Top 10 freelance developer job stats, facts and trends for 2024

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Annually helpful to anyone who likes to have a handle on software development trends, tools, and er, ‘developments,’ Rudi Bauer and his team at WeAreDevelopers quiz 1,300 Europe-based developers every year, to get the lowdown.

Here, I’ll explore the findings from this December 2023 survey which is aimed (among other things) at helping simplify the software development hiring process.

But exclusively for Free-Work I want to go further; I want to look at the WeAreDevelopers (WAD) findings through a freelance lens, informed by what we’re seeing too on our own IT work platform, writes Ivo Hristov, co-founder of Bulgarian tech jobs board DEV.BG.

Top 10 takeaways for software developers from the WAD survey

1. 86% of IT professionals are more likely to apply to a job with a disclosed salary.

2. 43% of developers are willing to take a job with lower pay if it helps propel their career forward.

3. Stress and heavy workloads are the primary worries for 40% of surveyed developers.

4. Close to half (47%) of surveyed developers openly discuss salaries.

5. 20% of software engineers are thinking about leaving their jobs.

6. Millennials are the most dissatisfied with their pay, and face uncertainty when job-switching.

7. The most significant factors for the physical and mental well-being of software engineers are positive vibes (“energy”) and teamwork.

8. Nearly half (46%) of European software developers value meaningful work higher than monetary benefits.

9. 54% of developers are looking to progress in their careers with more technical responsibilities or project management work.

10. Female software engineers are better at evaluating their career growth than their male counterparts.

My five key freelancer developer findings, as 2024 powers up

As the tech landscape continues to evolve in 2024, staying on top of key trends and insights is crucial for thriving and progressing your independent IT career.

Here are the main findings from WeAreDevelopers that I believe freelance computing professionals, particularly software developers, should pay attention to -- and why:

1. Stress and heavy workloads remain a huge issue for 40% of developers

The revelation that stress and growing responsibilities persist as significant challenges for so many developers doesn't come as a big shock.

This resonates profoundly with the experiences shared by many freelance developers within our own community.

The demanding nature of tech projects, coupled with tight deadlines and ever-evolving skill requirements, often comes with immense pressure on contract IT professionals.

While this revelation isn't groundbreaking, it shows a persisting issue within the industry that demands attention. Juggling multiple projects is second nature to developer freelancers, but keeping a balance between responsibilities and personal wellbeing is crucial for delivering exceptional results and staying happy.

How are you going to strike that balance in 2024?

Please come up with a plan today. Remember, employers tend to provide resources, tools, and support systems to their staff -- first and foremost, so there’s not many folk other than you who will take care of your freelance health -- emotional, mental and physical.

One thing to consider for your plan -- fostering a community that values mental health will be a big step towards ensuring a sustainable and fulfilling freelance career in tech.

2. Almost half (47%) of software developers confront challenges by actively learning new skills

I didn’t feature this WAD finding in the top 10 takeaways above, but in no way should that detract from its significance!

The 2024 tech domain is witnessing an accelerated pace of change, with emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, and blockchain, which keep reshaping the industry.

As a result, developers understand that their skill-sets need refinement to stay relevant. This is even more true for tech freelancers who face constant competition.

For freelancers specialising in web development, learning new frameworks and languages remains crucial for adapting to market-demand and securing high-value projects.

IT freelancers (not just software developers) need to stay agile in 2024, pursuing learning opportunities in the evolving tech landscape. Put another way? In 2024, skill acquisition is not just an option. It’s a necessity.

3. Millennials are doubtful about transitioning to freelance work

Here, I’m riffing off WAD’s sixth finding above, concerning Millennials being uncertain about job-switching and their unsatisfaction with their current pay as software developers.

Neither finding is massively unexpected, given the unique challenges that come with freelancing.

Many Millennials -- those born between the 1980s and late 1990s -- often express concerns about financial stability, project unpredictability, and a lack of consistent income stream. These issues are even more of a challenge for those Millennials who want to start a family.

It should be acknowledged that the shift from structured, 9-to-5 employment to flexible, lucrative (yet potentially uncertain) freelancing is not for everyone.

Addressing this concern in 2024 may require comprehensive support and resources tailored to freelancers. Initiatives such as mentorship programs, financial planning guidance, and platforms offering a steady flow of projects could help alleviate the uncertainties Millennials face when considering freelancing. And not just as developers.

But currently, developers specifically are quite an unhappy bunch and you’re likely to hear about it. In fact, according to the WAD report, Millennials are less afraid than other software developers to voice their discontent about their pay!

4. Gen Z are the happiest workforce generation

Potentially in contrast to some Millennials you might meet, Gen Z developers (those born between 1997 and 2021) emerged in the developer survey as the most satisfied.

But a word of caution, if I may. This finding doesn't align with my experience in the tech industry, especially among freelancers!

While it's intriguing, the finding that so-called zoomers are “highly satisfied” might not cover the varied experiences across this generation. One thing’s for sure, they won’t feel “highly satisfied” when reading what Jodie Foster, the two-time Academy-Award winner, said on Saturday about those in the workplace who are Gen Z. (“They’re really annoying, especially in the workplace. They’re like, ‘Nah, I’m not feeling it today, I’m gonna come in at 10.30am.’”)

Based on my own collaborations with Gen Z developers, I’d say their satisfaction levels appear to fluctuate. Some are content with the flexibility and opportunities that freelancing offers. They appreciate the autonomy, diverse projects, and the chance to pursue their passions.

However, this happiness is often juxtaposed with concerns about job security, competitive landscape, and a lack of work-life balance.

Understanding the diverse needs and aspirations of Gen Z techies will be a challenge to some in 2024. Empowering them with tailored resources and a supportive environment that addresses their concerns could contribute to a more fulfilled, motivated and harmonious tech workforce.

5. Gen Z developers are willing to accept lower pay under certain conditions

Again, this isn’t a finding that made my top 10 above, but it is still quite significant.

Here, my experience of working in tech with Gen Z freelancers supports this finding. Many of them are indeed ready to forego higher compensation if the assignment aligns with their values and aspirations.

I’ve seen Zoomers prioritise working with reputable clients or companies known for innovation and ethical practices. What’s more, access to cutting-edge technology and opportunities for continuous learning are critical factors that influence their decisions -- something that the December development survey confirms.

To me, this inclination among Gen Z developers signifies a shift towards prioritising holistic work-satisfaction and career growth over monetary gains.

For 2024, this trend suggests that companies and platforms catering to freelancers must not only focus on competitive compensation, but also on opportunities for professional development, innovative projects, and collaborations with respected organisations.

In short, money matters but for those from Gen Z in particular, there’s more to professional life as a freelance software developer than just the headline rate!

Final thought: a good chunk of freelance software developers don't want long gigs

Lastly, it might be wise to get ready for competition in 2024 around short freelance gigs as a software engineer. Or if you’re an organisation in need of software engineering contractors this year, perhaps ‘go short’ on how you’ll structure your engagement.

Why? Well, a significant 42% of software engineers told the surveyors that they favour shorter work schedules, such as a “4-day work-week.” That’s something that I’m sure both full-timers and freelancers alike in tech can agree on, this year and beyond!

Written by

Ivaylo Hristov

Tech Entrepreneur

Ivaylo Hristov is a tech entrepreneur. He holds a bachelor's and a master's degree in Computer Science. He is a co-founder of the Bulgarian-Danish software company, Komfo. Currently, he is a co-founder and manager of the largest niche tech job board in Bulgaria – DEV.BG. He has received numerous awards, including Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He is also part of Forbes' 40 Under 40 list.

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