In 2020, the world was shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to significant changes in the daily lives of many people. Across the globe, diverse lockdown regimes were implemented, and workers had to shift to working from home as much as possible. As a result, organizations implemented perhaps the biggest change to working conditions in decades, in particular for (previously) mostly office-based professions, including software development.
Early last year, a team of researchers led by Dr. Paul Ralph and Dr. Sebastian Baltes found that this change has not been without impact on software practitioners. For example, developers reported lower productivity, reduced well-being, and feelings of overall fear around the pandemic. They found that lack of both home office ergonomics and disaster preparedness were two of the key underlying factors. Their full study is reported online.
Roughly a year has passed since then. The pandemic is far from over, although vaccines are now being distributed and countries are starting to alleviate lockdown measures. What has happened to software developers in the meantime?
From some of our own observations, we have seen at least some developers grow into the working-from-home routine pretty happily. We took a good look at our software development metrics in Q4 of 2020 and saw no obvious deviations from normal. Neither the code change rates nor the quality levels appear to have suffered.
Have developers been able to adapt rapidly and go on about their normal business? Have they managed to compensate the negatives of the pandemic with an overall preference for remote work? And what about those who have experienced more loneliness or anxiety as a result?
These questions are key to understanding the pandemic’s impact on software development. We think it’s now fitting to revisit the original study of Ralph and Baltes in a scientific replication and learn whether their findings are still valid today.
Magiel Bruntink, Head of Research, Software Improvement Group
Joost Visser, Professor of Large Scale Software and Data Science, Leiden University