Looking Back at Software Development Trends

In some ways, the world of software development hasn’t changed much. The same sorts of skills and techniques I saw people using on COBOL programs hitting DB/2 and C++ over Oracle 6 are used today in React and C# against Azure SQL database. On the other hand, it does seem that we are more mature in how we work together and the flexibility with which we design systems.

I saw the results from a survey from 2019 that Atlassian ran for software developers. This was a look at what modern trends might exist, though over a year later, perhaps the world is dramatically changed again. Let me look at each of the four trends they point out.

I’ve been hearing about microservices for years, but have found relatively few customers using them. I don’t hear a lot about them in the RDBMS space, and I think this is because the idea of separating out each entity (or small set) in a database and having data access only through a front end component doesn’t make sense. There’s power in using an RDBMS to enforce data integrity rules and allow aggregations. I’ve also seen some companies looking for miniservices, not micro ones.

Manual testing is still very prevalent for customers. While there are lots of unit tests, including some against a db, they don’t always extend through CI to more complex scenarios. Quite a few customers still have bottlenecks where humans look at the application in a larger sense. I think the high cost of tools that run more complex tests is a part of the problem. I’m not sure how we improve this, though I do hope to see more unit or functional tests for db code.

Feature flags are extremely complex, though I do see them more as a defensive measure, where features are released, but then turned off if there are issues. This prevents a rollback from the app and db standpoint. I also don’t see a lot of use of dark deploys for database features, perhaps because until the app is working, we aren’t sure the data model is correct. Feature flag cleanup is certainly an issue for some clients.

The last trend is one I rarely see implemented. Looking at customer outcomes, and not just immediate sales, is something that few people seem to do. Perhaps because developers are evaluated on the work they complete, not whether it’s in use. Managers are evaluated based on getting developers to do work, or on the sales that are produced, but it seems that few organizations try to measure the customer impact. We’ve started doing that at Redgate, and I’m interested to see how this evolves.

Keeping developers motivated, excited about their jobs, and productive with creative solutions is tough. The trends listed from the article seem to me more aspirational for most of the organizations with which I deal. Most clients I know see developers as interchangeable parts, similar to factory workers. I think if they invested a little more in the well-being of developers, both from their mental focus and the growth of their skills, they might find a lot more benefits accruing from their software.

Steve Jones

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