Improving staff satisfaction and retention rank pretty highly in terms of organisational goals, as does maximising productivity and efficiency. What if there was a way to do both? Developer experience (sometimes abbreviated as DevX or DevEx)—essentially how developers interact with their company and feel about their work—has become a key focus for many enterprises for good reason.
In this blog, we'll look at what we mean when we talk about ‘developer experience’, what best practices look like, why a great developer experience is so important to your business, and simple steps you can take to enhance yours. So, let's dig in.
What does ‘developer experience’ mean?
When it comes to our users or customers, we talk about ‘user experience’—making user journeys and interactions as seamless and pain-free as possible. Developer experience applies that same thinking inward to remove complexity and make life easier for our development teams.
Previously, organisations have assumed that ‘experience’ doesn't matter much to developers. These tech-savvy teams have been expected to figure things out independently and get on with it, leading to siloed working, a lack of knowledge sharing, and lots of drudgery that takes time away from getting the actual coding work done.
What should a good developer experience include?
The best-practice elements that make up a good developer experience include:
- Streamlined workflows with source code management—so developers know what needs to change as soon as they start.
- Greater visibility—a single visual representation of code layout helps developers work quickly, with all the information they need at their fingertips.
- Operational insights—so developers can understand and prioritise issues and work with operations teams to improve the system.
- Effective collaboration tools—necessary for fast communication and knowledge sharing.
- Automation—to find and manage code more efficiently with greater quality, test for bugs, and find and fix them earlier in the development cycle.
- Fast feedback loops—to support flexible, agile processes and enable small, iterative changes and greater collaboration.
- Comprehensive, accessible documentation—such as source code libraries and service catalogues, that's available in an accessible, easily searchable format.
- Continuous learning opportunities—for developers to grow their knowledge base and learn from each other.
Why is a great developer experience so important?
Given the current trends and challenges in the software development landscape, no organisation can afford to be complacent. Here are a few reasons why focusing your attention on your developer experience is paramount:
Hire and keep the best talent
Job satisfaction is essential if you want to retain good people, and a stable team is vital for your business to achieve its goals. High burnout rates lead to high turnover—which can put a big spanner in the works for your organisation. However, a good developer experience can go a long way to preventing both.
And word gets around. In a shoppers' market, when other talented developers see the way yours work and the culture you've created, they'll want a piece of the action too.
Boost productivity and innovation
The easier it is for your developers to get the work done, the quicker you can get projects over the finish line. With speed, you can quickly incorporate customer feedback, work with more agility, and drive innovation. Getting to great ideas more quickly is a huge competitive advantage.
Meet developers where they are
With more and more developers entering the fray each year—with less and less experience than before—it's vital that organisations support staff to find their feet and thrive early on. The sooner you can get people up to speed with the right tools and toolkits, the more value you can get out of them over time.
Support developers to do what they do best
As valuable as the array of frameworks, methodologies, and development tools your teams use can be, they're also a huge stumbling block to getting started and completing projects. Ideally, developers would focus on delivering solutions without worrying about documentation and infrastructure, and an exceptional developer experience can make a big difference. By connecting them seamlessly to the tools they need and more, they'll be more productive and more innovative in the process.
How can we improve our developer experience?
Following all the best-practice points outlined above is key, but you can do a few other things to improve your developer experience.
1. Build a developer-centric culture
Half the battle is changing mindsets internally and establishing a developer-centric culture. You need to show your whole organisation that you value and prioritise the developer experience. Technical solutions like introducing an internal developer portal can help change attitudes and show you mean business.
2. Lead by example
For everyone to buy into the developer experience you're selling, leadership must play a significant role in establishing a culture and promoting a supportive developer environment. Senior IT leaders should set an example, encouraging and enabling cross-functional collaboration and supporting developers to work autonomously.
3. Cater to common cases
Learn how your developers work to understand their frustrations and identify the most frequent use cases and scenarios they encounter. Ask what holds them up and find solutions, such as ‘getting started’ guides, templates, and toolkits to help them overcome common problems.
4. Measure and make change
How can you know if your actions are working if you don't measure it and make changes accordingly? Ask your developers to complete surveys to truly understand how they use the tools and systems you have in place and how they feel about the developer experience overall.
Some areas and metrics to consider focusing on include:
- Usability—how easy is it for your developers, especially new recruits, to use any systems you have in place? For example, accessing and navigating your internal developer portal and finding the necessary information.
- Satisfaction—how happy and fulfilled are your people? Are they experiencing burnout? Do they have all the tools they need to do their job efficiently? What would they change?
- Deployment frequency— how fast and efficient are your development teams? Look at how developer experience initiatives impact the TTM.
- MTTR and change failure rate—how quickly can they deliver projects and resolve issues? How does increased automation help eliminate human error?
- Retention rates—what's your turnover looking like? Compare rates before and after implementing new initiatives or tools, such as an internal developer portal.
5. Keep it coming
Remember, it's not enough to see developer experience as a one-off initiative. You need to see it as an ongoing journey, continuously improving it by seeking feedback, iterating your existing processes, educating your staff through cultural change, and evolving to meet the demands of your teams and the wider industry.
Ready to experience it?
Anything that takes developers away from writing code and innovating new ideas is a black mark against your developer experience. Ultimately, some tasks must be taken care of, so you need to offer a friction-free way for that work to get done.
Focusing your attention on your developer experience, seeking ways to understand it, change it, measure its success, and keep improving it will pay dividends for your business. You’ll stay a step ahead of the competition—hiring and keeping happy people and boosting productivity and innovation along the way.