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CTO Q&A: Low-code — the solution to developer burnout?

Wed 5 May 2021

With increasing evidence that engineers will experience burnout at least once in their careers, we ask EMEA CTO at Dell Boomi, Mike Kiersey to unpack the scale of the problem and whether low-code, which tries to eliminate manual work out of developer hands, is a potential solution

How big is the problem of developer burnout?

Burnout is becoming an increasingly prevalent problem, especially in a field as fast-paced as software development. Articles and forums across the net speak of how nearly every software engineer will experience burnout, probably more than once in their career. Certain parts of software development — startup engineering, gaming, open source — are especially prone to burnout. In recent times, the introduction of large scale remote working has exacerbated this by boosting isolation in an already quite solitary role.

What factors are behind the trend?

With more and more businesses undergoing digital transformation, the demand for experienced developers has never been higher – and with it, come higher and higher demands from these professionals.

Software developers work very demanding jobs. Rather than a set amount of hours each day, work is often driven by idealistic management deadlines, meaning that work-life balance is sometimes secondary to results.

Developer recruiting is hard and expensive, making under-resourcing a common occurrence. Companies often can’t afford to hire as many developers as they need, placing undue burden on those they do have.

The nature of the role can be very isolating, with a  developer’s day-to-day spent in deep concentration in front of a screen. In addition, teams are often remote, with 45% working remotely at least part of the time prior to the pandemic. This will undoubtedly have greatly increased over the last year — further reducing human interaction and increasing likelihood of negative psychological effects.

Finally, while there is great scope for creativity in many developer roles, a large portion of job time will be spent on very technical, routine tasks which can be taxing on workers.

How can low-code solve this problem?

Low-code provides a development environment used to create application software through simple user interfaces and configuration, as opposed to traditional hand-coded computer programming. Low-code therefore takes much of the manual work out of developers’ hands, and allows them to far more flexibly design and manage, and scale applications.

This will help developers address burnout by limiting the amount of “in the weeds”, detailed work they have to do, allowing them to harness time and energy for their most important projects. This will help software developers to use their creative energy on innovation, boosting job satisfaction and effectiveness.

Will low-code eventually eclipse the need for technical expertise within organisations?

While some level of technical expertise will always be a plus, low-code allows those with a more rudimentary understanding of coding to act as effective developers.

Within a small number of training sessions, those who consider themselves unsuited to the role of a full time developer could start creating and integrating applications. For example, the 402nd Software Maintenance Group learned and deployed an enterprise-class HRT application in 2 weeks.

Citizen developers are an increasingly common concept too – where companies try to fill out their developer ranks with other employees. We are expecting to see more of this going forward as businesses take advantage of the plethora of tools opening up software development to less technically advanced workers.

However, some level of expertise will still be needed to handle and oversee co-ordination of these systems.

What are the main reasons enterprises are reluctant to embrace low-code and how cogent are these?

Although the quality of applications that people can build with low-code tools is improving, IT organisations are sometimes reluctant to put them into widespread use without careful vetting, often requiring the involvement of professional developers.

There is a minority trend of developers taking issue with the lack of hands-on access they can get with low-code platforms. Without the source code, they believe that they may not be able to make on-the-fly fixes, improvements and debugging. Often, developers are highly invested in their own personalised stack, and find working with this more rewarding than low-code tools that offer a more generalised experience.

What is one fact about low-code that readers will find hard to believe?

  • Low code is going to be the dominant way of coding in the future, with some predicting that more than 65% of application development in 2024 will be performed in low-code platforms. By 2024, 75% of large enterprises will be using at least four low-code development tools for both IT application development and citizen development initiatives.
  • While low-code dominates the alternatives to traditional hand-coding, there is an even less coding-intensive option, called ‘no-code.’ It’s important to note that these are not the same things. While low-code still requires some extent of coding expertise, no-code platforms allow application development without any coding at all, and is completely run through graphical user interfaces and configuration.
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