The lasting effects of COVID-19 on how developers work and learn

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people work and learn across industries, and developers are no exception to that. Although in the grand scheme of things, our data indicates that many developers have been weathering well the repercussions of an unprecedented crisis, there is much more to tell. 

The findings shared in this post are based on our Developer Economics 20th edition survey, which ran from December 2020 to February 2021 and reached 19,000 developers. Previously we reviewed how developers’ needs were changing due to COVID-19. Now we’ve taken a deep dive into our latest survey data to find which developer groups and regional communities were affected the most by the pandemic and in what ways. 

Before you dive into the data, our new global developer survey is live now. We have updated it with questions relevant for developers in 2021 – check it out and take part for a chance to leave your mark on the upcoming trends and win prizes.

How the COVID-19 pandemic affected the way developers work or study

In our survey, we asked developers to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the way they work or learn. In perhaps the most salient category, 7% of developers said that they had lost their job in the aftermath of the pandemic and 9% had dropped out of their studies. Notwithstanding the severity of becoming unemployed in times of crisis, the IT sector is still seen as one of the least impacted sectors in terms of hiring during the global pandemic, with an almost unwavering demand for professionals in software and hardware segments.

How the COVID-19 pandemic affected the way developers work or study

Which developers were impacted the most?

Arguably, not every developer has been affected by their company’s decision to enforce remote working to the same extent. For example, does a working parent who juggles the daily demands of commutes and childcare embrace the opportunity of working remotely as a means of having a better work-life balance? On the other hand, if asked, how many pre-pandemic graduates would have, at the time of their study, agreed to go fully remote and potentially miss out on exploring the rich social life that a university offers to young people? Let’s take a closer look at some of our distinct developer groups to understand which factors have been having the greatest impact on ways of working and learning. 

When looking at how the pandemic affected developers of different experience levels, we find that the more experienced developers were also more affected in the way they work. For instance, 40% of developers with less than one year of work experience say they were unaffected in their ways of working, compared to 35% of developers with six or more years of experience. While the gap is not particularly large, junior developers appear to have switched to remote working to a lesser extent. This may be, in part, due to younger people and new hires wanting to go to the office, get to know their colleagues, and connect with their peers.

Developers working for large organisations were the most likely to go fully-remote during the pandemic

Next, we evaluated COVID-19’s impact with respect to company size. We find that developers working for larger companies were clearly more affected in their ways of working by the pandemic. While 42% of developers in small companies between two and 50 employees say they were not affected, the number plummets to less than 30% for developers in companies of over 50 employees. Large enterprises with more than 5,000 employees have been battling the repercussions of the pandemic at the frontlines; 51% of developers here went fully remote compared to just 29% of developers in companies with between two and 50 employees.

Developers in small companies were less affected by the pandemic.

Note that, except for small companies, switching to fully-remote working was the most likely outcome in our survey. There are good reasons for this: large business organisations are naturally more risk-averse and commonly need large contiguous office spaces that have to be fully closed for all of their employees to effectively contain the spread of the virus. On the other hand, many small companies had more remote-friendly organisational structures to begin with. In particular, start-ups have been known to promote a remote-first culture due to the apparent benefits of lower seed capital and broader options to recruit and pool talents together.

Twice as many developers in Western Europe compared to East Asia went fully remote.

Switching to remote working has been more common in Western regions.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise when looking at different regions to find a substantial gap between the East and the West. Our data shows that the Western regions, such as Western Europe and the Americas, have more readily facilitated remote working for their employees. For instance, 41% of Western European developers went fully remote, as opposed to only 20% in East Asia. This could be due to a combination of different factors. For example, pundits argue that many Asian countries score low for having the technological infrastructure deemed necessary to adapt to remote working conditions, such as having poor home-office equipment or internet connectivity that is sensitive to traffic surges. Yes, social factors may have partly played a role, as higher average household sizes and smaller apartments in emerging regions pose roadblocks to their own for employees to balance their work and home life.

The pandemic took a heavier toll on young learners.

Lastly, we looked at COVID-19’s impact on learners. 39% of 18- to 24-year olds stated that the way they study has not been affected during the pandemic. On the contrary, among those students aged 25 and over, 50% or more were not affected. Thus, an interesting trend emerges here, that especially younger learners had to adapt by becoming partly or fully remote. Our data offers one possible clue for this; younger learners are more likely enrolled in a formal degree program than older learners, who are more likely to be self-taught and are to be found burning the midnight oil with online courses and boot camps that have traditionally fostered remote ways of studying.

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How are developers’ needs changing due to COVID-19?

Working and performing during a pandemic will leave deep marks behind, both financially and psychologically speaking. In our latest survey, we asked developers how their needs have changed due to COVID-19. The findings shared in this post are based on the Developer Economics survey 19th edition which ran during June-August 2020 and reached more than 17,000 developers in 159 countries.

At the time of writing this post, there have been more than 30 million COVID-19 cases around the world, with 7.3 million of those still active. The virus is ubiquitous and affects all continents to more or less similar degrees. Working and performing during a pandemic is an experience that will undoubtedly leave deep marks behind, both financially and psychologically speaking.

7.2 million developers report needing flexible working hours/workload

We asked developers to select from a given set of technical and non-technical needs, up to three extra needs the pandemic has created for their own development activities. 73% of developers reported having additional needs due to COVID-19. In particular, 34%, or 7.2 million developers, expressed their need for flexible working hours/workload. 

Quarantine and social distancing policies have encouraged many employers to allow their workers to work from home, where possible. A large proportion of workers are now facing the inconvenience of relocating their working space into their home. Among such inconveniences is the necessity of taking care of households while keeping up productivity. Under these circumstances, flexibility is seen as the key to success, or simply survival.

The next most common perceived needs, reported by about one in four developers, are: 

  • collaboration tools and platforms (26%), 
  • online training resources (25%), and
  • virtual opportunities to support networking and peer-to-peer interaction (23%). 

Among these three, the only technical one, strictly speaking, refers to the need for collaboration tools, such as video conferencing platforms. The other top needs are related to self-improvement and self-management, and to socialising. 

The supremacy of non-technical needs is striking. All of the technical necessities, except collaboration tools, sit at the bottom of the list, being reported only by about one in ten developers: 

  • better performance in terms of computing resources (13%),
  •  hardware components (9%),
  •  increased security (9%), and 
  • additional cloud space (7%). 

There are two explanations for these patterns. First, developers may have not indicated the need for extra technical support because it had been already fulfilled, i.e. their employers had already provided them with it. It could also be, however, that developers did not perceive technical considerations as being more important than flexibility, networking, and learning.

The bigger the company, the more flexibility developers need

We found that the most important factor in influencing developers’ needs in relation to COVID-19 is their company size. Compared to those in middle- or large-sized companies, self-employed developers and developers working in small businesses of up to 20 employees report fewer new needs overall. That is especially the case for flexibility in terms of working hours/workload, and for collaboration tools. The most probable explanation is that they would have already implemented a flexible working schedule prior to COVID19. This is likely to apply to contractors as well as to small, dynamic startups. When it comes to keeping collaboration and interaction going, it may just be easier for small groups of people to maintain old habits or find an easy-to-use tool, such as emailing, phoning, or even getting together whilst respecting the required social distancing.

On the contrary, the bigger the company, the stronger the need for all of the above, including opportunities for virtual interactions. A large company typically requires a structured system of communication, and usually that system needs to accommodate the various teams’ diverse needs; even more so when a company is locked into an IT vendor’s services. 

Interestingly, the need for mental health support also linearly increases with company size, probably as a result of those challenges experienced in terms of flexibility and peer-to-peer communication and interaction. Another potential reason is that employees in larger organisations, where nobody is indispensable by default, may be experiencing more performance pressure and be more scared of losing their jobs.

How COVID19 is affecting developers’ technical needs 

While developers’ technical needs due to COVID-19 do not change significantly with company size, they strongly correlate to the developers’ level of involvement in tool purchasing decisions. Those most concerned about increased security, performance, and cloud space are the ones responsible for tool specs and expenses, as well as budget approval, who usually fulfill roles within technical management. 

On the one hand, with the increasing number of developers working from home, more machines need to be available and connected via VPN and similar technologies. More layers to navigate introduces complexity barriers that affect work efficiency, but also the need for the implementation of extra security controls. Furthermore, servers are often overloaded and downtimes happen more frequently, affecting system reliability. If you add to this the fact that budgets are being reduced or even frozen, due to the economic instability the pandemic is causing, the situation is actually precarious. Those in charge are inevitably the ones noticing the need for technical support the most. 


In a relatively short time, the pandemic has generated and consolidated a series of working practices that had been previously known only to a very small proportion of the population. Such new practices, based on remote working and virtual collaboration, are likely to persist after COVID-19. If one acknowledges this, investing in optimising support becomes even more valuable. We recommend that, especially large enterprises, consider the delicate balance between self management and collaboration needs when designing policies and offering support to their employees in the face of the pandemic situation.