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The 7 crucial RPA developer skills

As enterprises move in on RPA, they need developers who can juggle both the business and technical sides of automation. Here are seven essential RPA developer skills.

Automation calls for knowledge on topics from process mapping to systems integration. To implement robotic process automation, commonly called RPA, companies need highly skilled professionals adept at managing automation processes.

RPA enables software, in the form of bots and management tools, to take over repetitive, high-volume tasks from human workers. But RPA developers need to know more than how to code.

While the technology side of RPA matters, the ability to understand business-side needs and processes is also critical. Organizations can hire an RPA developer with all these skills, or build a team where each member brings some of the desired skills to the group.

Like hundreds of companies nationwide, Mitchell Martin Inc., an IT staffing service provider based in New York, is hiring experts talented in RPA for both its own staffing needs and to work with its clients. However, CTO Anthony Giardina said it's tough to find developers with all the required skills and experience to help ensure that enterprise RPA initiatives succeed.

Hiring managers look for these RPA developer skills: knowledge of the existing tech, business processes expertise, process mapping, change management, data analytics, vendor evaluation and collaboration.

1. Coding skills

"Many RPA platforms are built on the Microsoft .NET Framework," said Tony Abel, RPA Practice Leader at Protiviti, a management consulting firm based in Menlo Park, Calif. "Visual Basic .NET (VB.NET) is the primary programming language used by RPA developers to access Microsoft's library of prebuilt methods to process the entirety of data types that may flow through an RPA solution."

Since Microsoft Office products are some of the most common applications used by enterprises, they are also among the most common applications targeted by RPA efforts, Abel said. Many RPA platforms provide out-of-the-box, low-code functionality, but he noted that it benefits RPA developers to have experience with Visual Basic for Applications, an event-driven programming language that enables task automation within Excel and the MS Office applications.

Because database integration is routine in RPA, Abel added that developers should also be familiar with SQL. Web development programming languages are also beneficial, including HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Finally, experience with Python will also help developers write the custom code and access libraries that expand RPA functionality.

2. Knowledge of the technology environment

Hiring managers want an automation team that thoroughly understands the organization's internal systems, as RPA requires integration with multiple enterprise systems.

"You need people who can bring ideas and data sets to life with code, who can interface with all the critical applications and devices," said Paul Flaharty, district president at Robert Half, an enterprise IT staffing and management solution provider based in Menlo Park, Calif.

3. Business process knowledge

An RPA team needs professionals who understand the enterprise's business and the processes that drive it. This expertise is what will help them identify which processes are good candidates for RPA or another form of automation.

"You have to have someone who understands the process very well, who can understand any deviation that has to fold into the automation," said Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at CompTIA, a trade association that oversees and issues professional IT certifications. Robinson noted that familiarity with methodologies such as Six Sigma or Lean is one of the most attractive RPA developer skills.

4. Process mapping skills

Mitchell Martin's Giardina said he also needs RPA developers who can distill processes down to their most basic parts, track the movement of each of those parts, and clearly map the flow of decision logic through a software system. This architectural skill might require familiarity with process mining software, which is used to analyze the data and logs created during various processes and identify potential bottlenecks. Additionally, these RPA developers should be able to interview business-side workers to understand the precise activities they perform that make up the larger business process.

5. Change management capabilities

You don't need the most advanced developer to create automation.

RPA development teams need proficiency in technical change management, Abel, said. Updates made to systems integrated with automated processes could create an unwanted impact. As such, Abel, who leads the firm's RPA solutions team, wants RPA professionals to clearly understand how and why a change impacts any programs designed to automate tasks. Then, they need to decide what updates to make to the RPA bots in response to those current or upcoming changes.

6. Data analytics experience

For Robert Half's Flaharty, one of the top RPA developer skills is a competency with data analytics. RPA transforms complex data sets and process knowledge into a set of defined rules used to organize and automate tasks, he said. "You're starting with the data set, and arriving at a finished product."

Similarly, CompTIA's Robinson calls for math skills -- particularly probability -- in RPA developers. Probability is a huge part of handling automation deployments that involve machine learning and AI components.

7. Experience with RPA platforms

Hiring managers say it helps for members of their automation teams to have some experience with RPA tools on the market that embrace the low-code model, including tools like Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, EdgeVerve, Kofax, NICE, Pega and UiPath. While coding skills are a big part of RPA, candidates who are capable with these platforms may not necessarily need extensive coding skills or expertise in a range of programming languages to get work done. "You don't need the most advanced developer to create automation," Giardina said.

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