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2014 Developer Opportunities and Challenges, Part II: UX Skills Gap, Crowdsourcing

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The coming year is fraught with challenges for enterprise developers, but it's also full of opportunities, say top industry analysts -- if you keep your eyes on a few key trends.

Eric Knipp, who manages Gartner's burgeoning Application Platform Strategies research team, puts the growing importance of the user experience (UX) at the top of his list of developer challenges for 2014.

"With so many device types out there, with the Web evolving, with the Internet of Things coming along, fast, we're getting constant questions from our clients about how to reduce the interactive friction experienced by both internal and external users of their software," Knipp told ADTmag. "And the fact is, inside most large enterprises most of the developers just don't have the chops to do that well."

This gap in UX skills in the enterprise is a fundamental problem, Knipp said, because the developers building the applications and designing the interaction patterns are typically not familiar enough with how the users of those apps interact with that software to do their jobs.

It's an old problem, he said, but a new opportunity.

"UX is one of the big things to get your arms around in 2014," he said. "It presents a great opportunity to outpace your competitors if you do, especially if you recognize that it isn't just important for consumers using your mobile app, it's also important to the productivity and satisfaction of your internal employees."

Another opportunity Knipp sees ahead for developers comes from what might for many be an unexpected place: crowdsourcing and hackathons.

"The enterprise is finally taking an interest in crowdsourcing AD," he said. "The question of how enterprises source apps -- do we build them ourselves, do we hire a third party outsourcer, do we buy them off the shelf -- now has a third answer. Most organizations don't get it yet, but they will."

Crowdsourcing also gives developers a chance to sharpen their skill sets, he said.

"Say, I'm doing boring old Java EE at my day job, which pays the rent very well, but I want to do Node.js," he said, "or native iOS development or Ruby on Rails with deployment into Heroku. The bank I work at doesn't provide opportunities for me to do that. You can sharpen your skills in contests in crowdsourcing forums where the applications that you're building are increasingly enterprise class. This is a great opportunity for individual developers. If you want to sharpen your tool box, this is a fantastic place to do it."

That crowdsourcing trend points, if indirectly, to another trend: the social organization of developers. Jeffrey S. Hammond, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research specializing in application development and delivery, calls it The Emergence of Social Development.

"The social consciousness of developers is changing their orbits, so to speak," Hammond said. "It used to be that developers clustered around big ISVs, such as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. Those vendors were the planets around which the developers revolved. I believe those 'planets' are increasingly the open source communities, like Eclipse and Apache and Hadoop. GitHub is part of it, too. As the gravity shifts to communities from vendors -- and open source communities in particular -- they become much more important. And much more influential."

The implication here is that the developers themselves could well be calling more of the shots somewhere down the road.

"In a way, I see the software dev space going the way the music industry and the movie industry have gone, where the race for talent gives talent a much bigger say," he said.

Looking ahead to 2014, Hammond said it's simply a great time to be a developer.

"This is a big change from six or seven years ago, when people said all the development was going to China. I've seen that prediction completely turned on its head. That may be the case for maintaining existing systems, but for new systems, if you know this stuff -- if you know Node.js and you know how to use Bootstrap -- you can name your price these days."

Hammond is developing a new report on the shifting orbits of developers, and Knipp is working on a paper about developer crowdsourcing. I'll let you know when they're published.

Posted by John K. Waters on January 28, 2014