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App Dev Leaders Struggle with Rising Workloads, Limited Time for Innovation

Application development leaders are struggling with the "double whammy" of the need for both continuous maintenance and innovation.

Application development leaders are increasingly dissatisfied with the amount of time their engineering teams can devote to innovation as they struggle with growing workloads and inefficiencies across development timelines.

These were among the key findings of a Onymos survey of more than 100 U.S. application development leaders, which also revealed that for the majority (56%) of leaders, the workload for updating apps is increasing year to year.

Nearly half of the leaders (45%) said they are dissatisfied with how quickly their engineering teams can develop new application features, and nearly a third (30%) said their teams spend approximately half of their time on maintenance.

Nathan pulled quote

More than four in 10 (43%) of engineering managers reported that half of their team's effort is "wasted" on maintaining things, which Onymos founder and CEO Shiva Nathan called the most surprising finding from the survey.

"App development in 2023 is climbing up in an escalator that is going down. A team must expend considerable effort just to stay in place," he said. "While we knew the effort was considerable and that most the teams faced the same challenge, what surprised us was that both the prevalence of the problem and the extent of the problem is so high."

This problem is only getting worse as the technology escalator moves faster in the opposite direction for teams to keep in place, he said.

Dependency Changes Is a Major Issue

Nathan pointed out that the pace of dependency changes is the primary contributor.

"No longer is an application its own fully self-contained stand-alone thing," he explained. "Any application in 2023 is a myriad of an interdependent conglomeration of platforms, frameworks, services, infrastructure, and more."

Each of those dependencies evolves at an increasing speed with each passing day.

Keeping an application functioning without going stale on any of its dependencies is a herculean task — running up in an escalator moving down, he said.

Couple that with the stronger need to keep your application fresh by leveraging the latest and greatest innovations, preferences, and styles requires a development team to continuously refresh and update the application.

Continuous Maintenance, Need for Innovation a 'Double Whammy'

"This double whammy of continuous maintenance and continuous need for innovations are contributing factors to inefficiencies and growing workloads among app developers," Nathan said.

From his perspective, the "atomization" of app development, where every development team is its own agrarian entity, needs to become obsolete.

"We, as humans, no longer farm and hunt for our own individual families," he explained. "App development is still in that stage."

Although the advent of software as a service (SaaS) has helped some, where problems of fragmentation are addressed by companies providing centralized services, Nathan said SaaS unfortunately has brought its own slew of problems — where the mortar between the bricks is what makes up more of the wall than the bricks themselves.

"Talk to any engineering team, and you'll learn that the integrations between the SaaS to create an application are the effort-sinks," he said. "This must fundamentally change."

Generative AI will serve as a productivity enhancement tool in app development, he said.

"As a productivity enhancement tool, there are five major areas that generative AI can help with, which encompass code generation, content generation, testing, app design and UI/UX, and interactions," Nathan said. "Those are just the first order of things that generative AI will help with."

He predicted that the real advances will come when generative AI is able to handle end-to-end processes.

"A generative AI engine in a few years will be able to take instructions and perform actions across multiple systems — an HR system for reporting relationship updates to Mary Jane or a source-control system for access to project X," he said.

About the author

Nathan Eddy headshotNathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITPro Today. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.
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