8 min readNov 5, 2020


2020 in review: Software Development industry trends and changes & the outlook for 2021

2020 has been an extremely tough year for everyone in nearly every walk of life. As individuals we have seen our way of life transformed as a result of the global pandemic, and entire industries have had to react quickly and dramatically to adapt and evolve in order to survive.

Many issues, challenges and trends have sprung into existence this year that were unthinkable a mere 12 months ago. However, not everything is all doom and gloom — where there are problems, there are also solutions. Despite the current climate of uncertainty, there also exists lots of opportunity to grow, develop and become even better than before.

If you are part of a software development company that’s been caught up in the 2020 storm, you will have noticed a number of trends affecting the industry, and which will most likely continue into the future.

What happened in the Software Development industry in 2020?

Here are some of the top trends we’ve observed throughout 2020:

The continued rise of AI and machine learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues on its path of innovation with continued developments throughout 2020 in automated algorithms, analytics, and even programming.

Now more than ever before, our lives are filled with AI touchpoints which learn and respond from experience — whether this is on our iPhones, laptops, web browsers or our Alexa speakers.

Within the Software Development industry, developers have managed to increase their usage of AI and machine learning in their operations, helping them to speed up several stages in the development process. Artificial Intelligence has continued to permeate stages including preparation, design, writing code, and testing.

Thanks to constantly improving AI and machine learning capabilities, we can enjoy a more agile, flexible and efficient workflow. This is down to previous coding patterns being automatically tracked, recognised, and applied where necessary. What’s more, algorithms are able to identify and highlight any abnormalities (for example bugs or gaps in code) to the development team. Client data can also be collected instantly and analysed meticulously in order to automate a design plan, and build in product improvements.

Developers are exposed to larger sets of data and more constructive feedback thanks to AI, and so they can create better products, improve productivity, create faster workflows and reduce time-to-market.

The coronation of cloud computing

Perhaps the biggest industry trend of 2020 has been the explosion in cloud computing throughout the year, with more and more businesses making the switch to cloud-based operations to facilitate people working remotely.

The cloud computing boom has naturally spurred massive developments in the global software industry. Software professionals everywhere are in high demand to develop and upgrade cloud systems for both businesses and individuals, both on an internal and customer-facing level. The Cloud has helped to fortify systems and networks in 2020 with never before seen levels of security, reliability and convenience. Development processes concerning the Cloud can be much more cost-efficient, as companies only have to pay for the software features they require at the time, and additional capability can often be added.

Some cloud-based services that have seen massive successes in 2020 include Fastly, Cloudera and Salesforce.

Software developers are also given access to an unlimited number of testing and staging servers through the Cloud, which can help them to speed up the development process, improve testing, and prioritize product delivery. The popularity in cloud computing is a trend that will very likely continue to flourish into the next year as a result of its ever-increasing ability to be flexible when responding to unpredicted changes.

After the Cloud’s wide-scale deployment in 2020, the way companies leverage their cloud-based software will become even more streamlined, specialized and secure. As a result, data centers will need to continue to evolve in order to keep up with this demand in 2021.

More focus on cybersecurity

2020 was the year that people all over the world took to their laptops like never before, as they were confined to working from home because of the pandemic. Sensitive company data, which before was hosted within secure and complex security systems in offices, could now be accessed from home.

As work-from-home technologies were forced to evolve and develop and become more accessible and cloud-based, so did the tactics of cybercriminals. The coronavirus pandemic has encouraged even more digital crimes to be committed than normal, as hackers seize the opportunity to make the most of the growing business shift to online activity.

To combat this, 2020 has seen a continuing enhancement of security efforts in the software development process. This has included focus on biometrics, multi-factor authentication, and encryption.

On the other hand, hackers with an ethical focus and IT security specialists have been working hard with developers, to make sure that their software code is free of bugs and vulnerabilities, and as watertight as possible against any possible threats. It has become more important than ever to properly test, analyze, and deploy newly-developed software.

Increasing demand for progressive web apps

With consumers being stuck at home for lots of 2020 rather than being able to go out and enjoy their lives like usual, the global growth of mobile phone usage has continued. Software developers have been given the challenge of accommodating online experiences for both web and mobile users.

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are a hybrid of web and mobile applications that look to take the best of both worlds from the two formats. PWAs are built and enhanced with modern APIs to deliver improved capabilities and more reliability for users, while managing to reach anyone, anywhere, on any device with a single codebase.

While some companies choose to build native apps for their services in order to offer an exclusive and efficient UX (for example Spotify, Slack or Skype), PWAs are able to offer similar results with a much lower budget.

PWA usage speeds up the development process because updates only need to be made on the web server, rather than in specific apps for different operating systems. This is because a PWA functions like a mobile app for your desktop, but hosted directly on its website. Users then have the option of downloading an app straight from a website.

PWAs have also gained exposure in 2020 for their fast loading speeds, push notifications, and their instant addition to mobile device home screens, without the need for downloads and installation.

Some of the companies using highly-regarded PWAs in 2020 include Alibaba, Starbucks, and Trivago.

What does 2021 have in store for the Software Development industry?

Of course, we can’t really say with any certainty that that life will ever go back to normal as we knew it before the world was turned upside down by the pandemic. However, by accurately forecasting future industry trends you can stay one step ahead of your competition, and make the most of future opportunities that may come your way.

Here are some Software Development industry trends to look out for in 2021:

Hyper growth in the industry

Though software engineering has seen nearly constant growth for the past 10 years, the past year has been a catalyst for more intense growth that will be abundantly evident in 2021. One of the biggest lessons that we’ve learned from Covid-19 is the importance of creating flexible and adaptable plans and products that can help people anticipate and solve future problems. Software developers are key to building in contingency to different companies’ software products.

As businesses continue to digitize both their own internal systems as well as in the way that they interact with their customers, software development specialists will be in high demand to help evolve software at every level. Any company that neglects to develop the digital side of their business will be left behind, and so software developers will become more vital than ever before.

Many will look to new and exciting software products. However, even though legacy software often has a bad reputation, not all traditional computer systems should be considered outdated. Developers will need to stay on top of what the digital landscape looks like, and how it can best fulfil the demands of evolving businesses.

Remote working and extra security

Many people see the year just gone as a major turning point in the workplace revolution, and 2021 will confirm and consolidate this. Software innovation will need to keep up in order to keep companies’ data safe.

When most parts of the world effectively changed its working model overnight, many businesses were left exposed to the threats of cyber hackers. Moving into 2021, with remote working becoming a much more permanent fixture for many enterprises around the globe, there is much to do in terms of updating remote working models to keep sensitive information away from criminals.

Enhanced cybersecurity and more advanced user authentication will help to progress security for remote working, and software development teams will need to be thinking one step ahead of the cyber hackers in order to keep their clients safe. This is particularly important for the fintech and healthcare markets where protecting sensitive customer data is absolutely critical.

Open source software adoption

Open source software relates to any program for which the developer released the source code for free. As a result of such high numbers of people now working from home, there is a high demand for more accessible and affordable alternatives instead of the more pricey and high-spec software used in professional environments.

The open source software movement came into the public eye throughout the 1990’s, and since then it has completely revolutionized the way people are able to access technology, whether this is from the workplace or at home. And where open source software is often more secure, the adoption of these applications are only to increase and become fully integrated as part of our daily software usage now and in the future.

Using Big Data for greater customer insights

As Artificial Intelligence continues to advance and provide us with even more data touchpoints, developers are given more insight into how users think, feel and behave when interacting with the software. The wider impact on software automation will be immense and long-lasting. In 2021 and beyond, software developers must embrace the huge changes made possible with Big Data so that clients can remain agile and dynamic when competing with rival companies during these critical times of opportunity.

When dealing with clients, and demonstrating the use of Big Data and AI systems, it is also critical for software development companies to prove their reliability in order to guarantee peace of mind. Software developers will find that customers will demand help analyzing large data sets that are both structured and unstructured, and so Big Data analytics tools will grow in importance for software engineers.

Software development teams will not only require the necessary software to automatically learn from the model or function of the data, but also capabilities for data mining, predictive analysis and forecasting.

5G, mobile apps and the Internet of Things

5G has become much more apparent throughout 2020, but the revolutionary potential of it has been rather overshadowed by the pandemic. In 2021, 5G will have the chance to enter the limelight and unleash its true benefits to a wider global audience.

Mobile responsiveness will go through the roof as more users gain access to 5G through their networks, so more information and services will be available instantly. Software developers will need to get up to speed with 5G and understand how it will affect user experience, and then how they can create customer-centric software systems that make the most of the fast speeds and increased bandwidth.

One of the major impacts that 5G will have on people’s lives is via the Internet of Things. With improved wireless connectivity through 5G, IoT will thrive and continue to become integrated within our increasingly tech-focused lives. Software developers should always bear in mind that consumers will love inter-connectivity more than ever in 2021, and need to look for ways to integrate different platforms with each other to improve UX.