A qualitative study of developers' discussions of their problems and joys during the early COVID-19 months

Empir Softw Eng. 2022;27(5):117. doi: 10.1007/s10664-022-10156-z. Epub 2022 Jun 4.


Many software developers started to work from home on a short notice during the early periods of COVID-19. A number of previous papers have studied the wellbeing and productivity of software developers during COVID-19. The studies mainly use surveys based on predefined questionnaires. In this paper, we investigate the problems and joys that software developers experienced during the early months of COVID-19 by analyzing their discussions in online forum devRant, where discussions can be open and not bound by predefined survey questionnaires. The devRant platform is designed for developers to share their joys and frustrations of life. We manually analyze 825 devRant posts between January and April 12, 2020 that developers created to discuss their situation during COVID-19. WHO declared COVID-19 as pandemic on March 11, 2020. As such, our data offers us insights in the early months of COVID-19. We manually label each post along two dimensions: the topics of the discussion and the expressed sentiment polarity (positive, negative, neutral). We observed 19 topics that we group into six categories: Workplace & Professional aspects, Personal & Family well-being, Technical Aspects, Lockdown preparedness, Financial concerns, and Societal and Educational concerns. Around 49% of the discussions are negative and 26% are positive. We find evidence of developers' struggles with lack of documentation to work remotely and with their loneliness while working from home. We find stories of their job loss with little or no savings to fallback to. The analysis of developer discussions in the early months of a pandemic will help various stakeholders (e.g., software companies) make important decision early to alleviate developer problems if such a pandemic or similar emergency situation occurs in near future. Software engineering research can make further efforts to develop automated tools for remote work (e.g., automated documentation).

Keywords: COVID-19; Developers’ discussions; Sentiments; devRant.