do Developers Think Is Dangerous and Exciting About AI?" the top answer was "Algorithms making important decisions," barely edging out "Artificial intelligence surpassing human intelligence ('the singularity')," with "Evolving definitions of 'fairness' in algorithmic versus human decisions" and "Increasing automation of jobs" following close behind.

On the "Exciting" front, there was more consensus about increased job automation:

Thoughts on AI
[Click on image for larger view.] Thoughts on AI (source: Stack Overflow)

Overall, nearly 73 percent said they are more excited about AI's possibilities rather than worried about its dangers. Most respondents were more worried about the fairness aspect of AI, rather than the singularity. Those most worried about a singularity were from the designer and mobile developer camps.

Another AI-related question revealed nearly 48 percent of respondents believed developers or others who create AI are primarily responsible for considering the ramifications of AI.

Familiar Trends
More traditional questions resulted in familiar trends:

  • For the sixth year in a row, JavaScript was the most commonly used programming language.
  • Rust was again the most loved programming language, though Kotlin vaulted into second place after not even being listed last year, thanks to Google making it a first-class option for Android development.
  • Visual Basic 6 was again the most-dreaded language.
  • Python, JavaScript and Go were again the top three most-wanted languages.
  • Redis and PostgreSQL were again the top two most-loved databases, and MongoDB was again the most wanted.
  • The top four most-loved platforms were again Linux, serverless, AWS and Raspberry Pi.
  • SharePoint was again the most-dreaded platform.
  • Android was again the most-wanted platform.

Changes from Last Year
While those results and many others stayed largely the same, there were many new changes from last year's survey, including:

  • F# was named the programming language most associated with the highest salary worldwide, at $74,000, jumping up from fourth spot (and $64,516) last year. Last year, Clojure was No. 1, at $72,000 -- the same salary as this year -- though it's now in the third slot.
  • In the United States, Erlang and Scala topped the highest-salary list, both at $115,000. Last year, it was Go and Scala, both at $110,000.
  • The top-earning developer type worldwide this year was engineering manager, at $89,000, followed by DevOps specialist at $72,000 and data scientist or machine learning specialist at $60,000. Last year, it was: DevOps specialist, $60,215; machine learning specialist, $57,000; and developer with a statistics or mathematics background, $55,000; with data scientist No. 4 at $53,763.
  • When asked how they evaluated potential jobs, the top three answers this year were compensation and benefits offered (18.3 percent); languages, frameworks and other technologies developers would be working with (17.3 percent); and opportunities for professional development (16 percent). Last year, it was: opportunities for professional development (4.23 on a 1-5 scale); compensation and benefits offered (4.09); and a tie for third with the office environment developers would be working in and the languages, frameworks, and other technologies they'd be working with, both at 4.01.

New Questions About Developer Ethics
There were also some new questions this year, headed by an investigation into developer ethics. Nearly 59 percent of respondents said they wouldn't write code for an unethical purpose, with 36.6 percent saying it depends on what the code was.

Nearly 47 percent said they would report ethical problems in code depending on what the code was. Nearly 36 percent said they would report it, but only within the company. About 13 percent said they would report it, and publicly, while nearly 5 percent said they would report unethical code.

Most developers (57.5 percent) said upper management was most responsible for code that accomplishes something unethical, while nearly 80 percent said developers have an obligation to consider the ethical implications of their code. "Those who said they were unsure about this were 40 percent more likely to also say that they do not need to report any ethical problems," the report said.

Furthermore, Stack Overflow said: "We included a free response opportunity after this question, and we saw thoughtful reflections from developers. These include responses about how the tools developers build are powerful and come with a lot of responsibility, situations where unethical outcomes may accidentally arise, and how large teams are involved in building software but developers can be the last line of defense against unethical code."

Stack Overflow said this year's survey garnered responses from 101,592 software developers from 183 countries around the world, topping last year's response from 64,227 software developers from 213 countries and territories around the world.

Like last year, respondents were primarily recruited via channels owned by Stack Overflow, such as banner ads, email lists, house ads, blog posts and Twitter.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.