Student Hacker Report

Technology & API rankings for the 2014–2015 academic year


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About Devpost

Devpost (formerly ChallengePost) is the home for hackers — a community where developers can share their software projects, build their portfolios, and compete in online and in-person hackathons.

In our debut rankings report, we've ranked the technologies which student hackers used most throughout the 2014-2015 academic year.

Student hackers

Devpost's digital infrastructure is used at student hackathons around the world and leading engineering schools in the U.S.1 As a result, student hackers have a big presence in our community. Whether in high school or college, novice or veteran, they are at the forefront of software (and often hardware) innovation, showing equal interest in both academic and consumer oriented endeavors.

N.B. We define hackers as software developers who are experimenters, tinkerers, and lifelong learners, not the malicious actors responsible for data breaches, theft, and similar unsavory behavior.

Ranking methodology

During hackathons and within their portfolios, we encourage hackers to tag the platforms, technologies, languages, and APIs they use. This helps us capture a lot of data on the developer community.2

We looked at project tags from a sample of 13,281 student hackers who participated in 160 student hackathons and submitted 9,898 projects, either in hackathons or on their Devpost portfolios.3

The technologies tagged in student projects include languages, communications APIs, social APIs, payment APIs, geo APIs, music APIs, application frameworks, databases, frontend frameworks, game engines, IDEs, libraries, backend as a service (BaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), protocols, text editors, hardware, and more. For each ranking category, we report the top 5 tags.4

Technology & API rankings

Mobile platforms

% of users who said they like to hack on a given platform:

Platform % of total users
Android 38.2
iOS 22.7
Windows Phone 4.9

Programming languages

11 Ruby
12 XML
13 Ajax
14 Shell
15 Processing
16 Lua
17 CoffeeScript
18 Go
20 OpenGL
21 R
22 Groovy
24 Perl
25 WebGL
26 Applescript
27 Scala
29 JSP
30 LaTeX

Communications APIs

1 Twilio
2 Yo
3 SendGrid
4 Moxtra
5 Mailjet

Social APIs

1 Facebook
2 Twitter
3 Reddit
4 Instagram
5 Google+

Payment APIs

1 Venmo
2 Paypal
3 Stripe
4 Braintree
5 Blockchain

iOS frameworks

1 Core Location
2 Mapkit
3 UIkit
4 Core Data
5 AV Foundation

Game engines

1 Unity
2 Pygame
3 libGDX
4 GameMaker
5 Unreal Engine

Command line utilities

1 cURL
2 Makefile
3 Gradle
4 Yeoman
5 ngrok

Text editors

1 Sublime Text
2 Vim
3 Notepad++
4 Brackets
5 Atom


Miscellaneous APIs & tech

Not all of the tags used by student hackers fit in a particular category or have many peers. Here are a few more technologies that were tagged in multiple hacks:


Most of the projects entered by our sample of student hackers include front-end web or mobile development and our language rankings reflect this. With only 24–48 hours at most hackathons, student lean toward API driven web & mobile projects.

It’s a little surprising to see Android place so solidly ahead of iOS, but the free-to-publish model gives it an edge with students working on weekend hacks.6

Although it’s the basis for many inside jokes within the student community, the rankings show that Node.js was extremely popular during the 2014–2015 academic year. (But we still can’t endorse it as ‘the only real dev language’)

CSS, Objective-C, Swift, and Lua rank relatively high on Devpost, given their use in web, iOS, and game development, respectively. Languages such as C++, R, Perl, and Scala, are more common in enterprise, back-end applications, and data/statistical analysis, all of which are less common at hackathons and in student projects.7

Hardware was hugely popular in 2014–2015 among hackers and judges. 10% of prize winning projects were tagged “hardware,” 8.2% Arduino, 5.3% Pebble, 4.8% Leap Motion, 4.5% Myo, and 3.9% Oculus. Each of these hardware tags showed up in a higher percentage of winning hacks than non-winning hacks.

During the spring semester, Pebble, Oculus, Leap Motion, Intel Edison, Raspberry Pi, Muse, and Meta grew in popularity, likely due to company sponsorship.

Despite the recent explosion of interest in NoSQL data stores (e.g. MongoDB & Redis), relational databases remain quite popular.

Bootstrap and similar front-end toolkits rank highly among new students, while tools like Sass & Less offer fine-grained control and design for more sophisticated hackers.

The Paas/IaaS space is increasingly competitive, and hackers have more options than ever when it comes to devops. Since the XaaS model tends toward commoditization, both leaders & new entrants will need to offer more personalized support to differentiate themselves.

Tags that saw big growth in the second half of the academic year included Unity, Intel Edison, Bootstrap, Meteor.js, Flask, OpenCV, Jade, DigitalOcean, Ionic, Wolfram Technologies, Linode, Postmates, Capital One, Blender, Swift, and SQLite.

The impact of hackathon sponsorship is clear: if you show up and participate, hackers will use your technology. We looked at the 20 companies that sponsored two or more student hackathons in 2014 and had 50 or more overall projects tagged with their technologies. 19 of those companies had a higher prevalence of tags when they sponsored, including 11 that were tagged more than twice as often when they sponsored. Sponsorship had impact for companies tagged less overall, and for companies with massive penetration and mindshare.

Hackers also expressed their sense of humor through tags. Love was tagged consistently throughout the year, but we’re unsure how much of that was love and how much was LÖVE, the 2d game engine. Coffee and Red Bull were dead even, but pizza beat out guacamole. There was more blood and sweat in the Spring than in the Fall, but tears were steady throughout the academic year.

Looking forward

This report is our first attempt to highlight the popularity of technologies and APIs for organizations targeting developers. Since technology is inherently imitable and tends toward commoditization, it's crucial to understand the developer Zeitgeist. Today's students are tomorrow's already founders, CEOs, and decision makers.

Devpost will continue to publish rankings periodically and encourage hackers to tag the technologies, APIs, and tools they use — but ultimately, organizations must invest in their developer networks to capture and maintain market share.

For those interested in reaching more student hackers and growing their developer networks, (AKA developer evangelism), here are four tactics to consider:

Sponsor hackathons, but don’t just write a check. It’s more effective to send developer evangelists who can work on-site with hackers.

Promote your tag gallery on Devpost. All of the tags above link to a corresponding project gallery. Encourage hackers to feature their projects there and engage with your community.

Organize your own hackathon focused on your technology and post the event and submissions on Devpost. We’ll tell our entire community about it & it’s free.

Run a 3–4 month online hackathon with us open to developers around the world. The extended timeframe will lead to more diverse and more polished projects using your technology.

  1. We’ve powered hackathons at 18 of the top 20 engineering schools, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report in 2014.

  2. When submitting software, we ask "Which tools and resources did you use?" and instruct hackers to "Tag languages, APIs, hardware, hosts, libraries, UI Kits, and frameworks – even Pokémon if it fits!" Hackers are not always exhaustive when tagging though, so actual percentages may be higher.

  3. The sample hackathons were mostly in the United States, but also included events in Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Spain, Poland, the Republic of Georgia, and Singapore. Many of the sampled hackathons were supported by our friends at Major League Hacking.

  4. In most cases the top 5, except for a few like languages and hardware, which merit extended rankings.

  5. The line between PaaS & IaaS is blurry and user tags are not always specific enough to make a distinction. So, we offer a combined ranking of PaaS and IaaS technologies.

    We attribute Azure's popularity to Microsoft's strong sponsorship campaign throughout the year.

  6. The mobile platform rankings are also consistent with other surveys of mind share. See, for example, VisionMobile’s Mobile Platform Mindshare rankings based on their survey of mobile app developers: Developer Economics: State of the Developer Nation Q3 2014.

  7. C++, R, Perl, and Scala all rank higher in rankings compiled by RedMonk based on combined Github / Stack Overflow rankings. Our language rankings have a correlation coefficient of 0.65 with Redmonk’s combined rankings and favor languages used more in front-end web and mobile development (RedMonk found 0.76 correlation between the Github and Stack Overflow language rankings). See: