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Year in review: 3 app development trends from 2021

Automation and AIOps left their marks on the evolution of code development in 2021. Experts say these trends will likely continue into the new year.

Writing and shipping code faster was a top trend in the past year, according to GitHub, while analysts and other industry experts also cited burgeoning cloud data, AI, platform teams and security as important in 2021.

In its annual report on app developer trends, GitHub, a code hosting and sharing service, elucidated myriad examples of changes it documented this year -- from using automation to help app development teams communicate better and more clearly to emphasizing information flow and having sharper tools in the developer toolkit.

Sustainable practices were also big in the past year, as coding communities leaned on trust and other positive traits to score higher in the business community. 

Coding's evolution

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, said originally developers saw the low-code/no-code trend as a threat. However, "they realized there is still so much demand for coding for things which are interesting to build or hard to get the requirements of." At the same time, low-code/no-code application dev has morphed a bit downstream, which has made it "respectable" for full code developers to do no-code/low-code as well, he said. "It doesn't have a stigma anymore in the development community," he said.

Holger MuellerHolger Mueller

In its "State of the Octoverse" report on app development trends, GitHub found that developer patterns on its site "reflect that automating software delivery is key in open source and helps teams go faster at scale."

Arun Chandrasekaran, an analyst at Gartner, said, "Clearly we see a lot of interest in everything as a code … in things like infrastructure as code. We also see more interest in Agile practices in general. I think that was a continuous theme in 2021."

Arun ChandrasekaranArun Chandrasekaran

Cloud data and AIOps

Chandrasekaran also said he has observed a lot of interest in "things like serverless and containers and Kubernetes, as well as more emphasis on security and DevOps practices, looking at how can we kind of 'shift left'" during the development lifecycle.

He said that this past year, there was significant interest in AI from the development community, too, with a lot of new products coming to market.

"I think more and more enterprises are starting to recognize that the amount of data that they are generating is only increasing and they are also now operating in these multiple environments," he said. He added this sometimes means companies use more than one public cloud, as well as operate at the edge. There are applications that are being widely distributed, "and they [developers] want to have better ways to manage the [service level agreements] of those applications. So, you'd argue that AIOps would be an effective technique for doing that, and by virtue of doing that, we definitely saw a lot of interest in that space in 2021."

More and more organizations are creating platform teams, and these platform teams are working with the developers or are working with the product teams and enabling a service platform environment.
Arun Chandrasekaran Analyst, Gartner

Mueller mentioned that "now you have AI looking over your shoulder to make sure you are coding better." Indeed, AI-augmented practices were a huge app development trend in 2021 and are continuing to swell, even as developers work out operational kinks, which includes everything from a hospital phone line directing users to "Neurology" instead of "Urology" to Siri saying it doesn't know who its device owner is when asked.

Rise of the platform team

Chandrasekaran said he wanted to call out platform engineering because "more and more organizations are creating platform teams, and these platform teams are working with the developers or are working with the product teams and enabling a service platform environment."

He said the way to think about such a team is that it provides foundational capabilities that the product teams require, such as in a code repository if the product team requires a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline.

"The product teams require a CD pipeline and infrastructure to be automatically provisioned," he said. "So, the job of a platform team is to take each of these technology capabilities, integrate all of them together, and deliver a cohesive experience so the developers don't have to think about all of those things."

By simplifying the process, this top trend of 2021, facilitated by the platform team, enabled developers "to focus on what they really should have been doing, which is to write code and to test code."

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