The retrospective articles you read in the technical press towards the end of the year often point to significant changes or major events that have shaken up the computer industry.
It’s not that kind of story. Looking back at what 2021 meant in the field of software development, it’s hard to pinpoint one watershed event or unexpected major change. Instead, 2021 has seen mostly the same in terms of software development trends and practices.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to note about software development in 2021. On the contrary, the fact that developers are still doing today what they were doing a year ago highlights the sustainable nature of key software development practices.
So let’s take a look at what were the defining trends in software development in 2021 and what they say about the state of development as a whole.
DevOps continues to reign supreme
DevOps is now over ten years old. Some people – myself included – predicted that DevOps has reached its peak and will cease to dominate the way developers think about software development.
This year, however, gave us no reason to believe those predictions would come to fruition anytime soon. DevOps stayed strong as ever throughout 2021. A majority of developers continue to adopt the DevOps concept and associated practices, such as CI/CD.
Low-Code and No-Code Stay Hot
Another software development trend in 2021, low-code and no-code programming, falls into a similar boat. Despite claims that low-code and no-code development is overrated – or even that they constitute a “illusion” – the ecosystem surrounding these techniques remains quite dynamic.
Not only do vendors such as Mendix and Appian continue to offer popular no-code and low-code platforms, but 2021 has also seen the expansion of this approach to other areas – such as security, where new actors, especially Torque promise a no-code approach to automation.
I don’t think this means that most software will be written using low-code or no-code techniques anytime soon, but it does speak to the persistence of these trends in certain corners of the software development ecosystem.
Programming for Blockchain remains a niche
Speaking of trends that are arguably overstated, 2021 continued to see a lot of buzz around blockchain, but relatively little in terms of actual innovation from software developers working on blockchain-based projects.
To be sure, there is some cool stuff being done in the world of blockchain programming. But blockchain development tools and techniques haven’t changed much in the past few years. Blockchain development platforms than cloud providers launched years ago remain mostly the same. Concepts such as decentralized applications remain interesting, but they are no longer new.
Indeed, the biggest changes in the blockchain ecosystem in 2021 – like the explosive popularity of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) or the rise in value of bitcoin – really have nothing to do with software development in self. Most developers today have little incentive to specialize in programming for blockchains.
DevSecOps is still a thing
This year, the state of DevSecOps, the philosophy that encourages developers and IT engineers to take a more central role in security operations. If you’re a developer today, chances are you’ll be expected to put on a safety hat some of the time as well.
So far, the ubiquity of DevSecOps hasn’t really translated into better security outcomes. On the contrary, 2021, like the years that preceded it, set new records for the frequency and scope of cyberattacks. It seems safe to say that DevSecOps does not solve the cybersecurity crisis, at least not on its own. But I imagine it doesn’t make it worse either.
The best programming languages remain the same
The last year hasn’t seen any really big changes in the realm of programming languages. the TIOBE index shows that the usual suspects – like C, Java, and Python – continue to top the list of most popular languages.
Newer languages, such as Rust and Go, still have a worthy status. But if anyone was expecting them to slip into the top 10 charts in 2021, it didn’t come close to happening.
A somewhat notable change is in the PHP language, which (at the time of writing) ranks tenth in the TIOBE index. This reflects a slow decline in PHP’s popularity that has been going on for years. But it’s still a big problem that fewer and fewer sites are coded in PHP – which was the first truly dynamic programming language for the web, and helped create the web as we know it.
All of the software development trends described above were already big business as we headed into 2021. They are not innovations.
That’s not a bad thing for the software development ecosystem, though. The most important conclusion to draw about the state of software development in 2021 is that it is a very mature and stable field. Unlike other niches in the IT industry, development is not an area that undergoes a major overhaul every few years.
This can make development less exciting in some ways. But for developers who like to build great things that work for the long haul, maturity and stability within the ecosystem is a good thing.