Application Developer Staffing Dips in 2018

September, 2018

The number of application developers as a percentage of the typical IT staff has dropped slightly in 2018—but the staffing ratio does not tell the whole story. Application developers make up the largest part of most IT staffs, and they are also among the best paid. The way applications are being produced inside the enterprise is changing, and managers need to keep up with these trends to make sure they are staffing the right skills and not wasting money.

As shown in Figure 2 from our full report, Application Development Staffing Ratios, the application developer ratio is down slightly this year, from 14.5% to 13.9% of the IT staff at the median. The current rate nearly matches the percentage in 2016. Prior to 2016, we did not track application development and application maintenance staff as two separate positions.

AppDevstaffing fig 2 - Application Developer Staffing Dips in 2018

There are several changes resulting in potential volatility in application development staffing in the coming years, which are further explained in the full report:

  • The rise of agile development, DevOps, and other iterative development methods are making headway into organizations that aren’t in the business of developing software. In the past, it was primarily cloud providers, software development firms, and other types of technical service companies that were practicing these best practices for software development. As development styles change, staffing needs (both in terms of numbers and skill sets) are bound to change.
  • The application footprint is increasing in IT organizations, especially software as a service (SaaS). This creates competing priorities. One would expect SaaS to reduce the need for custom software in the long run. However, the percentage of custom-written code has not changed significantly over the past decade. As of yet, companies still need to employ in-house developers to do some custom work. This could change in the near future, however.
  • In recent years there has been an increase in IT job functions outside the development group. Data analysts, IT finance, and vendor management are just a few of the examples. Our numbers are based on a percentage of the total staff, so as headcount in other positions increase, application developers as a percentage of the total IT staff could decline without necessarily meaning there is less demand for the position.
  • Application developers are not the only ones building software these days. Many requirements for custom software can be satisfied by users outside the development group who can write their own code. The low-code/no-code movement is in early days, but the cost of application developers is driving some corporations to seek solutions to the creation of applications that do not require specialized staff.

“The slight drop in this staffing ratio in 2018 alone does not make it a trend,” said Tom Dunlap, director of research for Computer Economics, an Irvine, Calif.-based IT research firm. “We will need to wait for another year or two to better understand whether the factors we identified are driving a change in the typical level of application developers needed for corporate IT organizations.”

In light of these trends, what is the typical application development staffing level today? The full report uses three metrics to make that assessment: application developers as a percentage of the IT staff, users per application developer, and applications per developer. We provide benchmarks for the composite sample, by organization size, and by sector. We also provide a benchmark for the larger Application Group, which includes personnel engaged in application maintenance, web development and support, quality assurance and testing, data management, and business systems analysis.

This Research Byte is a brief overview of our report on this subject, Application Development Staffing Ratios. The full report is available at no charge for Computer Economics clients, or it may be purchased by non-clients directly from our website (click for pricing).

Do you also need staffing ratios for other IT job functions? Consider this collection of all of our staffing ratio reports, which bundles them all into a single report at a significant discount: IT Staffing Ratios–Special Report Bundle.