The Citizen Developer

10 Characteristics of an Ideal Citizen Developer

We're still in the early stages of the emergence of the citizen developer, so no certifications or accreditations have yet been established. There are a few nascent training courses available, but no qualification tests. And yet a steadily growing number of enterprises are looking for people who might have what it takes to become a citizen developer.

Although it's true that virtually anyone could learn to use an integrated development environment that gives them a drag-and-drop methodology for identifying and connecting processes and other application components to form functional applications, it's really not for everybody. The ideal candidate for citizen developer will exhibit 10 essential characteristics.

They have an actual desire to become a citizen developer

People in any organization may develop the desire to become a citizen developer for a variety of reasons. They may, for example, be unsatisfied with the responsiveness of their software developers, and/or feel that the software they produce doesn’t do exactly what they think it should. They may want to participate more in the process of enabling their company to do more. And just as there are policy wonks in government and politics, there are "process wonks" all around us; they might simply be people who are fascinated by how they can make things work and work better.

They have an extensive knowledge of organizational operations

The wonkier employees tend to develop a deep understanding of the processes and workflows in their organizations, as well as why they work the way they do. Often, they invest a significant amount of time coming up with ways to make those processes work better. They have good ideas that are worth pursuing, but they're frustrated because they can’t do much about them.

They are highly organized analytical and critical thinkers

Knowing how the organization works is essential, but so is knowing why it works the way it does. Potential citizen developers need to be able to look at their organization's processes with a critical eye. And they need the analytical skills to create solutions in context.

They tend to learn by osmosis

Some people with great analytical and critical thinking skills are able to absorb information quickly, and apparently with little or no effort. These quick learners are ideal candidates to master the operation of low-code/no-code platforms.

They're comfortable with technology

Citizen developers don't necessarily want to become actual coders, but it's likely they will be working alongside traditional software developers and network operators, so it would be handy if they spoke the language to some extent—even handier if they were really comfortable with information technology concepts.

They play well with others

Turnabout may be fair play here: A citizen developer who expressed dissatisfaction with the output of their software development department may now find colleagues complaining about the low-code/no-code applications they develop. Ideally, they should be proactively gathering input and feedback from all parties throughout the development process.

They have thick skins

Citizen developer candidates will likely find others in the organization becoming as much of a thorn in their sides as they were to their software developers. They must have the ability not to take that criticism personally, but rather to apply it as much as possible to improving the outcomes of their efforts.

They communicate with great personal and political skill

It's all too easy for a new citizen developers to become everyone’s favorite punching bag. When they communicate clearly and proactively with everyone as new workflows are created, the opportunity to take swings at them disappears. Any and every process is only as productive as its users’ enthusiastic adoption of it. Having the ability to build and maintain friendly relationships is essential.

They have personal agility and flexibility

Organizations are, by nature, dynamic and constantly changing. Priorities, goals, objectives, positions, alliances are always shifting. Producing process automation for these moving targets requires a great ability to let go of the things you’ve built and a readiness to replace them with newer work. The ideal citizen developer won't see their efforts as their "children," especially in this age of DevOps, cloud-native code, and continuous improvement through continuous development (CI/CD). Iterations become obsolete constantly.

They are as determined as forces of nature

Especially now in these early days of the emergence of the citizen developer, the best advice is: "beware all who enter here." Any effort to change the way things work in an organization will be met by those who appreciate the change and those who despise it. It becomes important to remember that the only true constant is change, so devotion to it should become natural and come from a desire to make things better.

It's still too early to predict who in any organization will emerge with the potential to become a citizen developer. It could just as easily be management as staff. It could turn out that the staff member who becomes a citizen developer rises quickly to management or ends up being so busy they never get the chance to rise at all.

One thing is undeniable: software now drives every company, and anyone involved in driving the software plays a far more important role in the eventual success of that business.

Ready to raise your hand to becoming a citizen developer?

About the Author

Technologist, creator of compelling content, and senior "resultant" Howard M. Cohen has been in the information technology industry for more than four decades. He has held senior executive positions in many of the top channel partner organizations and he currently writes for and about IT and the IT channel.