The rise of the Developer (and its implications)


More than ever, this is the age of the developer. Whereas in days gone by people with technical skills were locked away in the engine room, today they are founders, executives, and among companies’ most valued employees. There are also more of them than ever before. In a study published in July 2013, Evans Data estimates there are 18.2 million software developers worldwide, growing to 26.4 million by 2019, an increase of 45%.

Those developers can do things their predecessors could only dream of. They can tap open source products, such as Lucid Search or MongoDB*, which they can build on for free. They have low cost, elastic compute services like AWS, enabling them to release applications without a big capital commitment upfront. They have access to global distribution platforms in the form of the Internet and the AppStore, which let them get products to customers instantly (and without the need for sales people). The only limit on a developer today is her own imagination.

There are two second-order effects of this that I find particularly interesting:

#1: People can now build big businesses serving developers

Historically, it’s been very hard to sell anything to software developers. As a group, they are known to be smart, incredibly demanding, and loathe to spend money. There’s also no other category of customers who are more likely to kill your business by recreating a version of your product and offering it to the world for free, all in the name of open source. As a result, any company serving developers always faced the problem of a small market size.

Today, this seems to have changed. There are more developers than ever before. Companies no longer dictate to them what tools to use, any more than they tell business people what apps to load on their mobile devices. Instead, amongst developers there has evolved a large community of smart, discerning buyers who flock to products and services that deliver real value. That has enabled companies serving these buyers to grow without spending anything on sales or marketing, and there are now a handful of businesses – such as Atlassian, GitHub, and Stripe* – that sell to developers and are growing fast, with huge market opportunities before them.

Entrepreneurs have woken up to this new opportunity. For example, in the last YC class, there were more businesses serving developers than ever before, with new services to A/B test mobile apps (Apptimize) and provide APIs for shipping rates (EasyPost), printing (Lob) and commercial banking (Standard Treasury). The winner of the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield last September was Layer, which provides developers with messaging services for mobile apps. More generally, there are a host of promising startups which help developers be productive, such as CircleCI (continuous integration/deployment), Kinvey (backend as a service), and Runnable (“YouTube for code”), to pick only a few.

#2: Everyone will become a developer

Today, writing code is viewed as a specialized activity that only a small, highly-trained group of people are qualified to do. Tomorrow, it will be like using a spreadsheet: something everyone does, to varying degrees of sophistication. Coding will become a core part of the educational curriculum, much like math or learning a language is today. As in those disciplines, a small number will go on to truly excel and be capable of writing complex programs. But everyone will learn basic scripting which over time will get more and more sophisticated, and enable them to create simple programs to automate basic tasks.

We are at the early stages of this transition, which could take a generation. But the early signs are there. More children are learning Scratch or teaching themselves the basics of coding at Khan Academy; there are more organizations encouraging people to try programming, such as Girls Who Code; and sites like IFTTT demonstrate the broad applicability of simple “recipes”.

Twenty years from now, it’s not hard to imagine basic coding skills being a requirement for anyone in a marketing or finance role, or every teenager writing simple front end applications for their user-generated content. Coding itself will become easier, as development tools grow more sophisticated. It will be fun to see what new innovations this will bring.

(article by A.Hilaly)


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