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Understanding developer personalities

Personality theories provide a blueprint for understanding why people behave the way they do. In the latest edition of our Developer Nation survey, we incorporated a measure of the widely accepted ‘Big Five’ personality dimensions in order to better understand the personality traits of software developers.

Personality theories provide a blueprint for understanding why people behave the way they do. In the latest edition of our State of the Developer Nation 22nd Edition – Q1 2022, we incorporated a measure of the widely accepted ‘Big Five’ personality dimensions. We did this in order to better understand the personality traits of software developers. Here, we share some of our findings on developer personalities. Our aim is to discuss how this kind of information can help to support interactions with developers.

Personality measures are a powerful tool for understanding people’s preferences and behaviours. Software teams need diversity not only in terms of skills, experience, and knowledge, but also require a variety of personalities. This will help teams collaborate effectively on complex and challenging projects.

The Ten-Item Personality Inventory

We used the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) methodology in order to measure the ‘Big Five’ personality dimensions. These dimensions are: emotional stability, extraversion, openness to experiences, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The TIPI method is well-suited for situations where short measures are required. The results have been shown to have good alignment with other widely used Big Five measures1. Although more comprehensive and accurate personality measures than TIPI exist, they typically require an entire survey to themselves.

The TIPI method presents respondents with ten pairs of personality traits and asks them to rate how strongly these traits apply to them. Below, we show responses to these items for over 12,000 developers. We find that developers, in general, see themselves as complex and open to new experiences (86% agree or strongly agree that this applies to them), dependable and self-disciplined (79%), calm and emotionally stable (76%), and sympathetic and warm (74%). 

Developer personalities - developers are most likely to agree that they are dependable, self-disciplined, and open to new experiences

Diving deeper into the TIPI data allows us to identify more specific personality types within the general developer population. We collapsed these ten items into five distinct measures, one for each of the Big Five personality dimensions. For example, statements about being ‘sympathetic, warm’ and ‘critical, quarrelsome’ combine to give an overall measure of agreeableness. We then derived a score for each developer on each of the five dimensions. This helped us identify the developer personalities at the polar ends of each dimension, e.g. labelling those who are at the top end of the agreeableness scale as ‘agreeable’ and those at the bottom end as ‘disagreeable’. 

Finally, we segmented all developers into a set of distinct personality types. We did this by using the personality labels that they had been assigned as inputs to our segmentation algorithms.

Approximately 8% of all developers differ from the aforementioned group. They showcase a higher level of openness to experiences – often related to intellectual curiosity. These software developers have personality traits that suggest they are likely to investigate new tools and technologies. They are also more likely to stay up to date with the cutting edge of technology.

The Five Developer Personalities

The following charts show the characteristics of five example developer personalities revealed within our data. A well-rounded, ‘balanced’ personality type accounts for 52% of the developer population. These are developers who sit firmly at the centre of each dimension. They are neither introverted nor extroverted, highly agreeable nor disagreeable, emotionally unstable nor lacking emotion, etc.

5% of developers fit a ‘responsible and cooperative’ personality type. These developers score highly in conscientiousness, openness to experiences, and agreeableness in comparison to the majority of developers. Increased conscientiousness often relates to setting long-term goals and planning routes to achieve them, e.g being career-driven. Higher scores for openness to experiences reflects a preference for creativity and flexibility rather than repetition and routine. Our data backs this up. These developers are more receptive to personal development-related vendor resources. For example, 35% engage with seminars, training courses, and workshops compared to 25% of ‘balanced’ developers. Their high scores for agreeableness also correlate with greater engagement with community offerings. For example 23% attend meetup events compared with 17% of ‘balanced’ developers.

5% of developers conform to an ‘achievement-driven and emotionally stable’ profile. As with the previous personality type, they are conscientious and open to experiences. However, they score much higher in terms of emotional stability but slightly lower in terms of agreeableness. Developers who score high in emotional stability react less emotionally. For example they favour data over opinions. Lower agreeableness can be a useful trait for making objective decisions, free from the obligation of pleasing others.

We also find a segment of developers with an ‘introverted and unreliable’ profile. They indicate that they are less involved in social activities, disorganised, closed to new experiences, and less agreeable than other developers. Fortunately, these developers, who are likely hard to reach and engage in new activities and communities, are a very small minority, at 2% of all developers.

Common developer personality profiles
Common developer personality profiles

Developer Personalities, Roles and Content Preferences

Finally, we show how the characteristics of these developer personalities vary, in terms of both associations with developer roles and the kinds of information and content that they consume. Developers in the ‘balanced’ profile are most likely to have ‘programmer/ developer’ job titles. However, those who fit the ‘responsible and cooperative’ profile are disproportionately more likely to occupy creative (e.g UX designer) roles. This aligns with their increased creativity/openness, and senior CIO/CTO/IT manager positions, reflecting their self-discipline and achievement striving.

Those who are ‘achievement-driven and emotionally stable’ are less likely than other personality types to have ‘programmer/developer’ job titles, but disproportionately more likely to be data scientists, machine learning (ML) developers, or data engineers. They tend to deal mainly in facts and data rather than opinions and emotions. Those in the ‘introverted and unreliable’ profile are more likely to have test/QA engineer and system administrator job titles than those in other personality types. 

Developer personalities - achievement-driven developers with high emotional stability are 50% more likely to be data scientists than those with a balanced personality

When it comes to where developers go to find information and stay up to date, perhaps unsurprisingly, the ‘introverted and unreliable’ personality type uses the fewest information sources overall, affirming that they are a difficult group to engage via community-focussed events and groups. However, their use of social media is in line with other personality types, suggesting that this may be a suitable channel for catching the attention of this hard-to-reach group.

Both of the high-conscientiousness and high-openness personality types use the widest range of information sources overall, however, those who are more cooperative are considerably more likely to turn to social media for information about software development (53% of the ‘responsible and cooperative’ type vs. 44% of the ‘achievement-driven and emotionally stable’ type).

‘Intellectually curious’ developers are the most likely to make use of official vendor resources and open source communities. Hence, the audience that vendors reach via these resources may be slightly more keen to experience new products and offerings, than the typical ‘balanced’ developer.

What’s Next with Developer Personalities

We just began to scratch the surface of developers’ personality profiles. The personality types we have shown are indicative of just a few of the differences that exist among developers. By capturing this kind of data, we’ve opened the door for more extensive profiling and persona building, along with a deeper analysis of how the many other developer behaviours and preferences that we track align with personality traits. If you’re interested in learning more about developer personalities and how this can help you to reach out to developers, then we’re very excited to see how our data can support you.

Developer personalities - Achievement-driven developers use more information sources than those with a balanced personality

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