Are you feeling drowned by the endless wave of new tech or finding it tough to log off post-work? You’re not alone
So, I’ll start by stating that I will be talking about the kind of fatigue that I personally experience, though I’m hoping that my writing will resonate with other developers.
So,what exactly do I describe as developer fatigue?
I believe developer fatigue is best illustrated when talking about that feeling of apathetic willingness to pick up an outside tool that you know will save you lots of time. But for whatever reason, as a developer, you’ll sit there and put your hands against your head and stare aimlessly into your IDE, all the while thinking that the mental picture in your consciousness is once again becoming larger and larger. It often gets to the point where thinking about it is exhausting and drives us to the point where we don’t want to write more lines. In this article, I will talk about some of the causes for this I’ve found in my nine years of development.
I want to highlight what I believe are the largest contributors:
- Rapid evolution of technology
- Always on culture
- Developers own everything
- Projects use too much external tooling
As a developer, you must keep up with an incessantly changing technological environment. New frameworks, libraries, languages, and tools emerge every few weeks. While exciting, it’s also intimidating. You might feel pressured to learn everything new to stay relevant, which can lead to exhaustion. The paradox of choice also comes into play — the more options we have, the harder it can be to make a decision, and the more likely we are to regret our choice.
The expectation of being perpetually available and consistently producing high-quality code can be mentally taxing. The lines between work and personal time blur, contributing to a feeling of constant exhaustion. In countries such as America, the UK, and Canada, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding potential burnout and not being able to perform at their peak day in and day out.
Today’s tech companies often adopt a “developers own everything” approach, where developers play a broader role in the software development lifecycle. This shift, largely due to the rise of DevOps culture, encourages shared responsibility across ideation, implementation, testing, deployment, and maintenance.
While this model has benefits like providing a holistic project view and fostering ownership, it also has potential drawbacks. The vast range of responsibilities can dilute specialization, making it hard for developers to stay current in all areas. This can contribute to developer fatigue and raise concerns about maintaining expertise in a field where the depth of knowledge is crucial.
Another source of developer fatigue is the growing dependence on external tools in modern software projects. Developers frequently navigate numerous IDEs, version control systems, package managers, cloud services, and more. Each tool introduces its own complexities, adding to the cognitive load. Every added tool also presents another potential point of failure, requiring updates, and posing potential security risks, further escalating developers’ stress levels and workload.
In today’s development landscape, it’s not uncommon for a project to have hundreds of external dependencies and multiple crucial services running from the cloud. Keeping up with all the platforms and services can be a tiring and mentally crippling feat for developers. Compared to the past, it feels much more common to have simple solutions that, while more naive, costly, and basic, were simpler to maintain and handle for developers. However, I’m willing to accept that this may be the rose-tinted glasses from days long gone.
The realization of developer fatigue has led to important conversations around mental health, work-life balance, and the sustainable pace of technological innovation. With awareness and proactive measures, it’s possible to navigate the fast-paced world of development without succumbing to fatigue, maintaining the joy and satisfaction that drew many of us to this field in the first place.
So, it’s all doom and gloom, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be. I want to address the term ‘just-in-time learning’ and its prudence in the software development industry. I’d also like to suggest methods for dealing with the ‘always on’ culture and finally talk about what we can do about developers’ owning everything and projects using too much external tooling.
‘Just-in-time learning’ is a powerful tool to tackle the overwhelming pace of technology evolution. Rather than attempting to ingest the constant stream of emerging tools or languages, this approach suggests a more tactical method: focusing on what’s immediately useful for your current project. You delve deep into the technologies and tools that are directly relevant, allowing you to build expertise in a concentrated area. This method eases the cognitive load and fosters proficiency and efficiency. As new needs arise, you pivot your learning towards those areas, ensuring your skill set remains agile and directly applicable to your projects.
If you’re struggling with the ‘always-on’ culture, having a frank discussion with your employer or boss is a good first step. Frame the conversation around productivity and well-being. Express your concern about burnout and explain how dedicated time for rest and recovery can actually boost productivity and creativity in the long run. Also, suggest practical measures such as respecting work-hour boundaries, encouraging regular breaks, and emphasizing the importance of a healthy work-life balance in company culture.
If you’re a solo developer or freelancer, managing the “developers own everything” reality can be even more challenging. However, strategic time and project management can go a long way. Break your projects into smaller, manageable tasks and focus on one thing at a time. Use project management tools to organize and track your progress. Don’t forget to allocate time for learning new skills necessary for your projects.
Remember to take regular breaks to avoid burnout. And don’t hesitate to seek out online communities or forums where you can ask questions, share your challenges, and learn from others.
When dealing with projects that use many external tools, visualizing and compartmentalizing sections of the project model can be highly effective. Instead of viewing the project as one giant monolith, break it into smaller, digestible components. Each component can be associated with the tools and services they rely on. Use diagrams or project management tools to help create a visual map of these components, highlighting dependencies and interactions. This makes the complexity more manageable, reducing the cognitive load and making it easier to focus on specific tasks. It’s about making a large, complex project feel smaller and more approachable.
In conclusion, developer fatigue is an all-too-common occurrence in our rapidly evolving tech landscape. But we can effectively mitigate this fatigue by harnessing approaches like ‘just-in-time learning,’ setting firm boundaries to balance work and personal time, strategizing task management, and breaking down projects into manageable, bite-sized components.
I hope these insights and strategies resonate with your experiences and provide useful tools to combat the challenges we face as developers. If you found this helpful, I invite you to explore other articles on my blog, where I delve into more topics around development, productivity, and well-being in the tech industry.
Remember, being a developer is not just about code; it’s about continuous learning, adapting, and caring for our mental well-being.