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On a sunny day in June 1789, a mob of peasants attacked a tower in France, desperate to secure gunpowder. They were fed up with not being able to vote under the Out of Touch King. Which later became known as the French Revolution. He overthrew the monarchy, spread power among the people, spread chaos and ended another dictatorship.
Nature hates vacuum and history teaches us that big, headless ventures ultimately hire someone. (It is called “revolution” because it ends where it begins.) If no one moves forward, we tend to meet bad leaders. This is a matter of mind due to the rise of so-called civic developers, people who do not code but still make software thanks to no-code / low-code (LC / NC) tools like Microsoft Power Apps.
This is an exciting time. Millions of additional people are now able to create software. But for someone who has spent his or her career thinking about what methods and tools make high-quality software, I can assure you that empowering people to create things is not the same as ensuring that they build effectively. I believe civic developers will need a leader.
The world population of civil developers is not huge – accordingly, only a few millions Economist – But it is growing at a rate of 40% year-on-year. That’s three times faster than the developer population (25M) is growing.
In 2021 alone, Microsoft Power Apps, one of the best examples of democratized app creation suite, doubled in size to 10M users. Half of the major insurance companies, many of which are victims of inherited internal systems, are reportedly considering giving their entire company access to apps like this.
Undoubtedly, all these newly anointed “developers” are going to identify and address specific issues that no central team has ever addressed or prioritized. Freed from the philanthropic gaze of central IT, people are free to create apps that make their lives easier, which will undoubtedly bleed in the after-hours, taking the company’s growth potential to incredible heights. But the warning signs are already clear.
As Economist According to reports, an employee of Australian telecom firm Telstra has created an app that integrates 70 internal systems used by 1,300 co-workers. The challenge? The interface displays users with 150 buttons and looks like a space shuttle control panel.
Perhaps paralleling other creator platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, or Minecraft, where much of what is created is poor quality, spoiled, and few people enjoy it. I think it’s unlikely that individuals without an engineering background would think of interoperability, security, or compliance to say anything about the interface.
What could be the sum of all these troublesome interfaces and user-generated apps? What happens when these applications collide, overlap, conflict, and overwrite each other’s data? Who maintains them, especially as each of the underlying systems develops? Who handles support requests? Does it eventually become as big as IT inherits?
Unlike the siege of that lucky Bastille in 1789, people could get gunpowder. The question is whether they will know what to do with it.
Citizen developers need two guides – one inside and one outside
I started my career in software in the early 2000’s at a time like today, with new technology, fast experiments and a sense of unlimited possibilities. I was very impressed with the one-sided sample change from the heavy processes. These were the days when clever manifestos were written, unit-tests became an accepted practice, gangs of four design patterns were on everyone’s reading list, and some poor souls had to deal with unified modeling languages.
Part of what made that small group of people who defined the era so influential was that they were just a handful of leaders you could identify, point to, and follow. They were also interested in seeing the industry grow, not just in seeing a software vendor win, so that they could say anything in search of the truth. Together, they had a profound effect on people in companies who were actually creating software, or learning about it in school.
I see that dynamic as a model for how leaders can emerge for civic developers. I imagine there would be two classes:
- Researchers of the agnostic industry – Public figures trying to solve the challenge of coordinating the work of millions of civic developers. In my mind, it is crucial that they be seller agnostics so that they can be honest.
- Internal Business Engineers – A handful of architects in each company or business group who coordinate civic development. They bring all the powerful tools and methods to tolerate, from software development, to ensuring that all federated apps are interconnected and secure, compatible, available and convenient to use. They pass on these methods and tools to others.
The consulting firm Gartner strongly advocates hiring people who fit into another group. They may even sit outside of IT, Gartner says, although they will need to understand the business more closely. If you empower this “business technologist”, you are 2.6 times more likely to accelerate the digital transformation. At Salto, we call these individuals “business engineers”, a compound moniker that demonstrates how important it is that they do so not only to configure the system, but to benefit the company and the individuals using that system.
Whatever you call yours, I think every company that sues civic development needs them. And whoever is the inventor of the agnostic industry today, I hope they will start talking a lot more and provide us with methods and tools to guide the rest of the people in this revolution.
The French Revolution ended with another dictator – Napoleon Bonaparte. You don’t have to read much history to know that it was not very philanthropic and led people to ten years of devastating war. When leadershipless organizations do not like their leaders, their leaders choose themselves, and they do not tend to be the people we want to charge.
In the midst of the rapid rise of civic developers in your business, you have to ask who will lead them? I think before fate decides for you, it is important to figure it out now. History tells me that you will not be satisfied with the result.
Gil Hofer is the CTO and co-founder of Salto,
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