Does Prejudice Affect the Choices of Developers?

Posted on Feb 26, 2008

A study was done in June, 2007 which sought to [compare the perception developers had of various development platforms][]. It asked them to compare various common web-development programming languages in categories such as robustness, security, and dependence on frameworks. The study found that the perceptions of some roughly 270 developers varied wildly from objective research in the same comparisons.

Many of the survey results agreed with the objective research, for example PHP was less dependent on tools and frameworks. Some results differed from the Plat Forms research, for example, PHP was rated poorly for security and robustness.

It has been more than couple years since I’ve used PHP in my career. In that time I’ve found myself to maintain negative opinions about PHP. After reading the study, it surprised me just how pervasive those opinions are. More so, I was surprised to find that many of those opinions are not backed by objective evidence. Many people appear to have had some poor past experience with PHP and developed a prejudice towards it.

The study only covered a pool of less than 300 developers, which is incredibly small considering the number of employed web developers in Canada alone let alone the rest of the world. Despite the small sample size, it’s still possible that the assertions the study makes are widely applicable. How many developers out there simply have a prejudice to PHP? How has that prejudice affected choices and outcomes at organizations employing those developers?

Unsurprisingly however, Python appeared to rate very well overall compared to PHP. It appeared to compare best in readability and modifiability:

Python applications exhibit more readability over Perl, Java, Ruby and PHP. This is unsur-
prising: Python is often advertised as being readable. Readability is a central consideration
in the design of the language, which uses less punctuation, properties, indexers and en-
forces consistent indentation.

In contrast, there were many reasons given for the difference between Python and PHP.
The recurring reasons submitted were: better modularity, unit testing and better frame-

Personally, I think my migration from PHP to Python was a very smart choice. In terms of preference, I get along with Python’s features and implementation far better than PHP’s. Career-wise, I have found there are more opportunities for Python developers outside the realm of web development; a career role that PHP seems pretty much exclusive to. I can also use Python for developing desktop applications, games, and automation tasks — it is very versatile. However, these are almost anecdotal comparisons.

So are all the negative rumours about PHP really insubstantial?

Maybe next time you hire a developer who has a thing against PHP, you should ask them what about it gets under their skin. I’m sure their answers will be interesting.

[compare the perception developers had of various development platforms]: