Businesses everywhere closed their physical doors and accelerated digital strategies due to the pandemic. So developers and DevOps teams were placed under a lot of pressure to build new experiences to support remote work and customers, maintain productivity and continue operations digitally.
So, what's next? COVID-19 has reshaped much of the business landscape and forever changed how some jobs will function. How different will work be for software developers in 2021, and what should be top of mind? Below, I unpack some of the biggest trends from 2020 that will continue into 2021 -- and beyond.
1. Quality-of-life improvements for better developer experiences
Developers were better positioned than many other jobs to go remote in 2020. Most were already accustomed to working digitally and using workplace collaboration tools to boost productivity. But the transition wasn't without its pain points.
Development and DevOps teams were under ever-increasing pressure to build and operate mission-critical applications as businesses pivoted to 2020's ever-changing conditions. Developers have long communicated, planned, coordinated and executed activities using digital tools, but in 2020 these tools became the only way to collaborate. Large open office spaces overrun with white boards and impromptu ideation sessions were replaced with endless scheduled virtual meetings. In 2021 we will see organizations invest in tools that try to enable more visceral and on-demand collaboration, to recapture the spark and fidelity of real-life interaction.
We're also seeing that working from home during a pandemic is blurring the lines between work and home life for the development community. GitHub, the largest code repository system in the world, shows that developers are writing more code during COVID-19 than they ever did before. Companies need to tread lightly here, ensuring their developer teams don't get burned out. It's one thing if code is a developer's place of solace and comfort. But if your people are coding for work, for long hours -- that's not ideal for anyone since it may not be good for their psyches and may mean less stable code.
2. Greater focus on ROI and mapping to business KPIs
In recent years, it's been popular to think about the role of developers as "disruption-proof." This is true to an extent, as the potential for future growth for businesses lies in the ability to use software and harness data. But with continued economic uncertainty in 2021, there will be pressure on every part of the business to demonstrate in crystal clear terms why it deserves its budget.
With the explosion of digital transformation needs and businesses working toward digitizing more workflows and back-office tasks, there's a bigger backlog than ever of things to digitize. And given the economic conditions, it's unlikely that budgets will increase. Yet, there will be a lot of pressure on developers and development teams to make sure their efforts are focused on areas that are most critical for the business. Clear KPIs are going to be imperative to better understanding the business value developers are driving.
Indeed, with fewer resources and management expectations just as high, there needs to be a crisp strategy so companies can prioritize better from a developer standpoint and make sure that everything they are working on adds to the bigger company goals and objectives. COVID-19 has brought us to a "no excuse" scenario. Companies need to be digitizing. And even after the pandemic fades, expectations for digital experiences won't go back to what they were pre-COVID-19.
3. Low-code and ever more powerful pro-code
Rapid progress of developer capabilities will continue in 2021, with many developers considering how to harness the increased capabilities of edge computing and the implications of 5G, and even pondering the science fiction-like possibilities of quantum computing. Yet at the same time, low-code/no-code tools will continue increasing in popularity, and developers will have to consider how to adjust to a world where non-developers can build apps too.
Putting the power of development capabilities in the hands of non-developers has been one of the longest-standing quests of software providers. And over the years, great strides have been made. Adobe Experience Manager, for instance, has long enabled marketers to create pixel-perfect digital experiences without always having to tap front-end developers to help. But the promise of general-purpose low-code/no-code platforms have come and gone every decade. Why is this time different?
As the onslaught of digital transformations needs has intensified, many low-code/no-code platforms have focused efforts to enable the development of back-office apps and workflows. This allows low-code creators to concentrate on business areas that might conform more easily to the form-driven nature of many low-code/no-code tools. Innovations in AI have also enabled low-code creators to build rich virtual agents for powering end-user conversational experiences. In 2021 we will see more non-development teams creating mission-critical apps using low-code/no-code tools. We will also see an increase in multidisciplinary teams that include developers to assist in proper low-code/no-code app development, and in connecting more data and services to low-code tools.
Keep an eye on these developer trends
It's safe to say that developers were key to business resilience in 2020 and that they will continue to be a driving force behind the digitalization of enterprises in 2021, as contactless experiences continue to be the norm. For companies, enabling developer productivity and collaboration, prioritization and a focus on developer experience will be key to how developers provide value to businesses in every industry and in companies of many different sizes.
About the author
Jonathan Roeder leads the Experience Cloud Developer organization at Adobe, overseeing its mission to empower the world's best customer experience community, ecosystem and developer platform. Roeder's passion is to create innovative technical products that empower developers, business users and surrounding communities. In the early 2000s, Roeder built web-scale SOA services for developers and low-code tools for content authors at Dell. Most recently he led architecture and product management functions to bring multiple deeply extensible SaaS offerings to market, across commerce and AI.