The democratization of the IT industry is well underway. According to a recent report by technology researchers Gartner, by the end of 2014 at least a quarter of all business software apps will have been created by end-user developers.
Whilst the prediction is perhaps a little ambitious, it reflects a growing trend of users operating outside the scope of traditional enterprise IT and its governance. Programmers who use the same skills can create the same products, regardless of formal education.
The forecast by the analyst house is that these ‘citizen developers’ will be one of the largest growing phenomenas in the near future.
What is a Citizen Developer?
Whilst Gartner coined the term for non-traditionally educated programmers, the concept of end-user development stretches back to the first personal computers. As members of the public grow more comfortable with the idea of personalizing the technology they use on a daily basis, the proliferation of individualized apps created by untrained, tech savvy individuals increases.
Who are the Developers?
One such web developer is Toby Zerner, a third-year medical student who has been designing and building websites since early high school. Despite a lack of formal qualifications, he has created esoTalk, a forum software package enabling users to set up their own discussion forums on their websites. The software has gained a large user-base and is now utilized to power several large forums.
“The Internet has made it so much easier for people to learn about building technology. There are loads of tutorials, Q&A sites, and discussion forums where you can learn from scratch for free”, Toby says.
“I think a portfolio is much more important than formal education. If you can show employers what you’re capable of through things you’ve already done, that says much more than a piece of paper”.
In 2013, even Google revealed that it no longer considers grades and formal qualifications as the only hiring criteria (as reported in the New York Times).
“In terms of entrepreneurship, if you can build a great web app or service, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve had a formal education”, Toby says.
Where have they come from?
The maturation of ‘digital citizens’ means that in terms of technology, the general knowledge of the workforce is increasingly rapidly. The consumerization of the internet is not simply a trend anymore- it’s a given. Stephen Grace, a professional graphic designer working without any formal training, comments that the internet is an excellent teacher- and it’s free.
What does this mean for the future?
However, there is concern that the phenomena might put corporate data at risk, as streamlined development platforms continue to pave the way for amateur software development. As increasingly more non-programmers take advantage of the lush array of software available to them (including the emergence of cloud and Application Platforms as a Service), creating new business applications from scratch or by composition becomes increasingly ubiquitous in an era of self-made tech natives.
Software giant Dell introduced advice last year on how organizations can empower citizen developers with their product SharePoint, which simplifies and streamlines the process of creating business applications by individuals who don’t have IT training or development credentials. According to Dell, encouraging citizen developers can “improve the relationship between IT and business, and result in the creation of stronger business solutions”. SharePoint includes the MyFirstApp wizard which enables users of “any technical level to create the capability they need”.
“There are so many resources available that university and TAFE degrees are no longer the only way to gain skills, and maybe not even the best way”, Stephen says.
“Resources are easily accessible, inexpensive, and flexible. In the end, you walk away with a practical and marketable skill. Ultimately, an employer would probably prefer someone who can actually build a website, not just a piece of paper that says someone can”.