Compared with other sections of the IT industry, software development isn't a place where radically new trends appear very frequently. After all, most of the programming practices and tools that developers use today have been in place for years, if not decades. That includes even newish practices like DevOps and microservices, both of which have been around for more than 10 years at this point.
That doesn't mean, however, that the software development ecosystem has not seen its share of significant changes over the past year. It would be an overstatement to say that the development industry has been totally upended, but important new trends did emerge or solidify over the course of 2022.
This article looks at five software development trends to highlight how software development is changing, even if the changes are sometimes hard to notice.
Perhaps the only software development trend that was hard not to notice in 2022 was the growing adoption of AI-assisted coding tools, which automatically generate or suggest source code using AI.
These types of tools have been around for a little while; for example, IntelliCode, an AI-assisted solution for Visual Studio, was announced in 2017. But the general availability of GitHub Copilot in 2022 arguably represented a watershed moment because it made AI-assisted coding easily available to any developer who uses GitHub — which is to say, almost every developer.
You could argue that AI-assisted coding is just the next evolutionary phase in low-code development, which has a long history. But I'd argue that it represents a fundamentally new paradigm because AI-assisted coding makes it possible to generate original code, rather than stitch together prebaked code modules in the way that low-code tools do.
In that sense, I suspect that AI-assisted coding will turn out to be one of the most important software development trends not just of 2022, but of the 2020s in general.
Rethinking Open Source Licenses
A related software development trend that appeared in 2022 involves new questions about whether AI-generated code may violate software licenses.
Those questions arose because some folks have argued that solutions like GitHub Copilot, which rely on AI algorithms trained using publicly available open source code, violate the licensing terms of that code.
So far, at least one lawsuit has been filed over this issue, and it remains to be seen how the court will interpret these claims. But the possibility that AI tools could complicate software licensing means developers have yet another compliance issue to think about when they write code.
The Decline of PHP
PHP has been in a slow decline for years. But as of late 2022, it's just barely part of the top 10 most popular programming languages, as measured by the TIOBE Index. That means 2022 — or, possibly, early 2023 — could become the moment where PHP finally falls out of the top ranks.
It's hard to imagine PHP going away entirely, since important platforms like WordPress are written in it. But given how immensely popular PHP once was, but no longer is, the language's steady decline is one of the more notable software development trends of the moment.
The Rise of Rust
While PHP has been in decline, another language — Rust — has seen a surge of adoption.
Rust has existed since 2014, but it climbed into the top 20 languages on the TIOBE Index for the first time in 2022. The language's momentum reflects Rust's "unique combination of speed and safety," as the TIOBE maintainers put it.
There's a chance that Rust's popularity boom could prove temporary, but I suspect it's a lasting trend in a world where managing cybersecurity threats is a paramount concern for virtually every business.
The Shift-Left Pushback
2022 might also end up being identified in retrospect as the year where developers finally became fed up with the "shift-left" paradigm.
Shift-left encourages processes like testing and security to begin as early as possible in the software delivery lifecycle. That's good in some ways, but it can have the effect of requiring developers to do more work, because they have to participate in operations that were previously handled by other teams (like QA and security engineers).
For that reason — and the fact that shift-left initiatives are often vaguely defined — evidence has been mounting that some developers are wary of the shift-left push. Shift-left might endure as a buzzword, but it will be increasingly hard to sell to developers.
If you thought there wasn't much new happening in the world of software development, think again. Flashy innovations may be rare (although AI-assisted programming is arguably one such innovation), but in more subtle ways, trends like shifts in the popularity of important programming languages and a growing wariness toward shift-left development practices reshaped the way coders worked in 2022 — and they are likely to continue doing so into the new year.
About the authorChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.