Flybits - The Dawning Era of the Citizen Developer and What It Means for Professional Developers

Posted 3/1/2016 8:32:16 AM by DR HOSSEIN RAHNAMA, Founder and Chief Product Officer of Flybits

Flybits - The Dawning Era of the Citizen Developer and What It Means for Professional Developers
By 2017 demand for enterprise mobile apps will outstrip available development capacity five to one, according to Gartner. At the same time, as an increasing number of apps look the same or sport the same features, consumers are demanding more personalized, context-aware mobile experiences. 

This situation looks a lot like what we experienced in the late 90s, when every single business wanted a website and web development skills were in high demand while there was a shortage of people with the right skills.

Developer History Redux

Back then, early web development tools were dry. Most were code-heavy, didn’t include an intuitive visual interface and were relatively hard to use for non-technical people with no prior coding knowledge or experience. 

It was only later on, as demand for websites kept growing, that more user-friendly tools such as FrontPage and Dreamweaver appeared and made web development accessible to more people by introducing visual interfaces that enabled users to design websites without having to edit too much code manually. Finally, platforms like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal were introduced, making it even easier to launch a website by using built-in templates, themes and features that could be effortlessly implemented and updated with content.
Looking at the soaring demand for mobile apps and the multiplication of lightweight development tools, it is no stretch to say that the mobile development space is experiencing a similar phenomenon. The current mobile development process, especially within large enterprises, can be a long and difficult journey. 

When a business unit is interested in launching a new app or a new feature, they must get in touch with development centers and go through several processes before even reaching the decision maker with an idea or a prototype. This is largely due to the fact that mobile development remains obscure to non-developers and requires professionals to be involved at every phase of the development and deployment cycle. 

Moreover, unlike websites, mobile apps are multidimensional and focus on user experience rather than just content. Contextual elements such as user preferences, sensors, location or the nature of the device are so many factors that have to be considered in the development process.

Democratizing Mobile Innovation

Thankfully, with the multiplication of new development and prototyping tools such as InVision or and a widespread increase in digital literacy, it is now becoming increasingly easy for these business units to bring new features or mobile apps to life without involving a developer at every step. 

Non-technical individuals within an organization can leverage communities, customers and other internal resources to quickly conceptualize, ideate and test mobile app prototypes that can then be shared directly with decision makers. In turn, the decision makers themselves can get involved in the process by using those same tools to offer their feedback, ideas and requirements for the prototype before it is finally shared with the development team.
Expanding the development process to include non-technical individuals brings tremendous value to organizations. First of all, it promotes innovation through democratizing collaboration by enabling a broader set of individuals to easily conceptualize their ideas and turn them into viable and sharable prototypes. It also decreases development time considerably by removing the many back-and-forth previously necessary to bring a realizable project to a decision maker. 

Finally, it enables non-technical personnel to come to their developers with realistic expectations and fully-baked requirements, saving the development team precious time as well.

Why Freeing Developers Correlates with Increased Engagement

Shortening development time, however, isn’t the journey’s end. The same way marketing teams now regularly update websites after the web developers set up the back-end, increasingly, mobile development tools include built-in visual interfaces that allow non-developers to modify the behavior of a mobile app on the fly. 

This is a huge deal for developers: previously involved in every single update, they no longer have to spend most of their time addressing minor adjustments requested by marketing, legal or sales. Instead, development teams can now focus on enablement and innovation, developing new features and bringing value to the end-user.
On the other hand, communication and marketing teams are empowered to provide near real-time engagement with their audiences by changing the app’s behavior themselves. What would previously take them several days and a back-and-forth with the development team can now be done in a matter of minutes. That enables quick reaction to the customers’ needs while breaking down silos and increasing collaboration between departments. 

It is also an ideal situation to seamlessly test out features and gather valuable customer feedback before implementing updates on a larger scale, which considerably shortens the gap between requirements and implementation.

Developers: the Next Generation

Now, some people might look at lightweight development technology thinking that it could eventually replace mobile developers altogether. It is safe to say that this is unlikely to happen. Blogging and website development platforms did not remove the need for web developers, although it did decrease the overall demand for basic web development skills. What it did, however, was generate higher demand for advanced web development skills and pushed many developers to move to the next platform: mobile.
Along similar lines, we should expect to see mobile developers increasingly focus on new stacks, features and platforms. Demand for basic mobile development skills will decrease, while demand for mobile developers with knowledge of the latest stacks and technologies will grow. The rise of the IoT and the growing number of connected devices available will give birth to a new generation of developers focused on connected digital experiences beyond mobile displays.
Programmers currently earning their degrees are already learning how to develop applications for Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Internet of Things devices. In the meantime, other developers are working on easy-to-use tools to streamline the mobile development process. 

Developers with knowledge of HTML5 or JavaScript can now easily create and modify a full stack application or a complete mobile app, even for the IoT. The mobile world is changing, but developers aren’t going anywhere. They are simply diversifying their ranks.

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About the author: DR HOSSEIN RAHNAMA, Founder and Chief Product Officer of Flybits

Dr Hossein Rahnama is a recognized figure in ubiquitous and pervasive computing and the founder and Chief Product Officer of Flybits, the context-as-a-service company. His research explores artificial intelligence, mobile human-computer interaction, and the effective design of contextual services. Hossein has 30 publications and 10 patents in ubiquitous computing, and is a Council Member of the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Hossein is also a visiting scholar at the Human Dynamics group at MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA. He has a PhD in Computer Science from Ryerson University.

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