Covid-19 has accelerated a trend in software development, which I already considered inevitable, toward embracing remote and distributed teams. Given that reality, now is the time for IT leaders to start asking what the future of software development looks like because, in many ways, the future is already here. We can already see this future emerging in several trends.
4 Key Trends in Software Development Careers
- An increasingly distributed developer workforce.
- The rise of online social intelligence.
- Fewer meetings, more asynchronous communication.
- Unlocking developer work-life balance.
An Increasingly Distributed Developer Workforce
As we approach the post-Covid era, we will see developers continue working remotely from their home offices or coworking spaces. Many developers find that they’re more productive and happier in this configuration. Although some individuals will always feel that something is lost in the move away from shared working spaces, they are in the minority.
Meanwhile, companies are struggling to justify investing so much in office spaces in a hiring market that’s looking more and more distributed. We’re already seeing a trend of developers relocating from high-cost-of-living areas such as Silicon Valley to lower-cost areas. Though some companies have resisted this shift by reducing the salaries of such developers when they move away, the situation raises questions about equity and fairness. We will see this friction continue into the new year, with companies that prioritize flexibility and employee happiness gaining a competitive edge in recruitment.
The Rise of Online Social Intelligence
The trend toward distributed development teams will necessitate leaders who are equipped to manage fully remote teams. From the CEO down, especially in companies whose staffs include highly technical employees and developers, leaders must have online social intelligence — the ability to read the virtual room and be perceptive of developers based on online interactions or conversation tone.
In many cases, existing leadership can acquire the necessary skills. But in others, new leaders have formally (and informally) emerged when a leadership vacuum occurred. Leaders who prioritize personal connections and empathy have particularly flourished. With fewer face-to-face interactions, engineering leaders must cultivate the ability to determine when developers are overworking themselves and burning out. Further, due to the recent increase in burnout, leaders will need to be receptive to online queues and offer the resources to meet their team’s needs.
New communication tools like Zoom, Slack or Teams have made remote communication feel seamless, but strong leadership involves analyzing behavior virtually and offering support when needed. This means listening and understanding teams in multiple online settings, skills that leaders will increasingly adopt if they haven’t already. Technical leaders with strong online social intelligence can help their teams understand how others perceive their communication style online, ultimately ensuring better collaboration and productivity for our new work-from-anywhere normal.
Fewer Meetings, Asynchronous Communication
Distributed teams have quickly discovered that between American and European time zones, a narrow window of time exists when everyone is still in normal working hours. As a result, many companies have crammed meetings into this window, which occurs in the mornings for those on the west coast.
This schedule means that throughout the rest of the day, many developers now have long periods of uninterrupted work time. During these blocks, they can focus entirely on writing code, building applications and other necessary problem solving. Aside from the productivity boost, developers now also experience more of the intrinsic pleasures of their work that come from solving deep and complex problems, meaning they’re more engaged and less likely to change jobs.
Of course, communication also needs to happen outside of formal meetings. Teams are coalescing into two types in order to handle this “unprogrammed” communication.
Asynchronous teams are typically formed across time zones, including staff in the United States, Europe and Asia. Their communication methods require tools and practices that keep developers from getting blocked, to ensure that necessary information persists in a searchable way, and that assigned tasks are documented. Such teams typically also develop strong silos in their code, having individual developers work on specific parts of the code base. When teams are asynchronous, developers work independently from each other. This prevents bottlenecks from those who may be harder to reach or in a different time zone entirely.
Synchronous teams tend to form when team members are in close time zones. Such teams will participate in ad hoc and informal decision-making, such as joining an impromptu discussion in Slack or Zoom to hammer out an issue. They are much more likely to share responsibilities for the same code as they usually work together in real time, though they sometimes struggle to capture their design rationale and decision-making in a sharable and searchable format.
Which method a team selects depends on its specific circumstances. Regardless, good managers must ensure that the specific challenges of each approach doesn’t stymie the team. In some cases, a synchronous orientation is the path of least resistance, but problems arise when one or a few team members are outside the core set of time zones. This echoes the problems of a colocated team with a few remote employees and managers must stay actively involved to avoid attrition of developers outside those core time zones.
Unlocking Developer Work-Life Balance
Finally, developers can now integrate their home and work lives in ways that they never could before. Previously, remote workers took great measures to create the illusion of separation between home and work, such as video calls taken in home “offices” to minimize the intrusion of home life. Prepandemic, coworkers kept their children off camera and pets hidden away. Now, we don’t just see and embrace these small distractions, but we welcome them and often know them personally by name and age.
The sudden onset of the pandemic drove many people into working from home even though they lacked the resources, time, or motivation to implement that illusion of separation. As a result, we have come to enjoy seeing coworkers’ family members, pets, and other signifiers of a rich home life during meetings and video calls. At InfluxData, we have Slack channels dedicated to sharing photos of our pets and enjoying life outside work. If anything, these interactions have enriched the feelings of human connection between developers and their coworkers.
Additionally, developers have integrated family responsibilities, including childcare and transportation, into their workdays. Others have also integrated self-care into their routines, such as taking a regular exercise break into their days. These minor changes and accommodations made possible by remote work culture have led to healthier and happier developers, with many employees unwilling to revert back to working in office. When developers are met with the support they previously lacked, they are able to unlock parts of themselves that can lead to better productivity and ultimately, stronger results.
The Bottom Line
Nearly two years into the pandemic, development teams have transitioned into an entirely new way of working. Developers have adopted new habits and skills that will continue to have a positive impact on their productivity even after returning to the office.
And now that developers have the ability to do their jobs in a way that integrates well with their personal lives, they will be more inclined to build on these new work habits. So, we can expect many of these trends to not only remain in place in 2022, but also become more widely adopted across the entire IT organization.