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January 10, 2024

The Hottest Thing In Software Development That Will Deliver AI’s Promises: DevEx

By Summary by IT Revolution

Artificial intelligence and large language models like GPT-3 are hot topics these days. While the hype around generative AI is immense, software developers still need to ship AI-enabled software. This comes down to developer experience or “DevEx”—creating an environment that allows developers to build quickly, reliably, securely, and with joy. In this post, we’ll explore why DevEx is crucial for realizing the promises of AI as shared by principal researcher and author Dr. Nicole Forsgren at the 2023 DevOps Enterprise Summit.

What is DevEx and Why Care?  

DevEx focuses on the satisfaction developers have with processes, tools, and the overall ability to deliver code. It centers the user and takes a people/customer-oriented approach, with developers being the “customer.” Understanding pain points through a DevEx lens surfaces bottlenecks to accelerate improvement. This includes speed, reliability, security, and compliance in a user-friendly way.

Dr. Forsgren shared three dimensions that contribute to DevEx:

  1. Flow State: deep, focused work with few interruptions
  2. Fast, high-quality feedback loops 
  3. Low cognitive load: easier processes requiring less mental effort

Better DevEx Drives Tangible Impacts

Many consider DevEx as just making developers happy. However, data shows DevEx drives critical outcomes like:

  • For developers: boosted creativity, productivity, and learning
  • For teams: higher code quality and less technical debt  
  • For organizations: a culture of innovation, better retention, and goal achievement

Microsoft Research Findings Link DevEx to Hard Results

In new research using the framework above, Microsoft examined over 32,000 responses across 177 countries to analyze the hard benefits of improving DevEx, specifically by enhancing flow state, feedback loops, and cognitive load. Key findings include:

Flow State:

  • 50% higher productivity with dedicated deep work time
  • 30% productivity boost with engaging tasks 

Cognitive Load:  

  • 40% productivity increase with understandable code
  • 50% more innovation with intuitive processes  

Fast Feedback Loops:

  • 20% higher innovation through fast code reviews  
  • 50% less technical debt via quick responses to developers

Use DevEx To Align Culture and Improvement

DevEx gives organizations a lens to align people to change efforts. Microsoft drives this alignment through “Engineering Thrive,” which tracks DevEx via objective telemetry and subjective survey data across speed, ease, quality, and culture. Leaders examine the data to surface insights, have curious conversations, understand tradeoffs engineers face, and create improvement strategies.

Additionally, DevEx metrics create a shared language. Rather than intuition, teams leverage data-informed insights paired with expert judgment to guide decisions. The framework provides durable categories (speed, ease, quality, culture) while regularly iterating specific data points upon. Comparisons happen internally rather than externally to focus on one’s own baseline and improvement.  

LLMs To Realize DevEx and AI’s Potential

Complexity in problem diagnosis, duplicate solutions, and convoluted code often hinder developers. Dr. Forsgren suggests LLMs could provide personal expert guidance to engineers. Her team built prototypes where developers can:

  • Get ranked expert recommendations.
  • Have complex code and contexts summarized.  
  • Surface paper assumptions and analysis plans.  
  • Answer questions like, “How could better build times improve developer satisfaction?”

By co-innovating solutions centered on user needs, LLMs can enhance developer experience to allow AI’s delivery at scale.

The Road Ahead 

DevEx is crucial for taking AI from hype to shipped product. When we create an environment that lets developers do their best work, we realize immense benefits for engineering culture while accelerating discrete AI applications. According to Forsgren, as large language models progress, a relentless focus on DevEx will allow us to tap into their potential to drive business and human value.

To watch the full presentation, visit the IT Revolution Video Library here:

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