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2014 Developer Opportunities and Challenges, Part I: Embedded, APIs, Mobile Systems and More

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Now that the confetti has settled, I thought it would be a good time to talk with industry mavens about what lies ahead in the coming year for developers, both the challenges and the opportunities.

Not surprisingly, many of the industry watchers I spoke to agreed that machine-to-machine learning (M2M) and the Internet of Things (IoT) offered enormous opportunities for developers to get into the embedded space. "Having the Java people get involved will make it easier for those not familiar with this space," said Michael Azoff, principal analyst at Ovum, "but [coding for] real-time systems is a skill and requires some domain expertise. It's not a pure software space, but demand will be huge for the skills."

Azoff also observed that 2014 will continue to see niche languages like Erlang, Scala, and Lisp finding a place in more developers' tool boxes, as Java continues its evolution with lambda expressions, which are coming in Java 8. The ability to add functional programming features to Java "could be the next big programming paradigm shift," he said. "It's the one to watch."

IDC analyst Al Hilwa sees 2014 as "the age of the API redesign." "We are entering the golden age of APIs," he said in an email. "API design becomes a mainstream developer discipline. Organizations re-design APIs to new realities of mobile networks and devices. API marketplaces proliferate. API management will be essential." He also said that, despite its growing popularity and maturity, HTML5 will not replace native mobile app development through 2017. Instead, HTML5 will co-exist with native development, he said. APIs that enable Web pages to use the WebSocket protocol will see increased use in mobile development, for example.

2014 is rife with buzzwords, but a few -- mobile, cloud, big data, and social -- comprise what Gartner Group calls a "nexus of forces." Each has a separate impact, explained Gartner analyst Mark Driver, but together they're causing profound changes. The challenge for developers lies in creating a synergistic relationship among these forces, he said.

"Building a mobile system for example isn't just about building a mobile system," he said. "It's about all the things you have to do to feed that system and integrate with it. You start asking questions like, How will a mobile system cause me to have to go back and undo all of my existing Web architectures that I've had in place for ten years? How does big data affect how I do these things? What new frameworks and best practices to I have to bring in to build truly cloud-native applications? It really is a challenging time for developers."

Mobile is somewhat central to that challenge, Driver said. "Mobile is now assumed to be an element of virtually any new project in the enterprise," he said, "which is about much more than simply shrinking a screen down to fit on a smart phone. It's not only a separate set of tools and languages, it's a different way of building applications, like the reactive programming model, for example, which involves architectures for systems that deliver highly responsive user experiences with a real-time feel -- architectures that are relatively new to a lot of enterprise developers."

Mobility is key component of in a list of strategies that have created a new "business reality" for developers, said Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. But 2014 could offer new leadership opportunities for developers as businesses acclimate to new mobile-first, cloud-first, and data-centric strategies. Developers, he said, are in a unique position to help move companies forward in ways that others in IT are struggling with.

"We're now adjusting to this new business reality," he said, "and software has never been more critical. Developers can advocate -- from their vantage -- on how best to define strategy and how to attain it. They could, for example, align with line of business managers on key business objectives and requirements, and then sell that together to the operations and IT leadership. They can, in effect, lead, thanks to disruption; they can put the horse firmly in front of the cart, where it belongs."

"So if developers or app dev groups can advocate now for what they believe is right to get to mobile-first using cloud-best to then produce and deliver the data and analysis where it does the most good," he added, "they will immensely help their company, while improving their credibility, standing and worth. They might even make it a better place to work at and thrive."

Posted by John K. Waters on January 21, 2014