Happy dev, happy software: Ingredients for a great developer experience

In a world rapidly adapting to living in a completely digitized way, the software ecosystem seems almost engulfing. Most organizations have already adopted digital-first initiatives that constantly demand new software tools that need to be supplied expeditiously without hampering the quality. This creates a classic supply vs. demand problem, resulting in a significant burden on software development teams. To meet this magnitude of supply and demand, developers need to have an environment configured for speed, efficiency, and comfort in a way that enhances their ability to build and ship code. But there is more to developer experience than just the environment.

Why a great developer experience is important

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Developer experience (DX) can be described as interactions and experiences a developer has while using developer-specific tools. A great developer experience involves enabling developers to move fast, get access to the resources they need on their own, and shorten the time from when a developer commits code to the time it is deployed. This further involves Ops teams taking a deliberate approach to creating approved templates for infrastructure, putting in place policies for actions that are allowed and not allowed, reducing the amount of manual work a developer needs to take to provision any resources they need.

A great development experience motivates developers to build better products. This benefits enterprises significantly as it enables rapid feature implementation, production, and security fixes. A good DX essentially means providing developers with everything they need so that all their focus is solely on their work. As an organization, providing your developers with a good DX also helps with employee retention, thus ensuring successful business continuity.

Git and GitOps

Git is an open-source software framework that is becoming a staple for development teams. It tracks changes in any set of files and coordinates work among developers collaboratively developing source code during software development.

Methodologies like GitOps enable greater developer automation and a better developer experience. GitOps is essentially an operating model for Kubernetes cluster management and application delivery. It follows the same principles of Kubernetes such as building declarative systems using immutable infrastructure.

Leveraging open-source CNCF tools helps implement these approaches as these tools have best practices built-in that make it easy to craft an outstanding developer experience.

The 4 ingredients of a great developer experience

1. The platform approach

Having a dedicated platform for developers allows them to access the resources they need on-demand in a self-service manner. Development teams don’t have to wait for the Operations team to grant permissions or create environments for them to deploy and test their applications on. This enables development teams to create their own environments to build their workflows with tools that suit them the best.

Developer platforms create a self-service environment that eliminates infrastructure decisions and decreases the burden on operations teams. It provides development teams with a selection of tools that integrate with each other as well as with existing continuous integration and delivery deployment processes. Developer platforms also help assign Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) without developers having to learn any markup languages. Ultimately, developer platforms help maintain a fine balance between autonomy and control in a way that works for both developers as well as the Operations folks.

2. Templatized resource creation

Operations teams specify resource startup environments and set baseline templates for application configuration and govern permissions. This helps automate recurring tasks and makes setup easier by enforcing certain standards. This provides developers with ready-made templates, thus giving Ops the peace of mind that they have approved the template and takes the load off of them as well. The primary function of these templates is that they enable the separation of concerns for Dev and Ops teams. They provide pre-vetted resources such as source code repositories, monitoring tools, access controls, and the like, thus saving time and reducing the involvement of Ops teams. The adoption of developer platforms and pre-configured templates is paramount in organizations since they can help deliver customer value faster even amidst supporting a remote developer workforce.

There are many DX solutions like Helm, CloudFormation, and Flux that allow the creation and management of templates. Let’s take a brief look at these.

  • Helm: It is a package manager that allows developers to easily create, package, configure and deploy applications onto Kubernetes clusters. It also helps define, install and upgrade complex Kubernetes applications. Helm enables easy updates with in-place upgrades and custom hooks.
  • CloudFormation: It is an AWS service that helps developers create and manage AWS and third-party resources so that they can spend more time focusing on applications that run on these platforms. It enables developers to describe and provision their AWS infrastructure using simple text files or templates.
  • Flux: It is a set of continuous delivery tools for Kubernetes that are open, extensible, and enable continuous delivery of container images. It has automated deployment thus deploying code as soon as it is ready. Flux follows GitOps principles to describe the enter system in Git and automate deployments from Git to a production cluster, wherever that target cluster may be.

3. Automated software testing

Automated software testing is the key to delivering a strong and secure product and needs to be implemented across all organizations regardless of their size. This is because it helps improve code quality by eliminating errors made during manual testing and increases accuracy tenfold. Automated tests produce reliable and predictable results every single time they are run as they eliminate human error during testing. It also enables a quicker feedback cycle for new features by detecting bugs during the development phase itself. This results in fewer issues during production, thus speeding up releases. Automated testing provides better insight into applications and their internal program states so that developers can easily identify and fix problems. It allows for more robust tools to be built and is more scalable than manual testing.

4. Developer team culture

Having a deliberate and positive developer team culture is paramount to creating a great developer experience. Every organization needs to have a well-engaged developer community that regularly conducts discussion forums to learn and share new tools and ideas. This also helps break silos and encourages being a part of a community rather than working as part of an insular team. A good developer team culture should provide the encouragement to learn and share and the motivation to build better code. A community should help developers stay solution-focused so that there are no blame games when errors are made; the goal should be to find solutions. Organizations should create an environment with conditions under which innovation and creativity thrive.

Good developer experience: Don’t worry, be happy

Delivering software is challenging, but one of the ways it can be fun is if the developer is happy while building software. This requires a great developer experience. Following the ingredients above can lead to fostering a developer experience that results in quality software that matters and can be enjoyed by customers. Developer experience is also significant to an organization’s digital growth. It helps companies grow by allowing development teams to focus on building products without the operational burden, thus making deployment time quicker. So, a great developer experience helps developers, organizations, and customers alike.

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