How many programmers are there? From The Computer Boys Take Over

January 3, 2013 at 7:39 am 5 comments

I just learned about book The Computer Boys Take Over (and immediately ordered a copy for my Kindle), and have been digging through the associated blog. (Thanks, Lauren Klein!) It’s a look at the politics of computing (including gender issues), from a historical perspective. I thought that this graph and blog post were particularly interesting. It’s markedly different from the Scaffidi, Shaw, and Myers prediction about 2012 that they made in 2005, but in part, that’s because Scaffidi et al. actually looked at what people did, where the BLS has been messing with the categories, as described below.


The chart above shows the Bureau of Labor statistics on programmer employment. I am not convinced that these numbers are at all accurate. Getting reliable data on programmer employment is surprisingly difficult.

To begin with, programmer is a vague category, and it is by no means clear that everyone who worked on “programming” defined themselves primarily as a “programmer.” Secondly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not beginning tracking programmers until 1972, and in 1983 and again in 2000 they adjusted their categories and methodologies. For the first ten years, three broad categories (“computer specialists”, “computer programmer”, and “computer analysts”) encompassed everyone working in computing.

via The Computer Boys Take Over.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  January 3, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    By coincidence I was trying to figure this out the other day.

    If you look at US Labor Dept under “software developers” you’ll find another large category of people who program as part of their job,

    And there are possibly a few more smaller such categories.

    So maybe between 1 million and 2 million professional programmers in the US?



  • 3. alanone1  |  January 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm


    I haven’t read the book, but the most important historical perspective on gender and programming has to start back into the 50s or even earlier.

    I started in 1961 and there seemed to be a much higher percentage of women in the field back then, and apparently even higher in the 50s.

    It would be nice to see more accurate stats than my impressions.



    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  January 3, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      Doing a quick scan, yup — Chapter 2 starts in the 1950’s.

  • […] the role that educators played, the story that Nathan Ensmenger has talked about in his book “The Computer Boys Take Over.”  When we realized that we couldn’t teach programming well, we instead started to […]


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