The Citizen Developer

Climbing Out of the Skills Gap: What a Citizen Developer Needs to Know

Citizen developers are closing the "software skills gap," but our columnist says it takes more than basic training produce an effective citizen dev.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 26% increase in demand for software developers over the next 10 years. The industry watchers at Forrester say there are more than half a million open job requisitions out there right now for people with software development skills. And yet there aren't enough developers with the right skills to fill even a fraction of those job openings. The Linux Academy, for example, says two-thirds of the hiring managers they have spoken with report that they can’t find any qualified candidates.

Citizen Developers Close 'the Gap'

This "software skills gap" is really nothing new. And it keeps getting wider because we can’t seem to train enough professional developers fast enough.

So, we won’t.

Consider this: the folks at Microsoft have estimated that 450 million apps will be built in the next five years, but they won’t require much coding because they’ll be built with low-code/no-code tools! In other words, companies are finding it much faster and easier to spin up more citizen developers to use these tools to do the bulk of the app development work. And so, the latest prediction from the industry analysts at Gartner—that there will be four times as many citizen developers as there are coders by the end of this year—comes as no surprise.

Training Resources Proliferating

You might reasonably expect the providers of these low-code/no-code tools to include excellent instructions on how to use their platforms, and you’d be right about that. The good news is the selection of training resources to prepare your people is rapidly expanding. Even better, the cost is very reasonable! For example, the Project Management Institute, a widely recognized resource, offers a complete sequence, beginning with PMI Citizen Developer Foundation, followed by PMI Citizen Developer Practitioner, and concluding with PMI Citizen Developer Business Architect. The cost for all three courses and the certification exams is less than $700.

But software operation, learning how to point-and-click and drag-and-drop, is not all a citizen developer will need to know to qualify for the job.

Beyond Basic Training

So, what exactly should your citizen developers know? What does their training need to include beyond the pragmatic operation of the low-code/no-code development software? Here’s a handy checklist of other skills and knowledge your citizen developer should have:

  • Domain Knowledge: You want to select candidates who have a strong, solid understanding of your specific business domain and the processes involved. This helps them identify requirements, define workflows, and move the icons around the low-code/no-code interface to create solutions in strong alignment with your business’ goals and objectives.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: These will be necessary to analyze the cause and consequences of complex business challenges so they can design effective solutions. They’ll need to be able to break down problems, identify patterns, and propose innovative solution approaches.
  • Critical, Analytical Thinking: Citizen developers must gather data and provide cogent analysis. They must be ready and able to work with and interpret data. This will help them develop insights to better inform decision-making and produce sound solution designs.
  • Communication and Collaborative Skills: No citizen developer works alone. The whole point is to be able to leverage knowledge from both technical and non-technical team members. Effective communication skills needed include the ability to understand and articulate business requirements, collaborate with technical teams, capture, and evaluate feedback, and drive inter-departmental alignment.
  • Creativity: Citizen developers benefit from having great synthetic and synergistic skills, the ability to think creatively to fully understand relationships to help them build practical solutions. They must be ready to shift gears readily to explore alternative approaches and include different perspectives to develop software solutions that will solve business challenges most effectively.
  • Rapid Learning Ability: With new platforms emerging and all technology constantly evolving, citizen developers must be able to learn new tools and master new technologies. Continuous development of their skill sets is crucial.
  • Fundamental Technology Familiarity: Nobody expects a citizen developer to be a technology wizard, nor would a true technology wizard want to be a citizen developer. But candidates must possess a basic understanding of technologies used in their organization.
  • Quality Assurance: Anyone who will put any application into production must understand and appreciate the importance of testing and consistent quality assurance in software development. Basic testing, solutions validation, and the ability to identify and fix issues before deploying them are key.
  • Project Management: Every application development project requires the ability to effectively plan, prioritize, and execute each step of every development project. It may often fall to the citizen developer to effectively manage timelines, coordinate resources, and monitor progress to ensure successful delivery.
  • Ethics and Governance: All applications require appreciation and enforcement of all ethical considerations and organizational governance policies relevant to their development. Good governance includes management of data privacy, security protocols, compliance requirements, and ensuring that all solutions align with standards.

The Most Efficient Route to Productivity

Many employees already have many of these skills and much of this knowledge, and managers seeking to close the application development skills gap efficiently will begin by selecting candidates who have the largest number of these capacities already and use the training resources that are rapidly emerging to fill in whatever is missing.

This process should be far faster, far easier, far less costly, and far more likely to be successful than training anyone to master the art of software development.

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.