A realistic guide to empowering application developers

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, application developers are the unsung heroes who craft the software that powers our modern world. They’re responsible for creating the apps we use daily, the websites we visit, and the systems that keep businesses running smoothly. Yet, despite their crucial role, developers often find themselves caught in a whirlwind of challenges – juggling tight deadlines, complex code, and the ever-evolving technology landscape.

Shift left” is a potentially game-changing approach that is transforming the way developers work, and ushering in a new era of software development… Or is it?


What is shift left?

Shift left is a mindset and a set of practices prioritizing early and continuous testing and collaboration throughout the software development process. Initially, the term “shift left” reflected the shift of testing and quality assurance tasks to earlier stages in the development cycle, reducing the likelihood of defects slipping through and causing havoc down the line. It’s was built on the premise of catching issues sooner rather than later.

The problem with shift left

Over time, shift-left has turned into “dump left.” What does that mean? More and more things are being “dumped” on the developer to do earlier and earlier, all in the name of increased quality, velocity, and decreased costs. Herein lies the problem for developers. In this blog series, we will separate facts from fiction.

Why should application developers care?

For application developers, shift left was supposed to be a game-changer, empowering them to take control of the quality of their code from the very beginning. If done right, shift left can:

  1. Enhance Collaboration: Shift left encourages cross-functional collaboration. Developers work more closely with testers, quality assurance teams, and even end-users right from the project’s inception. This collaboration leads to better understanding and a shared vision, resulting in higher-quality software.
  2. Reduce Costs: Identifying and fixing issues early in the development process is far more cost-effective than discovering them after deploying the software. Shift left can save time and money by preventing defects from becoming deeply ingrained in the codebase.
  3. Increase Security: By integrating security testing from the start, Shift left practices help identify and address vulnerabilities early in the development process. This proactive approach reduces the risk of security breaches, data leaks, and potential threats, making the final product more robust and secure.
  4. Improve Software Quality: Because issues are caught and addressed in the early stages of development, the end product is of higher quality. This reduces the risk of post-launch problems and enhances user experience and satisfaction.
  5. Elevate Reputation: In a competitive market, software developers are often judged by the quality of their products. Shift left practices help build a reputation for delivering reliable, secure, and user-friendly software, attracting more customers and clients.

But that’s not what is happening!

Shift left exhaustion… it’s a thing

While shift left practices offer numerous advantages for application developers and the software development process, it’s essential to acknowledge that this shift isn’t without its challenges. Embracing shift-left can, at times, place a significant burden on developers. Let’s explore the reality of shift left exhaustion and how it can, and often does, impact the individuals at the forefront of software creation.

  1. Increased Workload: Shift left requires developers to be involved in testing, quality assurance, and collaboration throughout the development cycle. While this is undoubtedly beneficial for the final product, it can lead to an increased workload for developers who must balance their coding responsibilities with testing and problem-solving tasks.
  2. Continuous Learning: Adapting to Shift left practices often requires developers to acquire new skills and stay current with the latest testing methodologies and tools. This continuous learning can be intellectually stimulating and exhausting, especially in an industry that evolves rapidly. Developers must understand new tools, processes, and technologies as more things get moved earlier in the development lifecycle.
  3. Burnout: The added pressure of early and continuous testing and the demand for faster development cycles can lead to developer burnout. When developers are overburdened, their creativity and productivity may suffer, ultimately impacting the software quality they produce.
  4. Time Constraints: Shifting testing and quality assurance left in the development process may impose strict time constraints. Developers may feel pressured to meet tight deadlines, which can be stressful and lead to rushed decision-making, potentially compromising the software’s quality.
  5. Balancing Act: Developers find themselves in a delicate balancing act – juggling the need for rigorous testing and collaboration with the demands of coding, debugging, and meeting project milestones. Striking this balance can be challenging.
  6. Team Dynamics: The transition to shift left practices may also disrupt team dynamics, as it requires open communication and collaboration with colleagues who may not have been traditionally involved in the early stages of development. While enhanced collaboration helps create a widespread understanding of the software’s design and the systems it runs on, it can also lead to additional tension due to organizational boundaries or dealing with non-development teams. Managing these changes in team culture can be demanding.


The pitfalls of overextension

It’s clear the shift left methodology has extended beyond its original intent over time. Instead of solely focusing on testing, it now includes various aspects such as security, performance, accessibility, and more. This overextension has led to an overwhelming workload for developers and testers, causing tool exhaustion and burnout.

Examples of overextension include:

  • Shift left Security: The concept of “shift left security” has emerged in the security realm. While integrating security considerations early in the development process is beneficial, this extension has put considerable pressure on developers to become security experts, creating a heavy workload that often leads to burnout.
  • Shift left Scaling: Performance testing, traditionally a late-stage activity, is also being “shifted left.” While this can lead to early detection of performance issues, it adds another layer of complexity to the developer’s role, increasing their workload and contributing to tool exhaustion.

Misuse of shift left by leaders

In addition to overextension, some leaders have misunderstood and misused shift left. Instead of using it as a strategic approach to enhance product quality, people often use it to cut costs and speed up product delivery.

Examples of misuse of shift left include:

  • Example 1: Some leaders view shift left as a way to reduce the need for specialized testers or security experts, pushing these responsibilities onto developers. This view not only increases the workload of developers but also often leads to less thorough testing or security checks due to the need for specialized skills.
  • Example 2: Sometimes, people misinterpret shift left to mean that developers should do all testing, even the late-stage testing traditionally done by QA teams. This misinterpretation can overburden developers and lead to missing issues due to a lack of perspective and expertise.


While shift left is fundamentally sound and beneficial, it has been stretched beyond its original intent and misused, negatively impacting developers and product quality. The focus needs to be realigned towards its original goal – improving quality by catching issues early – without overburdening our developers or compromising the product’s integrity.

A balanced approach, incorporating the core principles of shift left without overextending its reach or misusing it to cut corners, will help organizations achieve their goals. As we continue to navigate the evolving landscape of software development, we must remember that methodologies and frameworks are there to facilitate our work, not to hinder it. And like any tool, they are only as effective as the hands that wield them.

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Shannon McFarland

Vice President, Developer Relations & Experience