Application Developers Down for the Count?

February, 2012

The ratio of application developers to total IT staff, which declined by more than 17% over the course of the recession, has yet to recover from the slowdown in development work in many IT shops despite an increase in application development and maintenance outsourcing.

Our study on Application Development and Maintenance Staffing Ratios finds that application developers declined from 24.5% of the IT staff in 2007 to 20.3% in 2011, as shown in Figure 1. The recession prompted organizations to reduce spending on development projects, and application developers were laid off in greater numbers than other IT staff. While there was a slight recovery in staffing of application developers in 2011, the ratio is still 17% below the 2007 level.

AppDevStaff Fig1 - Application Developers Down for the Count?

In addition to the effect of the recession on capital spending, there may be longer-term trends at work, including growth in outsourcing, continuing decline in custom software development, and increasing use of cloud-based applications. Prior to recession sparked by the bubble, developers accounted for about one-third of the typical IT staff, and staffing levels never returned to that level.

On the other hand, organizations are actively developing mobile applications, expanding ERP platforms, and making greater use of business intelligence systems, and it is not clear whether application developers will continue to decrease relative to functional groups such as managers, systems support staff, network support staff, or client services. Application development and maintenance personnel continue to make up the single largest job category in most IT organizations.

What is the typical staffing level? The full study uses three metrics to make that assessment: application developers as a percentage of the IT staff, users per application developer, and applications per application developer. We provide benchmarks for the composite sample, by organization, and by sector. We also provide benchmarks for what we call the application group, which includes not only programmers but also business analysts, web developers, and data warehouse personnel.

Because organizations categorize functions differently, we also provide some benchmarks for the application group. This group includes not only developers, but also QA and testing personnel; web/e-commerce staff; data warehouse staff such as data analysts and modelers; and business analysts.

This Research Byte is a brief overview of our report on this subject, Application Development and Maintenance 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.