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Application Developers Alliance tackles developer talent gap

In response to the shortage of capable software developers and engineers, a coalition called the Developer Workforce Initiative has formed to address the needs of these professionals and those who hire them.

A new, large-scale campaign, formed under the auspices of the nonprofit Application Developers Alliance, is targeted at addressing the pervasive shortage of talented software developers and engineers.

Today's organizations, particularly large enterprises, struggle to hire development and engineering talent with the skills they need. On top of that, their current developer teams may not even have the right skills or tools available to properly manage enterprise systems. The Application Developers Alliance's new Developer Workforce Initiative aims to solve both of those problems by providing and improving educational resources and certification options. Fostering more agile enterprise development know-how is another goal of the initiative, which is supported by such tech leaders as Google, Intel and Facebook. 

These and other tech businesses backing the Developer Workforce Initiative believe that the industry needs to do more to expand the developer workforce and empower developers with education, said Jake Ward, president of the Application Developers Alliance.

Matthew Baier, COO at the application development platform provider, which has signed on to support the Developer Workforce Initiative, agreed, saying: "The lack of skill and of man and woman power is the single biggest challenge that's facing our industry today."

To facilitate a stronger developer workforce, Ward said the Alliance and its partners in the initiative aim to bring more order and raise the level of expertise in the existing developer workforce in three distinct areas. He and other members of this initiative maintained that making this effort work requires involvement from enterprise business leaders as well as the developers themselves.

The three pieces of developer empowerment

The first step toward raising these skill levels, Ward said, is to focus on increasing the frequency and distribution of research regarding tools and resources developers need and how they can be properly used within their individual environments. To accomplish this, the Application Developers Alliance has worked with members of its Professional Development Committee, which includes a number of large and small companies that have provided access to human resource departments, unique curriculum development groups and engineering expertise centers, to gain insight into what developers need in general and in specific verticals.

Ward said that members of the Development Workforce Initiative will focus on creating "specific company core competency testing so that a company that has a very clear understanding of what it is they need their developers to do can utilize our tools to ensure that they do it." Ward also said that they plan to make that skill competency testing widely available "so that somebody looking for a job inside that company or a company like it can take that test and show to the company that they know what they're talking about."

Ward said the second focus of the initiative is creating vertical-specific certification efforts. Although Ward admitted that most development and engineering jobs do not require certification, there are certain highly regulated industries and verticals in which having a standard developer and engineer certification method could help those professionals land more jobs.

"There are a lot of developers working at companies that wouldn't find value in a certification necessarily," Ward said. "But for verticals like financial technology, there's a real value in certifying that somebody understands the regulatory environments that they're working in, the complexities of the system they're building on and the nature of the products that they're bringing to market."

The final piece, Ward said, is developing and refining curriculum development. He said the Initiative will accomplish this by gathering input about developer work habits from participating companies and from "non-commercial" research. They would then aim to distribute to a wider developer audience "without picking winners and losers in the marketplace," he said.

"The immediate [effort] is about raising the expert level or the comfort with complicated systems for developers who otherwise may have been hobbyists or focused largely on mobile inside a closed application environment where, frankly, there isn't the same level of complication, sophistication and skill required to be really good at it," Ward said.

The role of the enterprise

According to Ward, the other "face" of the Developers Workforce Initiative is that enterprise leaders also have to rethink the way they support developers within their own organization in order to strengthen the workforce and bring new levels of agility to the enterprise often found in today's startup companies.

"A small company can do things quickly because they are inherently less bureaucratic," said Ward, who said the lack of which often significantly restrains innovation within the enterprise and may dissuade certain developers from seeking a role within the enterprise. In fact, Ward said that many enterprises are already making big efforts to actively create a more "startup-like" environment in terms of agility.

"We are seeing increasingly that Goliath is becoming David, or at least trying to create 'pockets of David,' whether by partnering with accelerators or doing it internally," Ward said, referencing efforts by companies like Barclays to create financial technology accelerators and Visa to create open lab programs for developers.

"All of that is focused on getting to the next generation of technology around the monolith," Ward said. "It's the next generation of developers for the next generation of marketplaces."

Honing development skills

Proponents of the Initiative, including CEO Neha Sampat and Baier, believe that although there is a responsibility for companies to foster more Agile environments, developers also have a responsibility to improve skill sets and be more innovative -- something the Initiative hopes to support through their efforts.

Enterprise developers particularly are misunderstood, and they need to be empowered if we're going to take the next step in the innovation lifecycle.
Jake Wardpresident, Application Developers Alliance

To do so, Baier advised that developers learn to "step out of their comfort zone" when it comes to their skills and projects, adding that new advancements in development tools can help make that easy.

"If you're a JavaScript developer, you shouldn't just create websites," Baier said. "You should write mobile apps. You should connect systems ... do things that add value for your company." Baier also added that developers should focus on sharpening IoT skills to increase their own appeal. This includes becoming familiar with the languages used to write IoT-based applications and services, and thinking of useful business cases for these applications.

Sampat advised that developers also can add value to their organization and their resume by building cloud-based microsites that can be built as an initiative separate from critical lines of business. These efforts, which have been traditionally referred to as "shadow IT" and used to be something IT departments would push back on are now welcoming as part of the technological development process.

"It was a rogue effort," Sampat said. "Now it's becoming the recommended approach: Go build a microsite, but do it using these tools and make sure you integrate with our customer database, and that way all the main data systems are still aligned." Sampat believes that through partnership with the Developers Workforce Initiative, they can create frameworks around creating these microsites and teach developers how to turn these projects into true, business-level proofs of concepts, something they will need to learn in order to raise their own value.

Looking forward

Ward believes that this initiative comes at a time when there is a critical need for a stronger development workforce.

"There is a clear need within the industry for this to happen," Ward said. "Enterprise developers particularly are misunderstood, and they need to be empowered if we're going to take the next step in the innovation lifecycle."

But although the need is great, Ward is also confident that the Application Developers Alliance and its partners will be successful with the Developers Workforce Initiative, largely due to the commitment displayed by many of today's companies, from small startups to large enterprises.

"For the first time," Ward said, "there appears to be an industry-wide commitment to empowering those developers, bringing them to the table earlier in the process and significantly changing the way we think about software development as a profession."

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