By Jeff Feinman
The number of “software publishers,” defined as operations necessary for producing and distributing software, has dipped slightly in the United States through 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In January, there were 262,100 publishers in the U.S., according to the bureau. That number decreased to 260,500 in February, 259,300 in March, and 258,100 in April.
Analysis firm Evans Data also released research pointing to a decline in software developers. In its 2009 Global Developer Population and Demographics Study, released in May, Evans Data revised downward its prior forecasts of developer growth for several major industrial regions, including North America, Western Europe and Japan.
For 2009, Evans Data originally estimated that there would be approximately 15.2 million developers worldwide. However, it has reduced that estimated by about 600,000 in the current report.
In North America, Evans Data projected in a previous report that the developer population would grow to 3.85 million in North America during 2009. In the current report, it changed that figure to 3.72 million based on current economic conditions. Evans did not disclose data on other regions.
Evans Data publishes the Global Developer Population and Demographics Study every six months. CEO John Andrews said that Evans Data had to revise its forecast as a result of the economic climate, the first time it’s ever had to do so. Evans looks at census information and, moreover, IT and communications spending in putting together its forecasts.
“The major driver to the decrease in the forecast is the whole communications and IT spending situation,” Andrews said. “That comes as no surprise to anyone.”
During the last big economic downturn for the software industry, the dot-com implosion in the early part of the decade, many development jobs also were lost. Bill Evjen, who heads global platform architecture for financial reporting services company Thomson Reuters, said that the current bust period, and the ensuing realization that a computer science career was no longer a guarantee of personal riches, has taken a toll on the developer population.
“There’s a lot less people willing to make that sacrifice and learn to become a programmer,” Evjen said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s very rewarding in the end. You see a lot less people willing to take those steps to join the field, which is disappointing. It takes a certain mathematical mindset; it takes a lot of dedicated training and time. It’s not something you do for six months and then start.”
The decline in developer population reflects an overall shrinkage in the IT industry. According to TechServe Alliance, an association of computer consultant businesses that was formerly the National Association of Computer Consultants, employment in technology occupations was at 4.058 million in November 2008, and has shrunk over the following five months. By the end of April of this year, the number was at 3.87 million.
Students still signing up
At the university level, the outlook seems more positive. According to the Computing Research Association,an organization made up of more than 200 North American academic departments of computer science, student enrollment in computer science programs in 2009 is up 6.2% from the year before. Over the same period, the number of students declaring computer science majors is up 8.1%, while the amount of new computer science Ph.D. students is up 10%.
Barry Burd, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Drew University, said that the developer population is on its way up again after mostly a rough decade since 2000.
“Maybe it’s just a leveling out of the cycles we saw in the 80s, 90s and dot-com bust,” he said. “Now we’re going to hit some sensible medium.”
Burd speculated that one factor behind the increase he sees is the greater adoption of mobile devices and consumer electronics. Mobile devices are putting computers in the forefront of people’s lives the same way that PCs did in the 1980s, he said.
“It’s too soon to pop the champagne corks, but things are getting a little bit better right now,” Burd said.