Gartner Blog Network

Are Developers an Endangered Species?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  July 22, 2010  |  6 Comments

Yesterday was one of my most interesting days as a blogger. My blog statistics for the day skyrocketed as I got most readers and comments than ever. Unfortunately most of the comments were quite negative and I got my fair share of three and four letter words, references to my physical appearance, accusations of being incompetent plus a number of stereotypical references to my nationality.

What deserved me all this was a post “Keep Developers Out of Politics, Please”, which was originally meant to be a humorous response to the (i thought equally humorous) post by Clay Johnson about “Why Developers Should Run for Congress”.

Putting all that discussion behind, this experience had me think about why so many developers reacted so vehemently. While their reaction was somewhat proving my point (on average, they would not make great politicians), I was surprised to see behavioral patterns that I would expect from “oppressed minorities”, which I did not think they are. With all the coolness of consumer devices like the iPhone and app stores, social media platforms, flashy web sites and new enthusiasm for technology at the White House and in other governments around the world, I thought that developers felt proud of their accomplishments and how they are contributing to societal change. And they probably are, but reactions and the failure to read the irony in the post seem indicative of some other, deeper issue.

I remember my times as a developer. I started using old languages like Fortran, Pascal, Ada, C, developing compilers and real-time distributed systems for manufacturing, utilities and aerospace applications. At the time, of course, the web was not yet there, and technology hadn’t made the C-level suite yet. Personal computers were relatively new and we were considered lucky to be able to use a VAX/VMS or Sun 2 with Unix for development and testing: some of my classmates at university had ended up using Cobol on mainframes and probably coding applications that are still in use today.

Over time I got exposed to object oriented programming (Eiffel and C++), things got better, and the pattern of collaboration and reuse started to emerge, although not yet at the level that we see today. But still, we were the geeks, those who could not explain to a normal person what they do for living.

As eloquently said by all my critics, things have changed, haven’t they? Almost everybody has a basic understanding of the role of technology because there is so much technology at home, at work, in our car, at the movies. Explaining the role and the impact of developers should be easier both to consumers and inside enterprises. We keep saying that technology permeates everything we do, that it is one of the largest contributors to productivity increase and wealth creation, that has become an integral part of the business.

As many pointed out, developers today do not longer fit the stereotype: they socialize and collaborate, in a nutshell they are cool.

But then, why did they overreact? Why so many comments and tweets and petitions and even one request to Gartner to get me fired?

Reading through some of the comments on other blogs, it appears that the ”geeky” stereotype that I used still hurts. For how cooler and luckier developers might be today, many of them still feel they are far from the limelight and some still struggle to establish their relevance within the enterprise. This should be less of an issue for developers who work for a technology provider, whose core business is indeed technology. But even there, sometimes consultants, product managers, sales people may have more direct or immediate recognition for their accomplishments.

The other potential worry is the commoditization of technology. With phenomena like cloud computing and SaaS and user programming (or “citizen developers”), some of the traditional programmer jobs are just going away or moving to larger vendors or different geographies. If I think about how much custom development we used to do when I was a developer, the picture today is totally different.

Of course there will always be developers, but there will be very few in user organizations: when CIOs reflect about the future created by the confluence of commoditization and socialization, they clearly see smaller and leaner IT organizations, relying more on external providers than internal resources. As far as vendors, their location on the world map may be quite different from what it is today.

So ironically, at the very moment when developers can start shining in the public eye and prove the mythical value of IT, their jobs may be moved or displaced or just done by their own clients (the users).

Could this be a good reason for developers to run for Congress? I doubt it. It is rather the right moment to reflect about their next career move and about the skills they need to develop to remain palatable to the market.

For some of their projects, roles, organizations there might be an expiration date already: they may just be too busy – or proud – to look for it.

Category: web-20-in-government  

Tags: cio  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
15 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies strategies, Web 2.0, open government, cloud computing, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Are Developers an Endangered Species?

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrea DiMaio and adriankhall, open3gov. open3gov said: RT @AndreaDiMaio Are Developers an Endangered Species? – #gov20 #opengov […]

  2. As a story teller, I give you “A”, but when it’s about forecast and prediction you don’t understand the real situation on the “field”, because you are out of it ! for years ! (you need a full upgrade)

    Listing some keywords here and here on your article don’t make you an “expert” ! this what makes me laugh every time about your species this over-valuation of your skills (the nonsense “Distinguished” word in your job title prove it)

    Long experiences for me as a developer just mean no evolution and repetitive tasks, I prefer to expire every time, and be reintroduced than spending my entire life doing the same things again and again ….

    finally please describe your actual job, explain to us the qualities and the challenges that makes you “Distinguished”, and don’t waste our time and internet bandwidth with your emotional texts that lack rationality

    and as a Moroccan (the proof of the international support), I will enjoy an American congress full of developers and scientific engineers than “bankers” and “lawyers”

  3. @Yassine – Thanks again for your comment. I do not have the pleasure of knowing your qualifications, but I have no reason to doubt them. Indeed – as I have always said – my experience as a developer and then a manager of developers is dated, as I followed a different path. However in all my jobs after that I had exposure to developers: as an officer and auditor for cooperative R&D projects, as well as an analyst.
    I do talk to CIOs and IT leaders in government organizations, and a never-ending struggle they have is to explain and prove the value of IT.
    The current recession and the subsequent budgetary crisis in many jurisdiction have clearly shown the failure of most IT shops in proving their value. While the theory is that spending more on IT (including software development) allows to save more in other parts of the business (thanks to automation and transformation), the reality is that IT is getting the same if not more severe budget cuts than the rest of the business.
    What is very clear inside IT organizations, and is equally evident from your statement and tone, is that most (not all) developers are in denial. They believe they’ve done all it takes to prove the value of IT, but where they have failed is in communicating all this.
    Not recognizing the trends that I have described in this post is another example of how developer self-fulfill their own prophecies: citizen developers (or user programmers if you prefer) and cloud-based services (or massive displacement of IT support if you prefer) are coming. Perhaps what makes me Distinguished is that I try to delineate these trends before most people see them. If you are a Gartner client, I’d suggest you look at research I’ve written 8 or 9 years ago about what would have happened in the next 5 to 10 years, and maybe we can have a meaningful conversation about qualifications.
    I am pleased with your philosophy based on reinvention. I have done many different jobs, and learned from all of those, and what I find fascinating at Gartner is that the job is never the same and I can discuss problems and issues with hundreds of clients.
    Last point about keywords. I have been working on software that flies helicopters or remotely control smart meters, and have been at the forefront of software engineering. I pushed the boundaries as a developer as much as I push the boundaries as an analyst. I truly wish you will be able to say the same about yourself in a few years time.

  4. I am really impressed with this last comment, it makes a lot of things clear for me, and remove all my doubts about your qualifications !

    I am changing my tone and getting serious now !

    I still disagree with you, concerning the nature of the impact of those new trends, for me it will be beneficial to developers, because instead of doing complicated jobs for companies that need long time support, we will do more and more small jobs for those citizen developers (thanks to Blogs, iOS and Android …), and it will help us sharpen our communication skills due to the close contact with our “future new clients”, it’s merging marketing with development !

    and thanks for your wishes

  5. @Yassine – Thanks again.
    You actually make an interesting point about this being an opportunity for developers. I do agree but I would add that it is so for those who are willing to look at it this way. Also, the perspective is clearly different depending on whether one works for a large IT department in a user organization, for a large vendors, for a small vendor, or whether he or she is self employed. Also the geography will be important: available and accessible skills, sufficient bandwidth, favorable regulatory requirements will drive where IT providers (and developers) will be based.
    As you say, “sharpening communication skills” is key for everybody in development. And for analysts too, I guess, since I was unable to convey the irony on my original post :)

  6. […] Andrea Di Maio is a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research, where he focuses on the public sector, with particular reference to e-government strategies, Web 2.0, the business value of IT, open-source software… Read Full Bio Coverage Areas: ← Are Developers an Endangered Species? […]

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