How to manage a remote software development team? The impact of artificial intelligence

By Klay Ketelle and Fabian Eggers, Ph.D.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s no secret that March of 2020 threw companies big and small, into states of pure confusion. Covid-19 sent everyone home as everyone tried to figure out what was going on, how to keep safe, and maintain their daily work life amidst a sea of rising doubt. 

So it went: stimulus checks came, Zoom meetings became bountiful, and kitchen tables became the center of the classroom. It’s been two years since the coronavirus drastically changed the way individuals work. Recent college graduates only know about online internships and remote jobs, employees who did go back to work are wearing masks and proceed with caution, and FAANG companies with infrastructure for thousands on corporate campuses are all left nearly empty. Some companies took the leap. Famously, Spotify announced they would let employees choose their work preferences from now on, creating a culture of teams in person and online. As most individuals have now settled into new practices and normalcy is changed, one can ask where is the future of work going? How will software development teams work from here on out?

From the onset, it seemed that organizations tried to just work as they always had - the same number of team meetings and known management practices. GitHub’s annual Octoverse report on software developer metrics from 2020 however, showed that developers were quickly moving toward burnout type numbers. While there was an influx of issues committed to GitHub, these numbers aren't necessarily a sign of more productive work, due to the number of bugs found or broken code logged in between. If anything, software developers were spending more time than usual working on assignments due to the stressor of at-home life and trying to balance it with their work.

Microsoft report from late 2020 showed that “important team culture factors such as communication and social connection had been affected. For example, the simple phrase ‘[H]ow was your weekend?’ had become a subtle way to show peer support.” Teams also reported a 51% decrease in their communication with colleagues compared to the typical pre-pandemic workday. This is unsurprising and believing the dramatic shift wouldn’t affect work would be misguided. What companies had to execute in 2021 was how they were going to combat burnout, poor team morale, and coding cycles set askew from the pandemic. 

Remote development is the future of software engineering

Looking back two years later, how has work changed? For starters, many believe the future of work will continue to be asynchronous for software development teams. 

A veteran Googler who’s worked on teams in various time zones, explains how asynchronous work could actually benefit software development teams. With asynchronous work, companies can hire the best talent from anywhere without the constraints of continents, simultaneously avoiding burnout as well as zoom/slack fatigue: Team members are assigned work and get it done on their terms, and with proper project management tools in place, the need for copious amounts of zoom calls spanning different time zones isn’t nearly as necessary.

Neil Blumenthal, CEO of Warby Parker, sat down with Daneille Abril of the Washington Post to discuss how Warby shifted from their normal routine to a pandemic one. Neil began to discuss the future of work, stating “The old [idea] that you need to be in the office five days a week, eight-plus hours a day, it’s not absolute. We’ve all demonstrated that we can be highly productive from home…The question is, what is the minimum amount of in-person interaction that you need to ensure that you have an engaged team? I don’t think it’s five days a week.” Neil mentions how: hybrid approaches, fully remote, and everything in between has been used to enable flexibility amongst Warby’s teammates. This provides individuals options, something software developers have favored heavily in the last two years.

Remote software development teams and artificial intelligence

This is where Artificial Intelligence comes into play. Many speculated that AI would be the downfall of many careers in America, albeit worldwide, taking up entry-level, labor-based positions and even those tailored for college degrees. However, as AI has begun to be a part of our day-to-day lives, it will only be a tool for benefit, not one that will jeopardize work for anyone. AI revolutionist and director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Daniela Rus, refers to “specialized AI. That is, [...] systems that can solve a limited number of specific problems. They look at vast amounts of data, extract patterns, and make predictions to guide future actions.” 

Product management and team productivity tools will be the future of AI and will significantly change software development. Steve Taplin from Entrepreneur divulges a bit further into AI, “Kubernetes will allow developers and business enterprises in the software development industry to run their applications on a multi-cloud system. In general, cloud technologies will enable developers to scale up systems and incorporate chatbots and cognitive services.” 

After the first wave of the pandemic, many companies took it upon themselves to ensure that their organizations could withstand the new challenges or even shutdowns. AI-based solutions are one of the most prevalent ways organizations have been using to traverse work from home. Project management tools such as Jira and Notion saw drastic influxes of users, and software developer tools to drive more efficient coding also became a booming new market. On the larger scale, GitHub’s CoPilot was built, allowing software developers AI powered access to pre-written code snippets frequently used to ease up development time. This type of change in software development, one with pre-made code snippets, and code recommendation software such as Metabob and Deepsource, enable software developers to further be comfortable working with little guidance or management. AI truly has the potential to further enable asynchronous, remote software development.

Conclusion

As 2022 progresses, more companies will be tasked with deciding whether or not the office they left two years ago still holds value for their teams. Managers are in an unforeseen position, yet shouldn’t be concerned which direction to head. AI-powered work, asynchronous software development teams with a strong command on their role and assured in their work-life balance will help usher in the next generation of work.

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