The look-back pieces you read in the tech press toward the end of the year often point to momentous shifts or major events that upended the IT industry.
This is not that kind of story. In looking back at what 2021 meant in the realm of software development, it’s hard to identify a watershed event or major unexpected change. Instead, 2021 mostly saw more of the same in terms of software development trends and practices.
That’s not to say there is nothing worth noting 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 enduring nature of key software development practices.
So, let’s take a look at what the defining software development trends of 2021 were, and what they say about the state of development as a whole.
DevOps Continues to Reign Supreme
DevOps is now well over a decade old. Certain folks – myself included – have predicted that DevOps has peaked and will cease to dominate the way developers think about software development.
This year, however, gave us no reason to believe that those predictions would pan out anytime soon. DevOps remained strong as ever throughout 2021. A majority of developers continue to embrace the DevOps concept and related practices, such as CI/CD.
Low-Code and No-Code Remain 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 are overhyped – or even that they constitute a “delusion” – 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 also saw the expansion of this approach to other domains – such as security, where new players including Torq promise a no-code approach to automation.
I don’t think that 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 within some corners of the software development ecosystem.
Programming for Blockchain Remains Niche
Speaking of trends that are arguably overhyped, 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 over the past few years. The blockchain development platforms that cloud vendors rolled out years ago remain mostly the same. Concepts such as decentralized applications remain interesting, but they’re not new anymore.
Indeed, the biggest changes in the blockchain ecosystem during 2021 – like the explosive popularity of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) or the surge in bitcoin’s value – don’t really have anything to do with software development per se. There is little incentive for most developers today to specialize in programming for blockchains.
DevSecOps Is Still a Thing
This year saw little change to the state of DevSecOps, the philosophy that encourages developers and IT engineers to play a more central role in security operations. If you’re a developer today, there’s a decent chance you’re expected to put on a security hat, too, part of the time.
So far, the pervasiveness 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 is not solving the cybersecurity crisis, at least not on its own. But I imagine it’s not making it worse, either.
The Top Programming Languages Remain the Same
The past year hasn’t seen any truly momentous shifts 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 buzzworthy status. But if anyone expected them to slide into the top 10 rankings in 2021, that didn’t come close to happening.
One somewhat notable change involves the PHP language, which (as of the time of writing) hovers in tenth place on the TIOBE Index. That reflects a slow decline in PHP’s popularity that has been underway for years. But it’s still sort of a big deal that fewer and fewer sites are being coded using PHP – which was the first real dynamic programming language for the web, and which helped create the web as we know it.
All of the software development trends described above were already big deals as we headed into 2021. They’re not innovations.
That’s not a bad thing for the software development ecosystem, however. The most important conclusion to draw about the state of software development in 2021 is that it’s a very mature and stable domain. Unlike some other niches within the IT industry, development is not an area that is seeing a major overhaul every few years.
That may make development less exciting in some respects. But for developers who like building great stuff that works over the long term, maturity and stability within the ecosystem are a great thing.