Of age and youth - Three things MongoDB’s research taught us about developers

Dominic Wellington Profile picture for user Dominic Wellington March 3, 2020
Dominic Wellington, Director of Field Initiatives at MongoDB, discusses how companies need to take advantage of the vigour of youth and the wisdom of age.

We’re in the business of helping developers be productive. We figure we give them a great experience and they can better help their organisations succeed.

If you’re a leader in technology, that’s probably a big part of your job too. Putting your team in the best possible context to be successful.

To help you with that, we like to look at real data. Real facts that give insight and help drive performance.

Last year we gathered research that aimed to understand how developers aligned with the other decision-makers in their organisations. We wanted to know what had changed in an era where so much has become mainstream: cloud, NoSQL, Microservices and DevOps.

1500 developers and IT decision-makers across France, Germany and the UK shared surprising, interesting and useful results. (See here for more details).

For IT leaders, three lessons stood out. Here are those lessons and the figures that prove them.

1) Developers and the Business are Very Well Aligned

Chart of MongoDB research developers and business well aligned
Click on the chart to be taken to MongoDB’s blog, where you can fully interact with the data.

A lot has changed. Twenty years ago the classic battle was between the developers and the suits.

Over pizza and beer, we would moan ‘They just don’t get it!’. And often it was true, they didn’t.

Now, they do.

We asked a variety of people, both individual developers and people making IT decisions, this question: Do you think IT decision-makers and developers are aligned when it comes to IT decisions within the business where you work?

As you can see from the chart there was an overwhelming agreement.  

We know businesses are shifting to talk about themselves as software businesses. It seems like they might be getting something right internally too.

We are aligned.

A good news story. Who knew they still existed?

2) Age Gap: Older Developers are Not as Convinced

Chart image of MongoDB research comparing older and younger developers
Click on the chart to be taken to MongoDB’s blog, where you can fully interact with the data.

But it wasn’t all good news.

We also found that those developers who started their careers in the early 2000s were far more likely to feel aligned with decision-makers than their older colleagues who started working life in the 90s or earlier (the pink and blue sections of the chart).

The new influential and trusted developer generation has arrived - but the effects are not evenly distributed.

The data doesn’t tell us exactly why there’s a division between older developers and IT managers, we’d need to ask a different set of questions to get to that.

Obviously there are many factors at play with this data, not least seniority and workplace experience. But this finding resonated with me, and there’s an important lesson here.

Young developers, so the thinking goes, are more energetic, more innovative and more in-tune with the major technology trends. This statement is almost tautological: newly-trained developers tend to know newer technologies, while developers already working tend to know stable technologies that are already running in production.

There is a risk of over-valuing the perceived advantages of youth over experience. As security, privacy and data rights become better understood, we should all be less keen on ‘move fast and break things’. When the next data-hoovering app is built, I hope there’s an experienced developer in the room talking about data protection and, dare I say, moral imperatives.

Speaking of age, Francis Bacon had it right when he famously argued there’s a balance to be struck in his treatise Of Youth and Age. Aside from the pronouns (he speaks only of men), it has aged remarkably well for a 400-year-old blog.

Bacon claimed we need to take advantage of both the vigour of youth and wisdom of age if we’re to be successful in business: "The virtues of either age may correct the defects of both".  

Know what? Four centuries later, he’s still right.

3) Developers don’t hate technology lists

Image of chart showing MongoDB research that developers don’t hate technology lists
Click on the chart to be taken to MongoDB’s blog, where you can fully interact with the data.

This one was shocking. Coffee spluttering, glasses removing, did I read that right – kind of shocking.

Developers don’t hate approved technology lists.

When I was an aspiring developer it was a point of pride to see how many non-approved technologies we could use. The lists were always out of date and created by someone who hadn’t the foggiest idea of what good looked like (and often lubricated by vendors with a vested interest in getting themselves onto the list regardless of their technology’s merits). This may explain why older developers were also less likely to agree that approved lists were good.

That whole scene has changed. Organisations have become more software-oriented and, it appears, in touch with the developers. This tells me the lists are moving with the times, ensuring that cutting edge technologies are included, as well as the trusted favourites. A big factor in this change is just how visibly central IT is to business, and how directly business performance is tied to the performance of the IT systems that underpin it.

There you have it. The times have changed. What was once received wisdom is now a falsehood.

1. Developers are well aligned with the business


2. The older a developer is the less likely they are to feel that alignment

3. Approved technology lists don’t suck

Argue with me on Twitter: @dwellington and read my colleague Joe Drumgoole’s excellent take on the research here. He’s also fun to antagonise on Twitter: @jdrumgoole

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