Computer programming is now the fastest-growing profession in the UK in terms of employee numbers, according to an assessment of Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, which concludes there are now more than 600,000 developers working in the UK private sector.

Analysis of the most up-to-date ONS business population data by developer training platform CodinGame indicates that the number of computer programmers working for private companies has increased by 74,000 in the past three years, from 536,000 to 610,000.

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A third (196,000) of those developers are employed by large companies, while just under 300,000 programmers are working in small and ‘micro’ businesses.

Over the past decade, the number of computer programmers working in the private sector has increased by 51%, from 405,000 to 610,000.

The explosion of new digital businesses and the digitization of traditional companies has increased demand for highly skilled developers, CodinGame said – demand that has been intensified further against the backdrop of COVID-19.

Developers and other IT professionals have played a critical role in businesses’ response to the pandemic, which forced organizations to rapidly adopt cloud-based working and operations.

The digital start-up scene has also boomed, with data from the UK government earlier in March revealing that a new tech business launched on average every 30 minutes in 2020, many of which designed to provide critical services that had been impacted by the pandemic.

Across all industries in the private sector, the business population has increased by a more modest 20% over the same period, ONS figures indicated: less than half the rate of growth seen within the computer programming profession.

Government figures also reveal that the number of computer programming-related businesses and consultancies in the UK has increased by 54% in the past 10 years, from 40,805 to 62,890. These businesses are generating turnover of more than £120bn, CodinGame said.

Yet while more businesses are benefitting from having highly skilled developers on their teams, and while developers themselves are benefitting from bigger pay packets for their expertise, the coding boom means tech recruiters are facing a digital skills crisis.

A survey by CodinGame in January revealed that HR professionals are increasingly concerned about the competition they face finding and recruiting skilled programmers, with 61% of respondents saying this would present their biggest recruitment challenge of 2021.

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DevOps will be particularly sought after this year, CodinGame same, particularly due to the “unprecedented demand” for cloud migration experts.

Aude Barral, co-founder of developer training platform CodinGame, said that despite the growing number of professional developers, demand is still threatening to outstrip supply of talent.

“The past 10 years has seen a digital revolution that is reshaping the global workforce, and skilled developers are in exceptionally high demand,” Barral said. “The tech startup sector is booming, and traditional businesses are going through a digital transformation, which has been turbo-charged by the impact of the pandemic and the country switching to remote working.”

The message to companies hoping to fill key tech positions in 2021 is to start their hiring process promptly and have a clear idea of what skillset they are looking for, Barral added.

“In our experience, the best developers aren’t simply attracted by the biggest salary, they are stimulated by the technical challenges, and a business with a clear roadmap and a compelling vision.”