Going digital: developer renaissance

One of the marvellous / disturbing (delete where applicable) things about the IT profession is its propensity for rapid shifts. That’s either exciting or terrifying, or a bit of both, depending on where you personally sit in whatever wave is taking place, and how comfortable you are with change. I love it, so I’m probably in the right sector.

There’s always something going on, and the thing that I’m hearing more and more comes in a few guises:

  • Going digital
  • Insourcing
  • Design-led

This is both an exciting new shift in our profession and nothing new all at the same time. But what is it exactly?

For years we’ve been banging on about the fact that organisations are going to be taken to interesting places by their technology; information and technology is about positive change and adding value as well as keeping the metaphorical lights on. If you don’t think IT is strategic…well…that’s not very clever really.

In some places that’s always been the case, but in others the tectonic plates are shifting and there is a new realisation of how pivotal this profession can be.

One of the simple functional outcomes is that actual bona fide coders will not only be in greater demand ‘onshore’ but they will be central to the development of organisations. Now if you’re a coder that has to be good news, but there is a catch.

I have been outed as an agile-lover (let me be clear, I mean that I love agile methodologies), and I think that agile is one of the reasons for this developer renaissance. One of the artefacts of using agile fully is that your organisation wraps itself as tightly around the customer (user, whatever) as it possibly can and that anything not associated with that wrapping becomes secondary or even gets wiped away.

That puts the people writing the code into skin-to-skin contact with their users in a way that is a complete reversal of the trends of the last decade. Rather than code monkeys (sorry, structured language primates) implementing a specification drafted by someone responding to business requirements written by a stunned weasel, the coder is going ‘hey, what do you think of this’ to the customer…

Goodness me it’s exciting.

The catch is that if you’re doing that you will find that the necessary skillset to interpret specs third-hand from stunned weasels isn’t quite the same as the one you need in this brave new world. Beautiful, properly architected, wonderfully engineered code is still the pièce de résistance and long should it remain so, but you also have to get really good at that conversation with the customer. And design.

The interesting shift I’m mulling on is how design is going to become an even more important part of the necessary canon for developers. It’s always been there, but the shift is analogous to a move from structural engineering to architecture. The breaking strain of reinforced concrete is still important, but the focus becomes creating spaces for people to do things in. That’s what the digital shift is about.

There’s lots of evidence that this is taking place, from the number of onshore developers employed by organisations like Sky, and the seismic shifts in the way government is approaching IT.

So in summary: The good news is that developer roles are not all going offshore, instead they’re moving back to the heart of organisational improvement as they should be. The bad news? The goalposts on skills are changing yet again. Time for some CPD goal-setting maybe?

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About the author

Thoughts on membership, the profession, and the occasional pseudo-random topic from the BCS Policy and Community Director.

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