The Citizen Developer

How to hire a Citizen Developer

I’m confused.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen articles in industry publications indicating how many thousands of jobs are available for citizen developers. Not only that, but there are also plenty of postings on various company websites, job boards, and other recruiting platforms. Seems like everyone wants to hire citizen developers.

That Makes No Sense to Me

To be honest, I have lots of questions when it comes to the process of bringing a new employee into a company to be a citizen developer. What exactly is the skillset required for this job? What kind of training or education should a good candidate have? Does this job require a four-year college degree, or can you take some six-month course at an IT learning center and still qualify?

But beyond that, the whole idea of a citizen developer is that it's someone who knows your company’s processes well and is given the tools to design the software to support those processes. It’s likely that you’ll end up with specialist citizen developers from various departments, each with expertise in that group's inner workings. Therein lies the essential value of a citizen developer: they know what the processes need to look like and how they need to function.

So… How do you hire that expertise and experience from the outside?

Citizen Developers are Identified and Made, Not Hired!

A logical look at the role tells us that citizen developers will always emerge from within the company. By definition, people outside the organization can’t have the close touch and feel for the ways in which the company works best. Some existing employees do have what it takes, but not outsiders.

Consequently, the first challenge to managers is to identify potential citizen developers.

It's easy to say you’re looking for a process wonk. There are definitely people who absolutely love process. They thrive on figuring out how to make things work better, more efficiently, and more effectively.

It’s more than likely that most or all of those process wonks have become intimately familiar with the inner workings of their companies' operations.

Specifically, what you need is a willing wonk. Some employees are satisfied to fulfill their job requirements each day and go home. They have little or no interest in getting more deeply involved. They often lack imagination. They definitely lack inspiration. Those are not viable candidates.

The right candidates will be chomping at the bit. They’ll be constantly recommending process improvements. When you ask if they’d be interested in learning how to use low-code/no-code software to develop the applications needed to realize their ideas, they won’t let you finish the question before they enthusiastically respond in the affirmative.

Citizen Developers Become "Poach-Proof"

Over time, word will slip out that you’ve found yourself an ideal citizen developer within your ranks.

If we were talking about a network engineer, or a technician, we would be concerned about word getting out, because we’d be afraid that competitors will come along looking to hire those high-value people away from you.

But the skills required to be a citizen developer are not transportable. Unless the other company is a perfect duplicate of your own, what works for your company likely won’t be applicable to any other. You can feel much freer to invest in professional development and other training for your citizen developers

What Investments Should We Make in Our Citizen Developers?

Once you’ve identified your candidate there are several ways in which you’ll want to train them.

The first discipline is "system analysis" or "business process optimization." There are some basics, some fundamentals to how processes work in the organization, and what they look like when they’re working well. You want your citizen developer to understand the relationship between input, processing, and output. Someone who can identify where actions require approvals; someone who will be able to develop the conditional paths a process may take, depending on currently existing conditions—in other words, the basics of processes.

You’ll then need to make the often challenging selection of a low-code/no-code platform. There are an unbelievable variety to choose from! (We’ll be highlighting some of those available choices in future articles in this column.) This is not a responsibility for your citizen developer to undertake, although their input may be valuable. It is likelier that a leader from within your IT group would make a more informed choice.

The next obvious step will be to have your selected citizen developer trained in the use of the chosen platform. Because it’s all point-and-click, its unlikely they’ll find it intimidating.

The last investment I’ll suggest is time. Invest the time it takes to discuss possible projects with your citizen developer. Because you chose them based on how close to the ground they are, listen to them closely. As they undertake the projects you discuss you should soon find that investment returning in the form of more time available to your application developers now that much of their initial work is being done for them.

It's an investment that will pay off for years to come.

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.