Attracting and retaining talent by improving the developer experience (DX) is a focus for many organisations right now, especially equipping teams with additional coding tools. However, the quality of the environment in which people code is just one aspect of a developer’s day, so any strategies to enhance the DX should encompass every way to remove or reduce as much friction and toil as possible.
by  Rod Cope

Consider how many processes and other demands developers have to deal with, such as code reviews, tickets, meetings, HR requirements, and more. I call this overhead, which, in my experience as a CTO these past 25 years and from what we hear anecdotally, can account for anywhere between 10 and 80 % of a developer’s time. In addition, recent research estimated that developers spend just 52 minutes per day coding.

That is a shocking waste of valuable talent and has significant repercussions, particularly in a market where developers are in short supply and teams are often understaffed. Also, it can be incredibly demotivating for coders to join a new company and then discover they will spend most of their days completing processes, writing reports, and attending meetings. After all, they did not aspire to become developers so that they could fill in spreadsheets and consequently, may decide to look elsewhere.

This is not breaking news, but the reality is that many organisations have yet to address the impact of the overhead element within the DX. Why? Because it requires some effort and a change of mindset, which can be daunting. Yet, in my experience, reducing the DX overhead leads to happier, more satisfied developers, which in turn is good news for their companies and the industry overall. Reducing overhead also lessens the temptation to cut corners and, instead, gives developers the space they need to focus on creating software that meets users’ needs.

Ways to Minimise the DX Overhead

Some ways to reduce the DX overhead are relatively simple and quick. For instance, take a developer who spends time filling in Word documents or spreadsheets for compliance purposes, such as the MISRA coding standard. Yet, for years, multiple tools have been available that automate standards compliance without any need to ever go near a Word document or spreadsheet.

In common with many job functions, many developers still spend too much looking for things or creating something that already exists elsewhere within the organisation. Instead, developer portals — by no means a universal practice — create central places to look for everything. Similarly, whenever a new process needs to be introduced, keep it as light and straightforward as possible, with minimal steps. This will help prevent people from finding workarounds or ignoring the process altogether.

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AI has a transformational role to play in software development, such as using coding assistants (think of them as junior programmers looking over people’s shoulders and making suggestions), but it can also be used to reduce the overhead element of the DX. For instance, when reports need to be created, AI tools can look for what is required, make the necessary links, and even write the descriptions. A human still needs to check the content, but most of the tedious, time-consuming effort has been taken away from them.

AI Can Help

AI can also be used to onboard new developers faster or to help more senior team members refresh or add to their skills. Conventionally, onboarding a new team member can easily take six to 12 months before they feel up to speed and can be a drain on other individuals who may be tasked with helping them.

Instead, an AI-driven onboarding process could help developers learn how the team works, where to find everything and more. Plus, an AI tool has infinite patience: it does not mind being asked the same question time and time again. As a result, team members can be confident they are working correctly and can contribute better and sooner while also learning in a flexible way that fits around their working day.

Building flexibility into the DX is vital. Allow developers to be where they want to be as much as possible, which is usually in their IDEs. Instead of asking them to leave their preferred environment, go to them (such as allowing them to book vacation via Slack rather than filling in a form if that is what they prefer). Keep meetings to the minimum and focused. If a developer wants to avoid joining the organisation-wide quarterly Zoom meeting, fine: give them the recording or even just the notes.

Of course, all these options and changes in cultural mindset have to be with appropriate guard rails, in the context of any given circumstances, and ultimately contribute to the greater good for fellow employees, the company, and its customers, whether those are internal or external. But looking after developer talent has to be a priority for any organisation creating software right now, and in its true sense, a better DX should go beyond better tools when coding and address every aspect of the role. It is time to look at that overhead and see how it can be reduced and made less disruptive, leading to better job satisfaction and great code.

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Rod Cope

With 25+ years’ industry experience, Rod Cope is CTO within Perforce Software, and provides technical vision and architectural leadership for the company’s globally distributed teams. Rod was the Founder and CTO of OpenLogic and joined Rogue Wave as CTO following the acquisition (Rogue Wave was subsequently acquired by Perforce in 2019). For the past two decades, Rod has spoken on a wide variety of topics at events around the world. Subjects include: API management and security, Agile methodologies, open banking standards, digital transformation, and software development trends in general, especially ‘at scale’.