Programming in the pandemic - a CWDN series

Just in case you spent 2020 on a different planet, the world has been living through an unimaginable pandemic in the shape of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) contagion. As well the tragic loss of life and personal sacrifices made by key workers, we have all experienced life in a world that we never expected to see.

As the vaccine rollout continues around the globe (at the time of writing), the Computer Weekly Developer Network examines the impact of Covid-19 on the software application development community.

With only a proportion of developers classified as key workers (where their responsibilities perhaps included the operations-side of keeping mission-critical and life-critical systems up and online), the majority of programmers will have been forced to work remotely, often in solitude. So how have the fallout effects of this played out?

Geeks & nerds

So we’ve all had to work from home. But, stereotypes notwithstanding, isn’t that how a lot of self-confessed geeks and nerds (ourselves included) are supposed to like things?

The answer is yes, sometimes, but also no. While developers are often naturally somewhat less inclined to be gregarious, affable and socially outgoing, they often form their own cliques and groups of trusted friends and colleagues inside which they operate quite comfortably.

But enough Big Bang Theory TV-show stereotypes, what really matters in programming circles is how much functional code has been developed, tested, secured, managed, deployed, maintained and pushed into live production.

In other words, have code ‘commits’ increased or decreased?

Have developers been just as productive by communicating over messaging systems and video collaboration platforms? Have periods of quarantine, lockdown and self-isolation actually allowed more work to get done?

A low point for low-code?

What types of application development have actually flourished under the constraints of lockdown? Equally, what types of development have suffered?

Given the push from almost every corner of the industry to move towards low-code no-code development where more Line of Business (LoB) specialists, so-called ‘product owners’ and ‘domain experts’, other non-coding knowledge workers and (if we absolutely must) businesspeople are now supposed to be allowed to work with abstracted tools, hasn’t the dearth of office life made that more difficult to bring about?

Expanding that point slightly… how about the fact that developers do need to have exposure to other working (often business-focused) teams for requirements gathering, user acceptance testing and other face-to-face interactions – surely not every element of that process can be digitally replicated in exactly the same way… what about empathy, feeling, gut feel and human emotion, don’t those still come into play to some degree.

Has the lack of conferences, industry symposia and other technical shindigs been demotivating and created a lack of training sessions and all the knowledge updates these provide? Or, conversely, has the solitude actually allowed people to get on with their work?

What software application development methodologies are suited best to remote one-person working environments? Do modern approaches to Scrum and Agile suffer? Are we risking a reversion back to Waterfall development?

Within the realm of software application development directed to Covid-19 specific applications, how much more difficult were those codebases to engineer when we consider the fact that the world situation was a moving unknown target throughout most of 2020?

Pepsi, pizza & ponchos (hoodies)

Lastly, as something of tongue-in-cheek question point, how have developers managed to get through 12-months without liberal office-based supplies of Pepsi, pizza and all the free t-shirts, ponchos and hoodies that would normally be distributed at industry events?

The pandemic changed programming, possibly not forever, but some immediate disruption was felt, so how have our dear software engineers (in every discipline across the full transept of IT and data operations) actually coped and dealt with the changing face of work?

Image credit: Adrian Bridgwater

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