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Over the past year, I have studied in detail how the software development productivity space is changing. Over this time, I have spoken to engineering leaders from dozens of organisations, reviewed the latest literature and even conducted representative opinion polling among software engineers.
While the future is uncertain, there are three key trends that technology leaders cannot afford to miss. How tech leaders implement these trends within their organisations will help to define how successful they are in boosting productivity and driving developer wellbeing.
Dev environments will move to the cloud
When a developer starts a new job, it is not unusual for them to need to spend as much as a fortnight just trying to get the application they are working on running on their local computer. This process is not just a huge time-sink for the new engineer, but also experienced engineers who have to onboard them through this process. As software projects get more complex, this onboarding process simply becomes harder.
To varying degrees, companies have sought to deal with this problem through documentation and tooling, but have not always been wholly successful. Developers can sometimes be very opinionated about the technology they use for their jobs. Hardware, operating systems and even code editors can vary dramatically even among developers working on the same project.
Add to this the fact that developer environments increasingly need to support both Intel architectures and Apple’s new M1 chips, alongside remote work adding further complexity to running local development environments.
Local development environments are now largely the only part of the software development lifecycle time that is done locally on a developer’s computer. Automated builds, staging environments and running production applications have largely moved from local computers to the cloud.
Microsoft and Amazon have both been working hard on addressing this challenge. In August this year, Microsoft released GitHub Codespaces to general availability. GitHub Codespaces offers full development environments that can be accessed using just a web browser that can start in seconds. The service allows technology teams who store their code in Microsoft’s GitHub service to develop using their Visual Studio Code editor fully in the cloud.
Amazon also has its own solution to this problem, with AWS Cloud9 allowing developers to edit and run their code from the cloud. Startups have also been created to address this problem – in April, Gitpod announced it had raised $13m for its solution to move software development to the cloud.
No doubt, we can expect to see increased adoption of these technologies during 2022.
DevOps will become more scientific
Google’s DORA (DevOps Research and Assessment) team has conducted research that has tied technology organisation performance to business outcomes. Their research found that companies with elite performing engineering organisations are twice as likely to achieve their organisational goals and achieve a 50% higher growth rate over three years.
The 2021 benchmarks conducted by Google’s DORA team and independently by Puppet have consistently shown that the software development industry is increasingly competitive. The number of elite-performing engineering teams is growing, while the proportion of low-performing teams is falling. A poll of UK software developers I conducted with Haystack Analytics and Survation found that 40% of software developers say they can reliably deliver new features typically on the same day they are asked for it, if not in just a few hours.
To deliver new functionality quickly and reliably without developers burning out, software development teams have to ensure their processes and tools are as polished as they can be. Developer productivity is seen as so important that Netflix has a dedicated Developer Productivity team, while Google hires many engineers into its EngProd (Engineering Productivity) function.
Before improving any one part of the software development process, it is vital to focus on where the bottlenecks are. In 2021, a number of companies have secured funding to build developer analytics platforms to highlight these bottlenecks.
Developer analytics companies that have successfully obtained funding over 2021 include Haystack Analytics, LinearB, Swarmia and CodeClimate. I have personally consulted for the team at Haystack Analytics over the past few months and found demand to be increasing, with revenue growing by an average of 35% month on month.
Remote work will be permanent
Much of what I have already written about here has no doubt been accelerated by the growth in remote work among developers during the Covid-19 pandemic. This change appears to be permanent.
GitHub’s 2021 State of the Octoverse report found that while 41% of respondents were co-located in an office before the pandemic, only 10.7% expected to remain in the office after the pandemic. This represents a 74% decrease in the rate of co-located office working.
The report also found that developers expect a 41% increase in the rate of hybrid working, where some staff work fully remotely and some come into the office. Companies employing fully remote working were expected to increase by 46% compared with before the pandemic.
According to GitHub, productivity is starting to come back to pre-pandemic levels, but it is clear more needs to be done to fill the gaps left by co-located office working. A poll of UK software developers I led for Haystack Analytics and Survation found that of software engineers suffering from increased levels of burnout during the pandemic, 30% reported lack of contact with colleagues as a cause, while 27% reported having to work from home as a cause.
Over 2022, it is reasonable for us to expect to find new ways for colleagues to not only work together online, but also connect offline. A number of in-person developer conferences have restarted for the coming year, with some even adopting a hybrid approach. Likewise, we see companies adopting their workspaces to be used as places for occasional collaboration, rather than ongoing work.
As remote work becomes permanent, we can expect developers to find other ways to achieve what they miss from in-person contact, to keep the best of both worlds. Conferences and reformed office spaces will play a key role in this transformation.
The developer world will certainly see continuing evolution over the coming year. As the pandemic has shown, the future is far from guaranteed, but these are the three key trends I can see affecting the developer community. Each of these three developments will bring new advances in developer productivity and wellbeing, helping to accelerate software delivery despite a constraint in the supply of software engineers.
Junade Ali is a software engineering manager and helps mentor engineering leaders at Haystack Analytics