Today I started taking the Stack Overflow Developer Survey, but I paused when I saw one question that was impossible for me to answer in a way that reflected my experience:
Including any education, how many years have you been coding?
(The options for answers were ‘Less than 1 year’, ‘More than 50 years’, and any number of years in between.)
I wrote my first lines of code some time around 2000, when I was ten years old. (I learned HTML from a book, and used my skills to make a personal website and pages for my NeoPets.) And I started coding professionally in the summer of 2016, after attending a code bootcamp.
But the thing is, I took a long break from coding in between. I’m not sure exactly when I stopped, but by the time I abandoned MySpace for Facebook, I had written my last lines of code for a while. I didn’t start up again until early in 2016, when I started investigating web development as a potential career.
So how many years have I been coding? It’s not a question I can answer with a single number, as the survey asked me to. If I say I’ve been coding since I was 10, it implies that I never stopped. But if I say I’ve been coding for 2 years, that doesn’t tell the full story either.
I’ve heard a few other people—mostly women around my age—tell similar stories, and I suspect there are a lot of us out there. So I think it’s a bummer that the Stack Overflow survey is not designed to collect this data. It gets so many responses, and the results get so much attention, that it’s a missed opportunity that it can’t tell us how many people are coming back to coding after taking a long break, like I did.
If they’d asked me, here’s a question I would have proposed adding:
Which best describes your experience coding?
A. I’ve been coding consistently since I first started.
B. I’ve coded on and off since I first started.
C. I’ve taken one or more long breaks (1+ years) from coding since I started.
Or if not that, there’s another option they could have given for the “How long have you been coding?” question, one that was an option for a few other questions in the survey: “It’s complicated.”