On the unhappiness of software developers

Daniel Graziotin, Fabian Fagerholm, Xiaofeng Wang, Pekka Abrahamsson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The happy-productive worker thesis states that happy workers are more productive. Recent research in software engineering supports the thesis, and the ideal of flourishing happiness among software developers is often expressed among industry practitioners. However, the literature suggests that a cost-effective way to foster happiness and productivity among workers could be to limit unhappiness. Psychological disorders such as job burnout and anxiety could also be reduced by limiting the negative experiences of software developers. Simultaneously, a baseline assessment of (un)happiness and knowledge about how developers experience it are missing. In this paper, we broaden the understanding of unhappiness among software developers in terms of (1) the software developer population distribution of (un)happiness, and (2) the causes of unhappiness while developing software. We conducted a large-scale quantitative and qualitative survey, incorporating a psychometrically validated instrument for measuring (un)happiness, with 2 220 developers, yielding a rich and balanced sample of 1318 complete responses. Our results indicate that software developers are a slightly happy population, but the need for limiting the unhappiness of developers remains. We also identified 219 factors representing causes of unhappiness while developing software. Our results, which are available as open data, can act as guidelines for practitioners in management positions and developers in general for fostering happiness on the job. We suggest considering happiness in future studies of both human and technical aspects in software engineering.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 21st International Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering, EASE 2017
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781450348041
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2017
MoE publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
EventInternational Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering - Karlskrona, Sweden
Duration: 15 Jun 201716 Jun 2017
Conference number: 21


ConferenceInternational Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering
Abbreviated titleEASE


  • Affect
  • Behavioral software engineering
  • Developer experience
  • Emotion
  • Happiness
  • Human aspects
  • Mood


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