The term "software developer" is a popular term for those who create software. The processes of writing software is often called "software development".

What is the origin of that term? How did the verb "develop" come to be how we talk about creating/writing software?

  • 7
    This may be better answered on the English Language and Usage SE.
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 31, 2018 at 18:33
  • Agree with the others here. This is a question more applicable to English Language as it rests mainly on the definition of develop. Not such a big thing in the digital age, but film developing is a related use of the word. It's also used in connection with developing medicines.
    – Daniel
    Sep 2, 2018 at 19:07

2 Answers 2


The word "develop" has applied to projects longer than we've had computers. Merriam-Webster has the definition "to create or produce especially by deliberate effort over time". Computer programs require this kind of work, so the word fit.

Google Ngrams shows a huge spike in the use of the term "research and development" around WWII. I'm having trouble linking it, but you can easily reproduce the search.

The earliest example I found of the term applied to computer programming is a chapter called "The Program Development Cycle" in Spencer's "Introduction to Information Processing" of 1974. The chapter is full of italicized key terms (instructions, program, flowchart), but "development" is not given this treatment. It wasn't yet a term of art, just the word for a process of creation.

  • I pulled up ngrams for "software development" and "software developer", and the correlation was interesting. It looks like both took off from basically nothing starting in the late 60's-early 70's. More interestingly, the "development" term hit its peak around '89 and has been in decline since '93 (while the other never stopped growing)
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 31, 2018 at 22:05
  • 1
    @T.E.D. - You search is case sensitive, and compares "Software development" with "software developer". Sep 1, 2018 at 13:39
  • @DavidHammen - It was just a quick search. If you tweak it, do you get a significantly different result?
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 4, 2018 at 14:56
  • @T.E.D. - Very different Sep 4, 2018 at 19:07

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "developer" (in any context) dates back as far back as 1772:

A late excellent developer of the human heart...
Letters Several Eminent Persons Deceased

There have been a lot of other things and people called "developers" since then. In particular, it has been used to describe "[a] person, organization, etc., that develops a new product or technology" (OED) since 1905:

[O]ur chairman, the reinventor and the leading developer of the spectroheliograph...
Popular Science

As for in the software sense, the earliest example given in the OED is from 1961:

Roderick D. McIver, program developer for the GE computer group will be host.
Phoenix Republic (Arizona)


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