What really annoys software developers (and how to make them happy)

From bad bug reports to meeting overload, there are many things that annoy software developers. Steve Ranger speaks to coders to discover those daily irritations and explains how to make them, and everyone else, happy…

Every job has its irritations. The terrible coffee, the excessively loud coworker, the arcane rules about what you can and can’t eat at your desk. Then there are the annoyances specific to your industry, the things that leave you fuming but that nobody outside your profession knows about or understands.

Software developers have just as many pet hates as the rest of us, but considering how important they are to every business — and how easy it is for them to find another job in the still-frothy tech market — it might well be worth bosses trying to keep the unnecessary hassles to a minimum.

So here are the issues — big and small — that can ruin a coder’s day. And how to solve them.

Too many disruptions

Most people would find themselves agreeing with this one, but many software developers argue that too many meetings risk disrupting their “flow state” of peak productivity.

Ariel Kuźmiński, a JavaScript Developer at software company STX Next, flags the number of video meetings. Some of which he has to attend daily. “Many of these meetings could easily be replaced with more efficient forms of communication like emails or short messages on Slack,” he says. “These frequent interruptions can adversely affect the creative process of programming.”

Kuźmiński tries to ensure that when meetings are scheduled they are genuinely necessary. “To cope with interruptions, I emphasise the importance of effective time management and setting aside focused blocks of time for coding. Additionally, I make use of tools like Slack and email to streamline communication and minimise interruptions.”

But meetings aren’t the only problem. Stack Overflow’s latest research shows that developers waste a lot of time on “productivity frictions”. About 40% spend between 30 minutes and two hours answering questions every day, and even more time looking for answers to questions or waiting for responses from others.

Too little creativity

Often, people don’t realise that writing code can be a creative act. Many developers particularly value the creativity to solve problems in the way they want to. Along with the ability to remain productive, the freedom to complete a project in the way they want has been shown to be a key indicator of developer happiness. But there are often organisational hurdles that make this a lot harder than it ought to be.

What’s not always apparent is that this “soft” side of the job matters a lot, says Maksym Fedoriaka, a Senior iOS Developer at Applifting. “It’s rare that you actually get to choose the project and people you work with. Many projects are led by product owners or project managers who don’t understand the technical side at all and don’t even realise it – your personalities may clash as well.

“The projects themselves may be ‘uncool’ or even at odds with your values, and the lack of freedom to improve or refactor the code can also be very frustrating.”

Similarly, Kuźmiński says one of the most frustrating things he encounters is the lack of understanding between the development team and the client. “This becomes especially challenging when it revolves around product requirements or the product vision,” he says. How to fix it? Kuźmiński suggests clear documentation of requirements is a great start.

Tech challenges — and other developers’ code

Creaking code built by previous developers is a constant source of pain for developers. After all, maintaining and fixing something that you didn’t build can be a challenge. Surveys suggest that developers still spend a significant part of their working week on bug fixing which, again, takes away from the more creative aspects of coding.

“On the technical side, buggy tools are the worst,” says Fedoriaka. “When software is made by developers for developers, it’s quite often pretty bad. Writing technical documentation is usually annoying and tedious work. But my personal pet peeve is when testers find a bug in the code and return a ticket without any description.”

That’s not the only technical frustration that lies in wait. “One of the most significant pain points I encounter as a developer is the setup of a proof of concept (POC) when experimenting with a new technology or framework,” says Olivier Ruas, a Developer at software company Pathway. This initial setup often involves configuring a multitude of parameters, dependencies and environment variables. It’s complex work and hard to find the correct information in the documentation.

“It’s frustrating to spend hours or even days trying to install and make a simple POC work before even getting to the core of the technology’s capabilities,” says Ruas. “This initial hurdle is a recurrent pain point and can be a real blocker in adopting new technologies.”

The exciting, terrifying rise of AI tools

Plenty of developers – somewhere north of half – are already using AI tools to support their coding. Some use it to increase their productivity, some to learn faster. And while not everyone is convinced by the quality of the code these tools output, they clearly serve as useful shortcuts for developers. They open up coding to more people, too.

While the rise of AI tools offers opportunities for coders, it also creates fear that they could be the next workers to be replaced by robots.

And AI isn’t the only concern. With the range of programming languages available, making the right choices about what to learn can be a major factor in both employability and salaries.

John Campbell, Director of Content Engineering at Security Journey, says today’s software developers must maintain their relevance in an ever-evolving industry. “It’s imperative for developers to continuously enhance their skills and broaden their expertise all while delivering software that is performant and secure. With the competition for coveted positions intensifying, developers are acutely aware of the need to distinguish themselves.”

He adds: “While many perceive AI as a potentially existential threat, most developers regard it as yet another tool in their arsenal. Tools like GitHub Copilot and OpenAI’s ChatGPT might notably narrow the gap between proficient developers and the so-called ’10X’ rockstar developers, enabling higher impact for most developers.”

So – to keep your developers happy, maybe it’s time to ditch that meeting that you know everyone hates, but nobody dares to remove from the calendar. Give them a chance to be creative and make sure there isn’t too much technical debt holding them back. They’ll thank you and projects will finish faster – and that will make everyone happier.

Steve Ranger
Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is an award-winning journalist who writes about the intersection of tech, business and culture. In the past he was the editorial director at ZDNET and before that the editor of silicon.com