Programmers who use spaces in their code get paid more than those who use tabs

Programmer smiling work

There's a raging controversy in the world of programming: Some programmers use spaces to indent their lines of code, others use tabs.

No joke. Spaces vs. tabs has literally been dubbed the "eternal holy war," and is the subject of many a heated debate.

The debate centers on how to best line up those indented lines so that they are uniform, making the code easier to read.

Spaces vs. tabs was made famous by HBO's comedy "Silicon Valley" when the hero character, Richard Hendricks, broke up with his engineer girlfriend because she uses spaces ... and he's a tabs guy.

It's been the subject of research, too, like when a Googler analyzed a billion files of programs to find out which technique programmers preferred. Short answer: spaces, by a mile.

Now it appears the spaces people have another thing going for them: They make more money, according to analysis done by Stack Overflow, a site where developers answer each other's questions. Stack Overflow does a massive salary survey every year. This year it asked developers whether they used spaces or tabs. Over 12,000 programmers who shared their salaries answered that question.

Stack Overflow's data scientist David Robinson analyzed that data and discovered that coders who use spaces earn on average nearly 9% more than the ones who use tabs, even if they have the same amount of experience. The spaces folks earned more than tabs across all subsets of developers, too: programming language, education, company size, Robinson found.

Obviously, using spaces is not the fundamental reason why those folks are making more money. The survey points to a correlation, not a cause. There are other reasons that developers who use spaces are are doing work that pays more, but the data provided no real clues as to what those reasons were.

But this is clearly another feather in the cap of the spaces people. Will it help end the debate of which technique is better? Not likely.

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