Computer Science Education Trends

Open Source, Python and Visual Studio Code Top Themes in GitHub Student Survey

Fledgling developers were more likely to contribute to open source coding projects this year than last and adopt Visual Studio Code, IntelliJ and PyCharm as their preferred integrated development environment (IDE). Those results surfaced in the latest GitHub "Classroom Report," which provides a look at GitHub-oriented computer science education in 2020. GitHub is an open source development platform for hosting and reviewing code, managing projects and collaborating on software coding.

Open Source, Python and Visual Studio Code Top Themes in GitHub Student Survey

The programming languages that student respondents have reported using in 2020. Source: "Classroom report 2020" from GitHub

The survey drew responses from 7,070 students and 165 teachers and faculty members from around the world. Forty-four percent of student participants were full-time students (compared to 30 percent last year). All have participated in the GitHub Education program, which provides access to tools and training for colleges, universities and high schools, enabling students to learn software development. This is the fourth year the survey has been done.

On the demographic side, the average age of respondents was 24. Most were male--90 percent for students and 93 percent for instructors. About a third (32 percent) were based in the United States; the next largest segment of participants was in Canada (10 percent).

In the area of programming, the most common coding language was Python; 81 percent of respondents said they'd used it. That was followed by HTML and JavaScript, used by 79 percent; CSS (75 percent); and SQL (68 percent).

The languages with the biggest growth year over year were Python (which grew from 75 percent usage in 2019 to 81 percent this year); Bash/Shell (whose usage increased from 61 percent to 63 percent; C (47 percent to 49 percent); and R (17 percent to 20 percent).

GitHub predicted that Python's popularity would continue since it "has applications across different domains, like data science," making it a "suitable choice" for teaching.

On the subject of IDEs, VS Code saw growth from 52.5 percent in 2019 to 69.9 percent in 2020. However, usage of IntelliJ rose even more, from 30 percent to 50 percent. PyCharm usage increased from 20 percent to 35 percent. Among teacher respondents, 60 percent reported that VS Code was typically used in their courses; nothing else came close. IntelliJ, for example, was mentioned by 20 percent of instructors and PyCharm by 19 percent.

The notion of contributing to open source projects saw "meaningful shifts" this year, the report noted. The number of student respondents who contributed grew by nine percentage points from 52 percent last year to 61 percent this year. As GitHub explained, "It the case that, with a COVID-19-affected job market, more early-career developers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves."

While previous versions of the survey didn't ask about remote work options, this year's did. Nearly nine in 10 students said that it was important to some extent for their current or future employers to offer remote work options. For 57 percent that aspect of employment was either "very" or "extremely" important. But not necessarily for the sake of COVID-19 safety. As respondents told researchers, they wanted "greater flexibility, more time back in their day from not having to commute, work-life balance and higher productivity." As one person explained, remote work options were important "because I can organize my time in a better way, save transportation expenses and save the company I'm working [for] from an unnecessary workspace." Another stated, "I've learned that my productivity is much higher when I work remotely."

At the same time, the report observed, remote work poses a challenge for people who are newly out of school and starting their new careers as coders. "Younger developers are eager to grow through their professional network, get on-site mentorship and connect with their cohorts at work," the report asserted. "If early-career developers continue to choose remote work, that will be a challenge for the organizations who will need to provide that support in a different way."

The full report is openly available on the GitHub website. An anonymized version of the data is available for further research at the GitHub Education repository under an MIT license.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.