Developers say they work for tech-first companies, but data may not support it

Susan R. Jones
Programming code abstract technology background of software developer and Computer script
Image: monsitj/Adobe Stock

Over 3,700 front-end development professionals filled out The Software House’s survey on front-end software development, but only 82% of them think they work for a tech-first company.

I say only because if we’ve learned anything over the past decade or so, it’s that every organization needs to be serious about software. This isn’t to suggest that software is the only thing organizations need to worry about, but these survey results make me worry that while the biggest slice of the survey respondents think that software is central to their businesses, other data shows that very few non-software businesses do software very well.

See the disconnect?

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How quickly are front-end developers embracing new frameworks?

It’s possible that the survey simply represents an unrepresentative sample of the overall front-end developer population: That is, it skews toward people who think tech matters.

As the report authors note, “82% identified as working at a software development company, developer agency, or tech-first or digital-first companies.” Those don’t sound like traditional enterprises like Chevron, PepsiCo or D.R. Horton, and government organizations are completely separated in the survey results.

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So, again, it’s hard to tell if the survey didn’t reach people who work at more traditional companies, or if there really are more engineers working at places where software is core to the business. I suspect it’s more of the former than the latter, but hopefully we’re getting smarter about tech, generally.

Still, one way to gauge the level of geekery (in the best sense) in the front-end community is how quickly they’re embracing relatively new frameworks like Next.js.

In Figure A, the lighter bars to the right represent this same survey’s 2020 results, compared to the darker 2022 results to the left.

Figure A

Image: Matt Asay/TechRepublic.

Though React has held up, it’s telling that relatively new meta frameworks like Next.js and Gatsby are climbing the popularity charts.

Meanwhile, in the area of libraries, 40% of the developers surveyed want to use Apollo to connect to GraphQL, and “more and more people [are] moving their development online, which also suggests improved general interest in cloud development,” according to Ives van Hoorne, co-founder of CodeSandbox.

There’s also a rapidly growing belief that TypeScript is here to stay. From these and other survey results, it’s clear that front-end developers are happily rushing into a sparkly new web future, which suggests, to me, that there’s a healthy respect for the power of software among this group.

That isn’t necessarily new. Front-end development has traditionally been characterized with an almost frenetic march to the shiny and new, but for me, this feels different. Now we’re seeing a healthy balance between new and old.

And yet, one can believe that software matters without being any good at it, as this McKinsey study illustrates.

Software engineering needs to be part of a company’s DNA

For example, according to McKinsey’s survey of enterprise decision-makers, companies are betting big that digital solutions will impact their revenues. Over the past 12 months, 27% of respondents believe that digital solutions were responsible for over 50% of the company’s revenues, while that percentage jumps to 38% by 2023. Similarly, 27% see digital responsible for 25% to 50% over the past year, but 39% see digital responsible for 25% to 50% by 2023.

In other words, come 2023, a whopping 77% of business decision-makers believe digital will account for at least 25% of their revenues.

While that sounds great, if we look at the $500 billion in global software revenue, non-IT firms are responsible for just 6% of it, according to McKinsey. Clearly there’s a big gap between aspiration and reality, with four myths that keep non-IT companies from fully becoming an IT-driven business.

Among the myths McKinsey identifies, perhaps the biggest is that “digital transformation” simply requires adding engineering talent, rather than overhauling how the company operates and sells. Software engineering needs to become part of the company’s DNA, not a bolt-on.

The same is true of machine learning and artificial intelligence, according to a Boston Consulting Group study. 30% of respondents felt that machine learning would have a big impact on their businesses, but just 10% have achieved significant returns on their investments.

In other words, it’s nice that the front-end engineers surveyed by The Software House believe they work for tech-first companies. Maybe they do. But most companies don’t fit that description – not yet, anyway – and need to figure out how to mesh software talent deeply into their DNA.

Disclosure: I work for MongoDB, but the views expressed herein are mine.

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