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September 26, 2016updated 30 Sep 2016 1:18pm

The Invasion of Developers

How should developers and employers get the most from each other?

By Ellie Burns

There is growing pressure for IT to deliver on business demands in real time—but there is often a gap between what they need to do and what they can do. So, how can they close the IT delivery gap? For starters, they should make everyone in the company a developer.

This is not to say that all employees should drop their other responsibilities and perform heads-down coding each day. However, there is significant value in building development skills within business teams as well as building an understanding about what it takes to go from a great idea to a robust application—and back again if business needs change or things just don’t work as expected.

The Widening Coder Base

Previously coding was a discrete skill used in a discrete job function. Now, more employees are coming into the workplace with some level of coding skill—whether they picked it up while designing new games for themselves or, more recently, learned it in the classroom.

“Software is becoming a critical layer of all our lives,” wrote Dr. Dan Crow, visiting professor of computer science at Leeds University and adviser to the Year of Code, in The Guardian article Why Every Child Should Learn to Code. “It is the language of our world. In the future, not knowing the language of computers will be as challenging as being illiterate or innumerate are today.”

With today’s most pressing business demands including cloud and SaaS integrations, big data and analytics, mobile computing and more, the language of computers is also quickly becoming the language of business.

Demand in these and other areas is coming from the customer and from savvy business users who are in tune with what their customers want—and could potentially get from the competition.

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Rather than relying on an old-school IT queue, smart companies are arming their business users with self-serve tools that allow them to deliver their own projects in their own way. This new operating model is a complete reversal of the way IT traditionally worked inside organisations, decentralising IT to make business users more efficient.

APIs Are Key Enablers

APIs, or application programming interfaces, are key to filling the IT delivery gap. An API is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other in real time–highly important as the number of SaaS applications, mobile devices and data stores continue to climb. Without connectivity, each application, device and data source would be another untapped silo. APIs enable IT to turn technology silos from a pile of unconnected things into reusable assets and consumable services for the entire business.

Think of this as the “composable enterprise,” a highly connected organisation with business processes supported by on-demand services that are acquired and leveraged from the cloud and APIs. The services are complete systems, and they are connected to the composable enterprise through APIs.

While building blocks are an apt metaphor for this model, it would be wrong to imply that getting to the composable enterprise is as easy as putting one block on top of another. Even if employees come into your organisation with development skills, they will need to be trained not only in the use of APIs and other IT systems, but also in the best practices required for an effective business-IT partnership.

Here are five things companies should consider to ramp up productivity and ROI:


1. Break down departmental silos

Even with an army of citizen developers — a developer who creates a new business application for use across the organisation using tools sanctioned by their corporate IT departments— there will always be a need for a professional development team. However, one should not work separately from the other. When new ideas are on the table, business and IT leaders should work together to figure out the best and fastest ways to bring them to market. The key ingredient is the operating model between IT and the business. The IT team needs to become a strategic function for the enterprise, responsible for supporting business innovation. Companies can embrace this by leveraging APIs to deliver reusable assets and improve the way they operate and scale.


2. Consider citizen developers when acquiring new software and services

When evaluating new software and services, consider their ability to enable developers and non-developers to extend the systems. Ask questions like: Are open APIs available? How have they been used by other organisations? What language were they built with? Will they integrate with the business’ existing applications and services?


3. Offer training

Using internal resources or an external vendor or partner, companies should provide training to employees. From coding basics to advance programming languages, offer an array of modules at different levels, giving employees with the inclination and aptitude an opportunity to advance their skills as far as they can.


4. Provide incentives

Employees will be more apt to jump on the development train if the acquisition of such skills provides value in some way (beyond helping them be better at their jobs). Incentives can range from bonuses to badges that appear on employees’ profiles on company social networks.


5. Blow your own trumpet

Companies that provide employees with the freedom and support to bring new ideas to fruition are attractive to up and coming talent. Through social media, company blog posts, contributed articles and other outlets, articulate your company’s commitment to providing the workforce with development opportunities and resources.

As the demand for more apps and services across more devices increases, the demand for development talent will only increase. Companies can meet these demands on all fronts by providing their current employees with the tooling and training necessary to make the “invasion of the developers” less science fiction, and more reality and reward.


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