How developers’ support needs change with experience

Developers have a wide variety of support and learning needs that evolve as they progress through their careers. Here, we’ll look at some of the best ways to help developers build on their skills by answering their technical questions, creating a valuable community that they can integrate with, and providing professional certifications as proof of learning. In a highly competitive job market, vendors can demonstrate value to developers by helping them to build on their skills and get an advantage in the job market.

Here, we take a look at data from two of our most recent Developer Nation surveys. In our Q1 2021 survey, we asked developers, amongst many other topics, how they prefer to communicate with vendors about technical topics. In our Q3 2021 survey, we took a deeper dive into developers’ views on what makes great technical certifications and what are the key features of a successful community. The data here is only a small sample of what we collect, so if this sparks some interesting questions for you, then please get in touch.

It’s a matter of experience

Data from our Q3 2021 survey, which was fielded between June and August 2021, shows that overall, there are more early-career developers (those with 0-2 years of experience) than highly-experienced developers (those with 11 or more years of experience). Developers with different levels of experience undoubtedly have different support needs (and we’ll come to this later), but taking a global perspective on experience levels risks missing some interesting regional variations.

South Asia and Western Europe sit at opposite ends of the experience spectrum – South Asia has the largest proportion of inexperienced developers, and Western Europe has the smallest. This means that when creating a regional strategy, not only should you think about the cultural and economic differences that exist between regions, but also, due to their experience levels, developers will have very different support needs.Developers in Western Europe are more experienced than average and far more experienced than those in South AsiaTechnically correct is the best kind of correct

We see here how developers’ support needs evolve as they gain experience. In fact, communicating with vendors about technical questions becomes more important as developers gain experience – more experienced developers are very likely working on more challenging projects and, as such, more often require expert support. What’s interesting is which communication channels become more important.

Email is consistently the most important, regardless of experience level. It seems that the power of direct, asynchronous communication is clear to all developers, though it does become more important to more experienced developers, as well as to older developers (and age is, of course, correlated with experience). On the other hand, other direct but synchronous communication methods such as online chat retain their importance to developers of all experience levels (but fall in importance for the oldest), whilst live interactive coding sessions only fall out of favour amongst the most experienced. Not every communication method is created equally, and neither is every technical question. Irrespective of their experience levels, developers want to engage directly to have their technical questions answered and are happy to do synchronously or asynchronously.

Issue trackers and code repositories nearly quadruple in importance for the most experienced developers when compared with the least experienced. Here, you have experienced developers asking their technical questions through established open-source channels that may feel inaccessible to less-experienced developers. There’s definitely scope to widen participation amongst inexperienced developers in this fundamental pillar of software development. We also see that Q&A sites steadily increase in importance as developers become more experienced. That’s not to say that inexperienced developers aren’t going to StackOverflow – they’re still using such sites to get information; it’s just that they are more likely to simply consume rather than ask technical questions of vendors.

Direct communication via email or chat is most important to developers at all experience levels

A sense of community

Interacting with vendors or peers through a code repository or on a Q&A site is one of the many ways in which developers interact with their community. Community support is a powerful facilitator of learning and development for many developers and is as much a source of inspiration as it is camaraderie. We see that developers of differing experience levels have very different ideas about what they want from a community, but collaboration and support are two of the most stable and important features to developers of all experience levels.

But experienced and inexperienced developers lean on their community support network in different ways. A knowledgeable community becomes more important to developers as they gain experience – here, these most experienced developers likely find more value in a community that can help them answer complex questions. On the other hand, inexperienced developers are more likely to look for strong leadership in a community – they are likely looking to more experienced members for guidance and learning opportunities.

Strong leadership and interactivity are less important aspects of a community to experienced developers

Certifiably important

Vendor support and community are just two of the myriad ways that developers build their skills throughout their careers, but in an increasingly competitive professional environment, many developers study for professional certifications to get an edge. Such certifications are important to developers at different stages of their professional life – early-career developers are likely looking to distinguish themselves from the masses, whilst seasoned professionals may want to protect their lucrative career or even switch specialisation. Regardless, because of certifications’ wide appeal, developers at all experience levels similarly agree on the importance of certifications being suitable for a variety of learning styles.

On the other hand, industry recognition, online availability, and affordability are three of the most important features of a professional certification program, and they become more important as developers gain experience. This demonstrates that as developers mature, they become more focused on the core aspects of professional certifications. We also see how their job-seeking habits change. The importance of recognition on job boards rises steadily from zero to five years of experience before falling sharply afterwards. This suggests that after around five years in the industry, developers have built their professional network and are less reliant on job boards, though the professional credibility of a certification is still paramount.

Developers at all experience levels recognise that many learning styles should be catered for

What does this all mean?

Here, we’ve seen that there is great variation in the experience levels of developers across the world, as well as between different geographical regions. We’ve also learnt that developers of different experience levels have very different views about the type of support they want to receive from vendors and from their communities, whether they are asking technical questions or becoming certified. Therefore, you should look at the experience levels of your user base and use this to figure out how best to support them. However, experience isn’t the whole story; our extensive research shows that a plethora of factors influence developers’ needs and decisions. Developers’ roles, level of decision-making seniority, industry, and technology choices all impact their needs for support. Understanding developers’ needs and behaviour requires not only a rich set of data but also extensive experience and knowledge to build the personas that inform a robust strategy.

Don’t know where to start? Well, at SlashData we have a wealth of experience in understanding developer behaviour through our twice-yearly global survey, as well as through numerous custom research projects with our clients and partners. We also have a deep and detailed body of research on developers through our Developer Program Benchmarking research. Get in touch to find out more.

You can also go through a case study that shows how Okta and Mozilla used the Developer Program Benchmarking to bring their developer program among the Top 3 in terms of developer satisfaction.