Top web developer pain points in 2021

A little while ago I wrote about understanding the needs of the developer ecosystem by learning about what developers have said their top challenges are.

The original post was a summary of the results from the MDN Developer Needs Assessment (2019), which unfortunately stopped running in 2020. The information in those surveys was important for our team because it helped us set the direction of the wider Web Platform team, so it was a shame that it stopped.

To fill in the gap left by Mozilla I set up a survey for our team so we can get a picture of the high-level needs of developers.

Every 3 months we survey a random sample of roughly 700 people across the US, UK and India who identify as a Web Developer or a decision maker for Web Developers and I compare the data to all the previous surveys that we've run to see if there any changes in the trends.

It should be noted that the MDN Survey and our survey are different, they have a different population and slightly different questions (although we try to keep them as similar as possible). Because the population size is different we don't use a Max-Diff approach, rather we ask the participants to pick their top 3 issues. This raise some questions for how to prioritise the data, but when you get deep into the results the conclusions are really not that far apart.

In 2020 - the survey said that the top areas of frustration that developers have was:

  1. Browser Compatibility - The web is lumpy, it should be a lot smoother. Chrome should continue to ensure it is compatible with the broad web platform; Chrome should work with all browser vendors to help with compatibility; Chrome should help to ensure that we don't have a Chrome-only web.
  2. Testing - It should be easy to end to end test your sites across all browsers. It's too hard right now.
  3. Documentation - It should be easy for developers to find the best and most up to date reference material, and also opinionated and validated best practice guidance.
  4. Debugging - Developers look at debugging as a failure case, we should ensure that developers have all the tools they need to understand the issues they are facing and fix them as quickly as possible.
  5. Frameworks - We can't escape the fact that a huge number of developers use frameworks, how can we continue to make sure that there is a strong partnership between browser vendors and framework authors? and that developers know how to use these tools effectively.
  6. Privacy & Security - There is a huge amount of legislation that is slowing developers down, not to mention ecosystem changes that are happen due to effective competition. This change worries developers and we need guidance and tools to help people.

Now in 2021... How does it look?

Drumroll.

Pretty much exactly the same. There are some differences because we measure differently, but the general direction between surveys.

The top 5 issues (%age is how many developers put this in their top 3 issues).

Challenge Q1 Q2 Q3
Keeping up with changes to the web platform/web standards 27% 26% 27%
Keeping up with a large number of new and existing tools or frameworks 26% 26% 25%
Making a design/experience work the same across browsers 26% 28% 24%
Testing across browsers 23% 24% 20%
Understanding and implementing security measures 23% 25% 20%

It's pretty much the same quarter over quarter.

The value in this data for me is that it tells me where to investigate more, although it doesn't tell me exactly what to fix.

For example, the interpretation that I've been building up over the last year for this is that there's too much happening for developers both at the platform level and also in the ecosystem of tools (these are always the top issues) and we need to address that.

It also tells me that there's a gap for developer tooling around testing and cross browser experiences. Compat 2021 was one program that we built based on this data and while I would like to say developers are noticing the results I still think it is too early to tell if this work on improving compatibility across browsers has meaningfully changed developers lives.

Addendum

Full results for the question: "What are the biggest challenges you face while developing your web site or app? (Select 3)"

Challenge Q1 Q2 Q3
n=698 n=760 n=738
Keeping up with changes to the web platform/web standards 27% 26% 27%
Keeping up with a large number of new and existing tools or frameworks 26% 26% 25%
Making a design/experience work the same across browsers 26% 28% 24%
Testing across browsers 23% 24% 20%
Understanding and implementing security measures 23% 25% 20%
Lack of automation of frequently performed small tasks 15% 17% 18%
Unable to create the experiences I want because some capability is not there 15% 13% 18%
Lack of knowledge about how to leverage modern web technologies 16% 16% 17%
Understanding how to use existing tools/frameworks 16% 14% 17%
Hard/impossible to achieve the performance I want 11% 12% 17%
Prioritization of web efforts within my organization 15% 16% 16%
Supporting old browsers 21% 23% 16%
Lack of reference resources or documentation 14% 13% 15%
Lack of or poor developer tools 11% 14% 15%
Hard/impossible to achieve my desired UI 14% 13% 15%
None of the above 3% 1% 1%
  • Interesting to see "Supporting old browsers" dropped significantly.

About Me: Paul Kinlan

I lead the Chrome Developer Relations team at Google.

We want people to have the best experience possible on the web without having to install a native app or produce content in a walled garden.

Our team tries to make it easier for developers to build on the web by supporting every Chrome release, creating great content to support developers on web.dev, contributing to MDN, helping to improve browser compatibility, and some of the best developer tools like Lighthouse, Workbox, Squoosh to name just a few.