Here we are, late January, with a “bomb cyclone” weather pattern about to drop a foot or more of snow on us here in New York. What better time to hunker down and reflect on the last year and to determine what is really important in the year ahead?

Many – if not most – of the technology conversations we had in 2021 centered on two things: Digital transformation and the speed it can enable; and the fact that despite advancements in AI and RPA (see the article in this issue), work remains about people – both those that are doing the work, and those on the receiving end of that work.

Of course, the virus that shall not go away has changed much in the world. Many organizations have allowed a hybrid remote/in-office approach to work, or shut down completely, and many workers are struggling with mental health issues due to the isolation that quarantines and face masks have created. Of course, there are the outside stresses of climate change, impending war in Eastern Europe and, in America and elsewhere, deep and widespread divisiveness over issues that affect our daily lives.

Largely because of these new conditions, workers are feeling more stress than ever to just maintain, while still being effective in their jobs and able to deliver valuable work to their organizations. 

Much of that stress comes from organizations responding to the constant drumbeat in the media and among software vendors that transforming the organization to move faster, crank out more features and just go-go-go is the only way for businesses to survive. While this may be true for the largest organizations, which by their sheer size and influence drive the narrative, many midsize and smaller companies are competitive and doing well with the processes and tools – and most importantly the people – that they’ve had in place for years. Their markets aren’t changing rapidly, and the need to pivot and react to every new initiative coming down the pike just isn’t there.

Adding to worker anxiety is the fact that they are being asked to do things they haven’t been trained to do and likely don’t have much desire to do. Developers, for instance, are being asked to become test engineers, and take responsibility for security, all of which takes time from what gives them satisfaction on the job – writing code, innovating, coming up with new approaches to problem-solving, and creating wonderful new features for their users. Some workers are embracing the new challenges of learning new skills. Others clearly are not.

They also have to deal with a massive influx of new tooling into their organizations. There has been an explosion in tooling in organizations, so on top of everything else they need to learn, developers also have to learn the new tooling. Again, more time being taken from coding.

Much of technology is about tools and solutions, for automation in testing and continuous improvement. But what we’re hearing from more than a few developers is that they feel like they’re just another cog in the wheel. that their concerns and desires aren’t being heard, and that their organizations are moving people around so much that they just can’t get comfortable.

All this has played a role in what is being called “The Great Resignation.” People are leaving jobs in record numbers. Some are simply looking to be more highly compensated than they have been because of the shortage of tech workers. Others are seeking meaning in the work, flexibility to set their hours, and – as more are working from home –  a balance of work life and family time.

It’s time for the industry to take a step back and analyze the true cost of blindly going for speed. Workers are dissatisfied, burned out and looking for a better way. Some take solace in working on their own projects on their own time. Others clear their heads through video games. Many are wondering if they’re simply pawns in a corporate game.

There has been somewhat of an awakening to these problems, as we’re hearing software companies starting to place their people above their processes. (Where have we heard that before??) We seem to have forgotten that in the never-ending race to the top. You can have all the tools and automations in place to deliver software like the wind, but it’s the people who ideate, create, innovate and execute who should be prioritized above all.