Go Developer Survey 2023 Q1 Results
Thank you respondents for bringing us these insights!
We’re excited to share with you the results of the 2023 January edition of the Go Developer Survey. Thank you to the 5,844 respondents who shared with us how they’re using Go, their biggest challenges in using Go, and their top priorities for future improvements. These results help the Go team focus our efforts on areas that matter most to the community, and we hope these insights also help inform others who contribute to and support the Go ecosystem.
- Novice Go developers are interested in web development. We introduced a new segmentation this year based on self-identified experience levels. Novices expressed some interesting differences from other experience levels. Most notably they showed greater interest in using Go for web development.
- Error handling and learning are respondents’ top challenges. Historically, lack of generics was the biggest challenge to using Go, but since the introduction of generics, we’ve seen comments about generics decline. Comments about error handling (with respect to readability and verbosity) and difficulty learning best practices are now the most commonly reported challenges.
- An optimization guide was the most valued way to improve Go’s performance. When asked how they would spend resources on various improvements to Go’s compile and runtime, respondents spent the most on an optimization guide rather than specific performance improvements, demonstrating how much documentation is valued in this area.
- Managing dependencies and versioning are the top challenges for open source Go module maintainers. Open source module maintainers face challenges in keeping their dependencies up to date and avoiding disruptions due to versioning and breaking changes. This is an area we’ll explore further to help maintainers provide a stable and healthy ecosystem.
How to read these results
Throughout this post, we use charts of survey responses to provide supporting evidence for our findings. All of these charts use a similar format. The title is the exact question that survey respondents saw. Unless otherwise noted, questions were multiple choice and participants could only select a single response choice; each chart’s subtitle will tell you if the question allowed multiple response choices or was an open-ended text box instead of a multiple choice question. For charts of open-ended text responses, a Go team member read and manually categorized all of the responses. Many open-ended questions elicited a wide variety of responses; to keep the chart sizes reasonable, we condensed them to the top 10-15 themes, with additional themes all grouped under “Other”. We also included a category for “None” where applicable.
To help readers understand the weight of evidence underlying each finding, we include error bars showing the 95% confidence interval for responses; narrower bars indicate increased confidence. Sometimes two or more responses have overlapping error bars, which means the relative order of those responses is not statistically meaningful (i.e., the responses are effectively tied). The lower right of each chart shows the number of people whose responses are included in the chart, in the form “n = [number of respondents]”.
A note on methodology
Most survey respondents “self-selected” to take the survey by accessing it through a link on the Go blog, @golang on Twitter, or other social Go channels. People who don’t follow these channels might respond differently from people who do closely follow them. About a quarter of respondents were randomly sampled, meaning they responded to the survey after seeing a prompt for it in VS Code (everyone using the VS Code Go plugin between Jan 18 - Feb 8, 2023 had a 10% chance of receiving this random prompt). This randomly sampled group helps us generalize these findings to the larger community of Go developers. Most survey questions showed no meaningful difference between these groups, but in the few cases with important differences, readers will see charts that break down responses into “Random sample” and “Self-selected” groups.
Taking a closer look at different groups of respondents
Our respondent demographics did not change significantly from our last survey. Consistent with previous cycles, Go is primarily used in the tech industry, and about 80% of respondents said they program in Go at work. Overall, survey respondents tended to be satisfied with Go over the past year, with 92% saying they were somewhat or very satisfied.
Our respondents spend a lot of time programming in Go compared to other languages. About a third of respondents even maintain an open source Go module. We recognize that our survey audience is made up of those who successfully adopted Go, use Go often, and are mostly satisfied using Go. To identify potential gaps in meeting community needs, we look at different sub-groups of respondents to see how they might be using Go differently or have different priorities. For example, this year we looked at how responses differ between different sample sources (i.e., the Go Blog or through the VS Code plugin), different job roles, organization sizes, and levels of Go experience. The most interesting differences were between experience levels.
Insights from novice respondents
Previously, we used how much time (in months / years) respondents have used Go as a proxy to gain insight into how results vary between levels of experience. This year we experimented with a new segmentation question, “What is your level of experience with Go?”, to see if self-identification might be a more useful way of examining Go experience than lumping together various intervals of time. Since categorical terms like “novice” or “expert” might vary from person to person, we provided a description to help make these buckets more objective. The options were:
- Awareness: I’m aware of Go, but could not write a simple Go program without assistance
- Novice: I can complete simple programming projects in Go, possibly with assistance
- Intermediate: I can complete significant programming projects in Go with some assistance
- Advanced: I can complete significant programming projects in Go without assistance
- Expert: I can provide guidance, troubleshoot, and answer questions related to Go from other engineers
We found a moderate correlation (⍴ = .66) between how long respondents had been using Go and their self-identified experience level. This means that the experience level scale, although similar to the time scale, may give us some new insights into how respondents differ by experience. For instance, the proportion of time that a respondent spends writing in Go compared to how much time they spend writing in other languages is more strongly correlated with their self-identified experience level than with how long they’ve been using Go.
In analyses where we use this segmentation we typically exclude the Awareness category since they wouldn’t be considered to have the experience necessary to answer the question and only represented about 1% of respondents.
Novice respondents are more likely to prefer Windows than more experienced respondents
Our randomly sampled group had a higher proportion of novice respondents than the self-selected group, suggesting that there are more new Gophers out there that we don’t tend to hear from as often. Because they are sampled through the Go VS Code plugin, we might expect this group to be more likely to prefer using VS Code or to develop on Windows more than other experience levels. While this is true, novices are also more likely to develop on Windows than other experience levels, regardless of whether they responded through the VS Code plugin.
There could be a number of reasons why we don’t see higher proportions of Windows users at higher experience levels. For example, Windows users may be more likely to experience difficulties and stop using Go, or there could be wider trends in OS usage that have nothing to do with Go. In any case, we should include more Windows users in future research around getting started with Go to make sure we provide an inclusive onboarding experience.
How different experience levels currently use Go (and other areas where they would like to)
According to how respondents use Go right now, more experienced Gophers tend to be using Go for more types of applications. For example, the average expert used Go in at least four areas while the average novice used Go in only two areas. That’s why there are large differences in the proportion of novices and experts using Go for each use case. The top two uses, API / RPC services and CLIs, however, are the top use cases across all experience levels.
We see more interesting trends for GUIs and Website / Web services (returning HTML). All experience levels used Go for Desktop / GUI apps at about the same rate. This gives us evidence the desire for GUIs isn’t just coming from new Gophers looking for a fun starter project, but from across the experience spectrum.
Websites / services returning HTML show a similar trend. One explanation could be that this is a common use case early in someone’s Go journey (since it is in the top 3 most common for novices), or that novices are more likely to be doing work on websites or web services returning HTML. Later in the survey, we asked respondents, “In which area (if any) are you not using Go, but would most like to?” Although many respondents (29%) said they already use Go everywhere they would like to, the top two areas for expanding usage were GUI / Desktop and AI / ML applications. This was consistent across groups at different organization sizes and job roles, but not experience levels. The number one area where novices would like to use Go more is for websites / web services returning HTML.
In an open text question, 12 out of 29 respondents who said they would like to use Go for websites / web services returning HTML said they were blocked because other languages had frameworks to better support this use case. It could be that more experienced Go developers don’t try or expect to use Go for this use case when other languages already have frameworks that meet those needs. As one respondent put it,
“It’s usually easier to accomplish this in other languages such as PHP or Ruby. Partly due to the excellent frameworks that exist in those languages.”
Respondents face a long tail of challenges
Every survey cycle we ask respondents what their biggest challenge is when using Go. Historically, lack of generics was the most commonly cited challenge—for example, it was the most common response in 2020, and mentioned by about 18% of respondents. Since the introduction of generics, error handling (12%) and learning / best practices / docs (11%) have emerged at the front of a long tail of issues rather than any single issue becoming more frequent.
Why is error handling such a challenge?
Feedback on error handling often describes the problem as verbosity. On the surface, this could reflect that writing repetitive code is boring or annoying. More than just an annoyance of writing boilerplate, however, error handling may also impact respondents’ ability to debug.
One respondent succinctly illustrated this issue:
“Error handling creates clutter and easily masks problems if not done correctly (no stack traces)”
The struggle to learn best practices
“Using Go effectively. Easy to learn, hard to master.”
We’ve heard that Go is easy to learn, and a previous survey showed that over 70% of respondents feel productive using Go within their first year, but learning Go best practices came up as one of the biggest challenges to using Go. Respondents this year told us that best practices around code structure and recommended tools and libraries aren’t well documented, creating challenges for beginners and teams to keep code consistent. Learning to write idiomatic Go can be especially challenging to those coming from other programming paradigms. Respondents who were more experienced with Go attested that when developers don’t follow best practices for writing idiomatic Go, it hurts the consistency and quality of shared projects.
The biggest challenges for module maintainers
Go module maintainers are critical members of the Go community, helping to grow and sustain the health of our package ecosystem. This year we plan to conduct research with module maintainers to identify opportunities to support stability and growth of the package ecosystem and help grow Go adoption within organizations. To inform this research, we introduced a question on the survey to get an idea of the current top challenges for open source maintainers.
The top challenges for maintainers are keeping dependencies up to date and difficulties around versioning, including avoiding, identifying, or knowing when to introduce breaking changes. These insights, along with the results of future research, will help inform strategies to support maintainers in keeping the Go ecosystem stable and secure.
The biggest challenges when deploying Go code
This year we asked what respondents’ biggest challenge was when deploying Go code. Being “easy to deploy” is often cited as a reason for using Go, but we received conflicting feedback during a recent study that prompted us to explore potential issues when deploying Go code. In our open text responses, by far the most common theme was difficulty cross-compiling with cgo (16%), and support for WebAssembly or WASI was a distant second (7%).
Community priorities: what respondents want most
This year we used a prioritization question we’ve used in previous surveys based on the buy-a-feature method of prioritization. Respondents were given 10 “gophercoins” and asked to distribute them to areas where they want to see improvements. Respondents were randomly assigned one of three possible questions, each containing seven items related to tooling, security, or compiler & runtime. This approach allowed us to ask about items relevant to each focus area without overburdening respondents with three sets of cognitively-demanding prioritization questions.
At the end of the exercise, we gave respondents an open text prompt to tell us about any area they thought should be the Go team’s top priority in the next year, regardless of which items they spent their coins on. For example, if a respondent was shown the security section, but they didn’t care all that much about security, they still had the opportunity to tell us that in the open text area.
We chose these items to test assumptions we held on the relative importance of security practices to the community. These were the seven items as described to participants:
- pkg.go.dev identifies packages that are poorly maintained (e.g., unresponsive to issues, fail to keep their dependencies updated, remain vulnerable for long periods of time)
- pkg.go.dev identifies packages that make breaking API changes (i.e., requires fixing uses of those APIs when upgrading those packages to newer versions)
- Support for suppressing vulnerabilities in govulncheck
- A tool to track how sensitive data flows through a Go program (detect PII leaks)
- A security best practices guide (e.g., how to choose and update dependencies; how to set up fuzzing, vulnerability checking, and thread sanitizer; how to use crypto)
- Secure-by-default Web & SQL libraries that help users avoid introducing vulnerabilities in web server code
- FIPS-140-compliant cryptographic libraries
The highest funded security feature was for web & SQL libraries to be secure by default to avoid introducing vulnerabilities in web server code, but the top four features all relate to avoiding the introduction of vulnerabilities. The desire for secure defaults is consistent with previous security research that showed developers want to “shift left” on security: development teams often don’t have time or resources to spend on addressing security issues, and thus value tooling that reduces the likelihood of introducing them in the first place. The second most common item was a security best practices guide, highlighting the high value of best practices documentation compared to new tools or features to the majority of respondents.
Items we included in this question were inspired by feedback from VS Code plugin users. We wanted to know which tooling and IDE improvements would be most helpful to a wider audience who may use other IDEs or editors.
- Better refactoring tools (e.g., support for automatic code transformation: renamings, function extraction, API migration, etc.)
- Better support for testing in your code editor/IDE (e.g., robust and scalable Test Explorer UI, 3rd party test framework, subtest support, code coverage)
- Better support for working on multiple modules in your code editor/IDE (e.g., editing modules A and B, where module A depends on module B)
- Dependency insights in pkg.go.dev (e.g., vulnerabilities, breaking changes, scorecards)
- Dependency insights in your code editor/IDE (e.g., vulnerabilities, breaking changes, scorecards)
- Support for publishing modules with new module paths (e.g., repo ownership handoff)
- Support finding types that implement an interface & interfaces implemented by a type in your code editor/IDE
The most funded editor feature was support for finding types that implement an interface and interfaces implemented by a type and refactoring tools. We also saw an interesting difference in how respondents spent their gophercoins according to preferred editor usage. Most notably, VS Code users spent more gophercoins on refactoring than GoLand users, suggesting that automatic code transformations are currently better supported in GoLand than in VS Code.
Compiler & runtime
Our key question for this section was to determine whether respondents wanted better performance by default, better optimization tooling, or just a better understanding of how to write performant Go code.
- Reduce compute costs
- Reduce memory use
- Reduce binary size
- Reduce build times
- Better performance debugging tools
- An optimization guide (how to improve performance and reduce costs, covering Go’s implementation and performance debugging tools)
- Better support for using cgo when cross-compiling
By far the most funded item in this list was an optimization guide. This was consistent across organization size, job role, and experience level. We asked an additional question about whether respondents had resource costs concerns. Most respondents (55%) said they did not have any cost concerns, but those who had concerns about resource costs spent more gophercoins (on average, 2.0) on reducing compute costs and memory costs than those who did not. However, even those who were concerned about resource costs still spent about as much on the optimization guide (on average 1.9 gophercoins). This is a strong signal that providing guidance for Go developers to understand and optimize Go performance is currently more valuable than additional compiler and runtime performance improvements.
Thank you for joining us in reviewing the results of our first developer survey of 2023! Understanding developers’ experiences and challenges helps us prioritize how to best serve the Go community. Some takeaways we found particularly useful:
- Novice Go developers have more of an affinity for web development than respondents of other levels of experience. This is an area we’d like to explore further to make sure we’re meeting the needs of new Go developers.
- Secure defaults, best practice guidance on security and optimization, and more refactoring assistance in IDEs would be valuable additions to the community.
- Error handling is a high priority issue for the community and creates challenges in terms of verbosity and debuggability. The Go team doesn’t have a public proposal to share at this time but is continuing to explore options to improve error handling.
- Onboarding and learning best practices are among the top challenges for respondents and will be areas of future research.
- For Go module maintainers, keeping dependencies up to date, module versioning, and identifying or avoiding breaking changes are the biggest challenges. Helping maintainers provide a stable and healthy ecosystem is another topic of interest for further UX research.
Thanks again to everyone who responded and contributed to this survey—we couldn’t have done it without you. We hope to see you later this year for the next survey.