Why improving the developer experience holds the key to doing more with less

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For some time now, there has been a trend pressing developers to take on more and more responsibilities outside of coding. They are expected to become experts in every domain – even security and cloud spend. Combine developers’ growing scope of work with a skills shortage and continued economic uncertainty, and it’s clear that they are reaching their limits. The result is developer burnout and churn. In fact, it is now thought that up to 83 percent of software developers feel burnout from their work. Developer job dissatisfaction is so high that only 48 percent of developers are confident they will be with the same company a year from now.

As the pressure mounts, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for developers to work effectively and keep up with the demands on their shoulders. To lighten the load, it is more important than ever that organizations focus on optimizing and improving the developer experience. Companies need to focus on how they can ease the pressure and allow developers to do what they do best: building innovative new software. To that end, there are three ways for organizations to create a better developer experience (DX).

1.    Increase developer efficiency and experience

There must be a shift in how businesses measure the effectiveness of developers’ work. Currently, most organizations will measure output rather than the quality of work -- ignoring developer happiness and their overall experience.

This can lead to excessive workloads and inefficient processes, as well as an increased amount of time spent on manual and repetitive tasks, such as maintaining unnecessary scripts and repetitive manual testing. These tasks, referred to as toil, reduce the impact of developer talent as they are unable to unleash their creativity on building new code and turning ideas from concept to reality. Ultimately, these factors will lead to burnout, churn, or serious inefficiencies within development teams that slow digital transformation.

To combat burnout and inefficiency, organizations will need to exponentially increase their adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). By leveraging AI and ML to remove the most repetitive parts of the job, developers will get back valuable time. In turn, they will be able to release their creativity, focus on innovation, and experience better job satisfaction. This will bring considerable benefits for developers and the companies they work for. Output will be higher but also the quality of software being delivered will improve.

2.    Embrace platform engineering

To leverage AI and ML effectively, organizations must move from DevOps toward platform engineering. According to Gartner, 80 percent of software engineering organizations will establish platform teams as internal providers of reusable services, components, and tools for application delivery by 2026.

The core focus of a platform engineering team is improving developer experience and happiness. Platform engineering teams streamline the development process, helping to automate low-value tasks and establish standardized delivery pipelines that can be repeated across the enterprise. All of which reduces the hours spent on manual toil. This will empower teams to do their best work by not overburdening one group with certain tasks.

Empowering each group means providing a platform where security teams can write the security and governance policies, infrastructure teams can define what and where things can be deployed, operations teams can define pipelines of how things are deployed, and the developer should never see the platform unless something goes wrong. Then the platform should show them exactly what they need to fix the problem. 

By embracing a platform engineering approach, development teams can work smarter and faster and provide more business value. For example, Netflix adopted a platform engineering approach to unify its developer experience and drive efficiency across its teams. This allowed Netflix to scale quickly and effectively, whilst ensuring its developers were not becoming overburdened with repetitive and routine tasks.

3.    Drive flexibility in the workplace

Organizations can foster a flexible working environment to improve developer experience and streamline software delivery. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a growing trend toward 'flexible working' -- but what does this mean for development teams? With 2023 being the year that Gen Z engineers completely join the workforce, bringing with them raised standards for support and inclusion, companies need to make sure that their developers -- remote or office-based -- are fully supported and included.

As most companies offer flexibility, allowing employees to choose their working hours and office days is not enough. Instead, companies must focus on how they can deliver the most tailored and unique experience for their developers to improve satisfaction. This can be done by maintaining transparency at every level. Let developers talk straight to those in leadership and C-suite positions. Encourage new learning, career progression, and involve them in activities outside of development.

One way in which organizations can promote this is by making developer experience someone’s job. Whether they do so by hiring someone as a developer experience officer, making it an integral part of a lead engineer’s role, or rotating a team, companies need to start making it a priority. If they fail to do so, they will struggle to retain talented developers.

Businesses risk falling behind if they can’t streamline DX

Organizations that fail to reduce the demands on developers to complete routine, manual, and low-skilled tasks will risk increased development costs and losing their most talented and valuable assets, as they feel increasingly burnt out. Ultimately, this could stall their digital transformation with inefficient processes, and harm their bottom line as they struggle to keep up with the pace of innovation.

Organizations that focus on enhancing the developer experience through more efficient and flexible ways of working will reduce burnout and churn, whilst giving themselves the ability to do more with less. This will empower them to drive digital transformation at speed and scale, without sacrificing quality or reliability.

Image credit: belchonock/Depositphotos.com

Nick Durkin is Field CTO at Harness.

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