Non-Technical Leaders: Stop Assuming You Understand Developer Culture
November 13, 2023

Stephen Atwell

Nearly nine in ten full-time developers (86%) work entirely from home, compared to just 12.7% of the general population. In fact, the IT sector has long been lightyears ahead of other industries regarding remote work. Even before pandemic-era work-from-home mandates, more than half (59%) of developers worked from home full-time.

Other commonalities in developer experience are more overtly problematic — for example, the average developer tenure is less than two years, even for large tech companies with flashy perks. That's compared to an average employee tenure of 4.1 years across other industries. Clearly, something isn't adding up in the developer experience (DevEx). But what are non-technical leaders missing?

Your Organization's DevEx Is Critical

The first step to improving DevEx is understanding why developer culture and success are paramount to good business outcomes. More than two-thirds of leaders say improving DevEx improves crucial metrics like customer attraction and retention, customer satisfaction, revenue growth and profitability. Meanwhile, three-fourths said DevEx is important for the execution of business strategies.

It's not rocket science — developers are more likely to be productive when they feel respected and fulfilled at work. According to Slack research, 82% of workers attribute their productivity to a sense of happiness at work (Source: Vmware CIO Exchange). But for developers, productivity and DevEx are even more inextricably linked. Why? Because empowered developers are happy developers.

Your developers want to make progress, not be mired in lengthy processes. Consider the shift we've seen over the past decade from development and operations to DevOps, then DevSecOps. The concept of "shifting left" is about finding innovative ways to expedite cumbersome processes like pre-deployment security checks. For the most part, developers have welcomed these changes, even going so far as to learn new coding languages to meet and exceed the expectations of revitalized work processes.

Developers Crave Momentum

Developers thrive when challenged by interesting, intellectually stimulating tasks. Maybe this fact explains why just 62% of developers have a computer science degree (Source: Stack Overflow), with many career developers boasting non-traditional experiences before assuming their current role. They'll excel when presented with an opportunity to test new tools and code, especially when granted freedom to explore.

However, manual, repetitive tasks are not interesting or stimulating. Many developers loathe the monotonous stages of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Other common issues that impede a developer's momentum include:

Non-intuitive documentation and processes: As threats to the software supply chain evolve, so do developers' defense mechanisms. However, when these mechanisms are counter-intuitive, clunky or frustrating, they may hinder progress instead of enabling it. For example, a non-collaborative documentation process that isn't user-friendly may discourage developers from recording their progress. Similarly, old or proprietary version control systems lacking community support will likely frustrate your developers.

Multiple non-integrated toolchains: Developers usually rely on a suite of tools for various tasks, from version control and continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) to monitoring. When these tools don't integrate seamlessly, developers spend time on frustrating manual tasks like data migration and context-switching.

Overly complicated CI/CD pipelines: CI/CD processes were built to expedite development. However, if improperly configured, these tools can become bottlenecks. Long build times, frequent false alarms and non-deterministic tests all hamper productivity.

Legacy systems: Many organizations still rely on outdated, inflexible legacy systems that are incompatible with newer, more efficient tools and processes, including automation. These systems lack critical features, have security vulnerabilities and require manual checks. For developers, working with such systems becomes a slog.

The good news is that tools benefitting DevEx also improve metrics tied to developer productivity like DORA — which in turn improves business performance and software outcomes.

Platform Engineering Is the Next Piece of the Puzzle

Platform engineers provide tools and frameworks for developers, empowering them to be more productive and satisfied. Too often, developers are expected to converse in different languages (literally and figuratively). Outdated or inappropriate tools that demand context-switching daily, even hourly, add another burden.

Typically, non-technical leaders don't understand the difficulties arising from developers' specialized and complex tools. That's where platform engineering comes into play. Think of platform engineers as product leaders for their company's internal operations. One organization's favored technology may frustrate developers at another organization, which is why one-size-fits-all advice about development is almost always misguided. And leaders are catching on: Gartner predicts that 80% of organizations will have an established platform engineering team by 2026.

Being a developer means more than sitting at the computer all day writing and deploying code. It's about making progress and making genuine connections. To break the cycle of high turnover rates and cultivate a more positive culture, non-technical leaders must listen to their developers and implement real change — either through a platform engineering team or a dedicated, organization-wide effort to improve developer culture.

Stephen Atwell is Principal Product Manager at
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