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Maximize developer productivity: How to keep up with the CI/CD wave

Commentary: For organizations hoping to embrace modern CI/CD practices, CircleCI’s new developer hub can help.

Software developer freelancer woman working at night

Image: monstArrr_, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Exactly no one is happy about the COVID-19 era, but it has pushed enterprises to modernize their infrastructure and development practices much faster than expected. Soon after the pandemic hit, CircleCI CEO Jim Rose said that, “The pandemic has compressed the time that companies are taking to get to [modern development practices like] CI/CD” (Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery). That was early April 2020.

Since that time, things have only accelerated, which means that it has never been more important to maximize developer productivity. In a conversation with Rose, he identified a few key things CircleCI and others can do to expedite the process by which companies modernize their application development processes. 

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The one positive from COVID-19

Though 2020 feels more like a century than a single year, some things that normally would take years have taken months. Indeed, months after the initial conversation with Rose, he said, “The interest and the adoption of CI/CD practices continues to climb.” Such adoption isn’t proceeding in a linear fashion. Through the CircleCI multi-tenant platform, Rose has been able to observe this modernization process happen in waves:

When COVID first hit there was a massive surge in people trying to figure out how to automate processes that in the past may have had manual or bespoke components to them. From a CI/CD perspective, in the first three months of COVID [we saw] a year’s worth of change; a huge wave. 

As teams got the initial system in place, they started building. Then people tried to optimize and figure out how to use these new tools and new platforms that they may have not had exposure to in the past. For about a 30 to 45-day period, there was this period of consolidation where everything kind of held steady, and then there was another big wave. [With this last wave] we’re getting more and more folks that are new to the continuous delivery space. This is their first time really thinking about end-to-end software automation in terms of delivery. It’s the first time that they’re encountering and really using a lot of the various tool sets. And so there’s a lot of discovery. There’s a lot of education.

As these timelines for modernization have been compressed, companies like CircleCI have been trying to figure out how to enable both experienced and newbie developers. (Hint: It’s probably not a webinar.)

Documentation to the rescue

Organizations have been scrambling to figure out how to educate and attract developers in a world without in-person events. One method is online events, including webinars, but if you’re like me, you hit webinar fatigue months ago. So what options remain for helping developers learn how to use CI/CD and other tools that may be new to them?

The best option hasn’t changed: Great documentation. According to a 2019 SlashData survey of over 16,000 developers, documentation and sample code are by far the most important way developers learn how to use technologies (Figure A).

Figure A


Image: SlashData

This is a key reason that CircleCI recently released its developer hub. In addition to documentation, CircleCI provides configuration packages (called orbs), APIs, CLI, and other tools and resources. As Rose put it, “Enablement is incredibly important because you have to get people started off on the right foot so that you get their systems aligned correctly. You get the tools integrated correctly so that they have a good foundation and platform to start optimizing from.”

For CircleCI, this has meant offering two things to developers as they visit the developer hub for the first time: A sample configuration (“Don’t make me think about how to write a YAML configuration. Give me a baseline that I can get started with and optimize”) and convenience images (the right tools/versions of a database, for example, in a containerized environment). Giving developers an easy place to start allows them to then configure and tune their environment to better suit their needs as their comfort level grows, rather than introducing potential friction into the initial setup.

Also, given the widespread use of Jenkins in CI/CD, CircleCI offers a Jenkins-to-CircleCI file converter to facilitate the move. Importantly, as developers start to use these various CircleCI tools, the company has interwoven relevant content into an adjoining pane, making it easy to access the right information when starting to use the platform. 

SEE: 52% of US developers are happier now than before the pandemic started (TechRepublic)

Where do we go from here?

What is less clear to Rose and, really, to everyone, is what all this will mean years or even months from now. According to Rose, COVID has disrupted much of what we’ve come to expect in the work week and calendar year. He added that, Europe hasn’t taken August off, and developers check out a little early on Fridays and are slower to start on Monday. And in the new WFH normal, companies are “rethinking the structure of their organizations, too. You actually see that in how development teams work and how they’re committing code.” 

Perhaps the only thing that seems more certain all the time is the importance of software and, hence, of enabling developer productivity. For that, as CircleCI and other companies are figuring out, great documentation and a friction-free first platform experience have become even more important than before. 

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed here are mine and don’t reflect those of my employer.

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