Docker's 2024 State of Application Development Report Highlights Key Trends for Developers

The software development landscape is evolving, and Docker, Inc., a pioneer in cloud-native application development, has just dropped its "2024 State of Application Development Report". This year's edition paints a vivid picture of current trends and challenges derived from the experiences and insights of more than 1,300 developers.

"The key to world-class application development is knowing how to help software development teams maximize their productivity, get the most out of disruptive, novel technologies, and have a great experience while doing so," said Docker Vice President of Developer Experience Nahid Samsami, in a statement.

This research was designed, conducted, and analyzed by the Docker UX Research Team, which included Rebecca Floyd, Ph.D.; Julia Wilson, Ph.D.; and Olga Diachkova. The researchers collected data via an online survey on the tools used by developers; their application development processes, challenges, and opinions on industry trends; their Docker usage; and engagement in developer communities. Of the 1,300-plus participants 885 developers successfully completed the survey.

A list of the researchers' key findings includes:

Cloud Development Takes Off
A notable shift toward cloud-based development is evident. Although 64% of developers still rely on local environments, a significant 36% are now embracing ephemeral, preview, and remote development environments. Tools like GitHub Codespaces, Gitpod, and Coder are gaining traction, signaling a move away from traditional setups.

Navigating Challenges and Seizing Opportunities
Developers report facing several hurdles, with planning (31%), estimation (24%), and designing (22%) being the most problematic areas. There's a clear call for improved planning tools, as 28% of respondents struggle with this phase, while 20% find debugging and testing phases particularly sticky.

Microservices and Security
Microservices continue to gain ground, with a threefold increase in developers transitioning from monolithic architectures to microservices. However, security remains a thorny issue. A shift-left approach is proving challenging, with 34% of respondents rating security tasks as difficult, and 25% clamoring for better security and vulnerability remediation tools.

The Open-Source Surge
Open-source software plays a crucial role in the developer community. A significant 59% of respondents have contributed to open-source projects in the past year, and among those who haven't, 72% are interested in getting involved. This highlights the community's collaborative spirit and the importance of open source in modern development.

AI/ML Integration: Mainstream and Growing
AI and ML are no longer just buzzwords—they're becoming integral to development processes. According to Docker’s precursor AI Trends Report 2024, 64% of developers are leveraging AI tools for coding, documentation, and research. Junior and mid-level developers, along with DevOps and Platform Engineers, are particularly dependent on AI, with tools like ChatGPT, GitHub Copilot, and Gemini leading the charge.

"Our survey underscored a marked growth in roles focused on machine learning (ML) engineering and data science within the Docker ecosystem," the researchers wrote. "In our 2022 survey, approximately 1% of respondents represented this demographic, whereas they made up 8% in the most recent survey. ML engineers and data scientists represent a rapidly expanding user base. This signals the growing relevance of AI to the software development field, and the blurring of the lines between tools used by developers and tools used by AI/ML scientists."

And they concluded: "The uptake of AI tools such as ChatGPT, GitHub Copilot, and Bard among developers is a testament to AI’s value in the development process. Moreover, the growing interest in machine learning engineering and data science within the Docker community signals a broader acceptance and integration of AI technologies."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].