Citizen developers are no threat to professional coders -- yet

Independent noncoders won't displace established developers, but they can help clear up a business's IT backlog

"Citizen developers," who have little to no actual coding experience but are building applications anyway, are a growing presence in the workplace. Just don't expect them to displace professional developers anytime soon.

TrackVia, which offers an online platform for building business applications without coding, has released results of survey of more than 1,000 anonymous U.S. workers last month pertaining to the citizen developer trend. Big things are expected from these developers, according to TrackVia: "An emerging and growing community, citizen developers will play a key role in how businesses operate and how they find, buy, and use technology within the enterprise."

These developers tend to be in the 18- to 29-year-old range, although they also exist in older age brackets. "TrackVia's survey revealed that citizen developers are more ambitious, more likely to grow in their careers, and more likely to earn more money. In short, the citizen developers are the alpha dogs, the most likely to succeed," the company's report, entitled, "The next generation worker: The Citizen Developer," said.

Still, professional developers do not have to worry about citizen developers threatening their livelihoods.

At Forrester Research, analyst John Rymer says that citizen developers will not displace professionals. "There's not enough development talent to go around as it is," he noted. "Every organization has an IT backlog, right? Most of the software built by 'citizen developers' addresses requests on that backlog list -- stuff that is too small or too low a priority to get the attention of the corporate app dev teams."

But citizen developers can expand the software delivery capacity of their employers, Rymer said. "I've been making the argument for years that IT should provide managed platforms, e.g. TrackVia, SharePoint, and services, e.g. acccount lists, order data, and cost data, to enable employees to create the apps." Employees will create these applications anyway, and it is better for employee apps to run in a managed environment than on random PCs using random tools, Rymer said.

Still, there is a risk with citizen developers, Rymer cautioned. "They can make a negative impact if they create bad software that IT inherits and must fix and maintain. This is usually called 'rogue IT.' "

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