How the Developer Workforce Initiative will generate more talent with three distinct approaches
The Application Developers Alliance has revealed a three-tier strategy targeting at addressing the critical shortage in enterprise software development talent. According to Jake Ward, president of the Alliance, they plan to work with corporate partners in the Developer Workforce Initiative to implement an immediate, a long-term and a holistic approach to solving this problem.
In an interview, Ward explained what each of those strategic tiers entails and what they hope the Developer Workforce Initiative’s efforts will accomplish.
Ward believes that there are number of talented developers who are limited by a general unfamiliarity with large-scale enterprise and the lack of a defined career path that is often found in traditional professions.
To address this issue, Ward said the “immediate” approach involves raising the level of expertise and comfort with large, enterprise systems — mainly through the distribution of easily accessible educational materials and teaching resources. This, he said, will allow developers who may currently be working with small-scale applications in closed environments, such as amateur hobbyists, to become more familiar with the level of sophistication and skills required and pursue a career in developing enterprise applications.
Another aspect of this approach involves creating what Ward called a “professional development career trajectory” that allows developers to create a career plan based on both their interests and existing skills. The group also focuses on connecting talented developers with the companies looking for that expertise.
“We think that as an essential workforce that is growing in importance every day, they should at a minimum be able to plan their own careers,” Ward said.
The goal of the “long term” approach, Ward said, is to ensure that development career teachings become embedded within elementary, high school and college curriculum. This includes working with educational leaders, government and partners in the Developer Workforce Initiative to create frameworks around developer training and increase the distribution of learning resources.
Bringing development skill training to the class has already been pushed at a government level. Last year, the White House issued a press release announcing the creation of “TechHire,” which is described as “a bold multi-sector effort and call to action to empower Americans with the skills they need,” by working with universities and community colleges as well as utilizing ‘coding boot camps,’ and high-quality online courses that train developers quickly. Programs in Delaware are training students in Java and .Net, and programs established in Louisville, Ky., are working to standardize employer recognition of software development skillsets.
When asked how he feels about the government promoting and providing funding for these developer education programs, Jake said he and the Application Developers Alliance are in full support.
“It’s the language of our lives,” Ward said. “Why wouldn’t we want people to learn it?”
The final piece of the puzzle, according to Ward, is the holistic approach: Creating larger appreciation and awareness of the development workforce and profession.
“People need to know that [being a software developer is] one of the top jobs in the country,” said Ward.
Ward said that while the Application Developers Alliance sees growth in the general understanding and appreciation of software development, there is a still a large number of potential developers missing out on career opportunities. Ward fears that these potential enterprise developers either don’t understand there is potential for a viable career in software, don’t know how to access learning resources or believe it is simply too difficult a field to learn about or excel at.
Through efforts driven by the Developers Workforce Initiative, Ward believes the Alliance and its partners can successfully promote awareness and appreciation of the profession and the skills it requires. He hopes this will ultimately result in the increased strength and size of developer workforce over the long term.
When Liz Rush started her career in software development, working in algorithm programming and the use of algorithms in data analytics was not on her agenda.
“Just the term ‘algorithm development’ frightened me back then, and many developers I meet have the same feeling,” said Rush, developer evangelist for Algorhitmia, an open marketplace which now offers 1,600+ algorithms. Her job is demystifying algorithms, algorithm development and the use of pre-built algorithms to speed up software development projects and enable data analytics.
I talked with Rush about how shared algorithms eliminate a build-your-own (BYO) bottleneck in the application development process. We also chatted about her presentation, “Your Big Data’s Boring: Let’s Talk about Algorithms,” which she delivered at the 2016 Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco.
Finding a love for coding
Rush became a software developer through Ada Developers Academy, a non-profit, tuition-free code school for women in Seattle. “That’s when I fell in love with coding,” she said. Before that, she worked in marketing and translation jobs, where she acquired skills that still come into play in her developer evangelist role.
“I do a lot of code writing and producing content, like sample apps,” she said. She also creates demos and presentations that show how to reap the benefits of sharing algorithms between departments within an enterprise.
Why big data algorithms matter
At the LWT Summit, Rush told the audience of 1,500 tech pros how they can use algorithms to get value out of data. “Big data is useless unless you have the tools to do anything with it,” she said. Via algorithms, she explained, developers can see patterns in data of all types, such as images and audio, to classify unstructured data and do other analytics tasks.
Rush also discussed career and community-building opportunities in algorithm development during the LWT Summit. She said the growing algorithm outsourcing movement allows users to pick and choose their algorithms, giving a large number of software teams access to quality algorithms developed by experts.
Until recently, most enterprise development teams built their own algorithms. “Everybody wanted to do it themselves, sometimes just to prove that they could do it themselves,” Rush said. “I understand that impulse, as you can learn a lot from the process.”
But these teams should realize that while a BYO approach to creating algorithms worked pretty well when businesses used fewer applications, today it can limit the ability to rapidly develop new products and services. Applications are evolving rapidly, Rush noted, and shared algorithms help businesses keep their apps on the leading edge.
The value of an algorithm marketplace
Many companies understand they need an algorithm to do a specific task, but acquiring those needed algorithms is not always easy. “Traditionally, they’ve had to take the costly path of building it in-house or hiring an algorithm developer,” Rush said. Via a marketplace, businesses have the less-costly option of choosing pre-designed algorithms rather than reinventing the wheel themselves.
Start-ups, in particular, can benefit for using an algorithm marketplace. “They can get the value from the algorithm quickly without paying to build it or risking building it improperly,” she said. “Sharing algorithmic knowledge is a sure way to improve development practices.”
Enterprise application integration has traditionally relied on software-based middleware solutions in order to connect critical internal and client-facing applications to important backend systems and resources. But is enterprise middleware, as we know it, dead in the ground? Continued »
Analysts and B2B managers say the willingness to handle B2B integration via mobile is there, but it just may not be time yet.
When you’re an IT department of two, with 150 outside sales folks plus 150 people in the building, everything just needs to work.
Too bad that really doesn’t happen very often. And Jesse Davis, network admin for pharmaceutical company Derma Tran (a job he recently left), was reaching the breaking point. The company was using Citrix Xen to run its virtual desktops and between needing an extra layer of virtual desktops to run the virtual apps (which was costly), the map drives failing, restrictions the company couldn’t change and endless errors the tiny IT staff was spending virtually all of their time simply putting out fires.
Davis decided it was time for a change and looked at cloud provider dinCloud and its options for virtual private data centers. Dave Graffia, vice president of sales for dinCloud, explained that simplicity, cost and performance are what brings customers looking for help. “The whole process of building a data center from scratch is just becoming overwhelming now in a way it hasn’t been before,” he said. “There are lots of moving parts, R&D, capital investment and so many layers. Our best customers end up being those people who tried it and then came to us for help.”
Cost of course is also incredibly important. Graffia pointed to a Gartner Group study that showed desktops cost companies $300 to $500 a month. Virtual desktops are of course much less pricey, and using dinCloud, companies can provision or de-provision quickly. And thanks to good tracking, the dreaded “cloud cost creep” shouldn’t be an issue.
“From an IT perspective, the virtual workspace is very easy to use,” Davis said. “Now we take maybe 10 percent of the calls we used to.” In fact, his small team is now able to tackle some other niggling jobs — like email encryption and remote device management — and eventually they’re hoping to redo the camera system around the entire compound.
Choosing a workable solution has changed everything for the IT team, Davis stressed. “It has made the world of difference for us. We’ve gone from being constantly on the phone with the cloud provider to being the Maytag Man.”
Today, midsized companies are struggling to hire tech talent, especially those with advanced DevOps and Enterprise Architect-level skills. Fortune 2000 companies have the financial clout to attract developers and IT services providers. Meanwhile, SMBs often face a tough, multi-month slog to find contract tech services providers, according to Steve Mezak, CEO of Accelerance, a company which has created a global network of development services providers.
Mezak’s assessment reminded me of interviewing Java FX expert Rob Terpilowski at JavaOne 2015 about his challenges in hiring DevOps contractors. The process of filling contract positions used to take a couple of weeks and now takes two-to-three months, said Terpilowski, software architect for Lynden Inc., a freight shipping and logistics company in Seattle.
Mezak and Andy Hilliard, Accelerance president, talked to me recently about the current developer shortage and their IT outsourcing services. We also discussed why the rise of connected applications is driving the need for enterprise architecture change and, logically, for highly-skilled enterprise architects.
Mezak and Hilliard did a lot of legwork before launching Accelerance’s IT outsourcing services. “We got on airplanes and visited and evaluated IT services companies around the world,” Mezak said. “We looked at hundreds of companies and ranked their expertise in about 40 different technology areas.” So far, Accelerance has 50 certified partners in 30 different countries.
Companies using Accelerance usually find DevOps service providers in six days or less, largely because Accelerance has a list of who has the right tech skills to offer. Just evaluating independent developers or service firms’ skillsets takes more time than most businesses have, said Mezak.
Hilliard added that the complexity of IT today increases the need for and difficulty of qualifying contractors. They need experts who can help with decisions about and implementations of continuous integration and continuous deployment processes, containerization, microservices and more. “There’s a need for a much more sophisticated level of talent, more at the architect level,” he said.
It’s unusual for companies to ask Accelerance specifically for DevOps experts, when seeking personnel. “They’re saying, ‘I just need help getting these web applications built and deployed,’” Mezak said. That can often require what is called DevOps expertise, of course.
But IT architectures are much more dynamic today than they have been it in the past. “Architectural support is critical now because how these applications are deployed and how they communicate,” Mezak said.
Virtualization and the cloud have enabled organizations to process staggering amounts of data by unbuckling server-side limitations. Today, companies handle billions of pieces of data per day, intensifying the challenge of analyzing that data. Experts predict organizations that integrate data analytics technologies with business processes and enterprise architectures will gain a competitive advantage in 2016 through the use of statistics-backed user and market information. Continued »
How hard is it to recruit tech talent in the San Francisco Bay Area? “Ridiculously hard when compared with other parts of the world,” according to Jason Smale, director of product for San Francisco-based Zendesk. While researching the challenges of hiring IT pros for our recent developer shortage survival guide, I talked with Smale, an Australian native, about his experiences with recruiting tech pros in various global markets and Zendesk’s distributed development team approach.
“San Francisco is a very different hiring landscape from Australia, Dublin, Copenhagen, Singapore or anywhere,” Smale said. “It’s always going to be competitive, because you’ve got some of the best minds in the technology space here.” This concentration of talent fosters an abundance of tech start-ups. The 2015 Startup Genome Project surveys put Silicon Valley first in number of startups, and the area has been number one for years.
Competition for software developers and engineers is intense for another reason: the number of product-oriented technology companies in the San Francisco-Silicon Valley area is also greater than in other tech hubs. “It’s a very different mix from different regions around the world,” said Smale.
In Copenhagen, Melbourne and Dublin, for example, Zendesk competes for tech talent against banks and large telecommunication companies. “There technology is a supporting function rather than the core business, which is the opposite from San Francisco,” he said. It’s easier for a technology company to recruit software engineers there, because “technologists want to come to organizations where they’re going to have the best impact.”
The tough competition for talent in Silicon Valley led Zendesk to move to distributed engineering teams. “We committed to having engineering resources outside of San Francisco,” he said. Today, 50% of its developers reside outside of San Francisco.
The benefits of the distributed team model outweigh the negative of not having face-to-face interaction. “Having a global presence has really increased the diversity inside our organization, which is really powerful to the culture,” Smale said. “Also, it removes the groupthink in many ways and has people challenge each other with alternative technical solutions. It has led to our building better product.”
Time zone issues are the biggest barrier to making distributed development work well. Teams at Zendesk had to be organized so that people working on the same piece of a project have a two-to-three hour time zone overlap.
To illustrate the problem, Smale noted that 8 a.m. in San Francisco is 9:30 p.m. in India, but 1 p.m. in San Francisco is 8 a.m. in Australia. Obviously, teaming engineers in the two latter locations makes sense.
Organizing distributed teams so that no developers have to work “crazy hours” is an example of Zendesk’s focus on retaining employees. Another example is the company’s move to offering 16 weeks of paid leave for both mothers and fathers of newborns. “We think about what policies will help our teams remain sustainable to do long-term,” said Smale.
Zendesk’s approaches to thriving during the tech talent shortage are similar to others our editors and reporters have uncovered while reporting on this topic. For more information, check out articles on worldwide developer pay trends, improving developers’ quality of life as a hiring and retention strategy and how the shortage has forced IT firms to lower new-hire requirements.
As tech writer George Lawton points out in a recent article, robotics is quickly moving from the realm of science fiction into business fact. But how hard is it for your everyday programmer to create their own robot software? Thanks to open source initiatives, it may not be so difficult. Here’s some stuff you can make. Continued »
I was in for a surprise when I sat down to interview Aga Bojko, the author of the first how-to book on using eye tracking for user experience (UX) research. Bojko immediately said that she doesn’t use eye tracking in her work as Indiegogo user research director, so much of our conversation focused on the effective, low-cost user testing approaches and tools she does use.
Eye or gaze tracking, the act of using a device to see where on the screen the user is looking, is an accepted user research method, but it’s not a practical one in a fast-paced product development environment, said Bojko. Although the prices of eye tracking tools are decreasing – consider The Eye Tribe’s $199 device – it’s not just about the tool, but the time and skills needed to use it and analyze and interpret the eye movement data correctly. “I’d never ask for an eye tracker, even though I wrote the book, and that should tell you something.”
The rise of mobile devices and Agile development also make eye tracking impractical for many businesses.
Getting standard UX research done fast enough in Agile iterations is hard, and adding eye tracking would make it harder. “It adds to the setup time, and … there’s time spent in analysis,” Bojko said. “In quick, iterative user testing, you learn just a bit more with eye tracking. Is it worth it? Not with the speed that we’re moving here.”
As for its use in mobile user interfaces (UIs), “it’s hard to do eye tracking on small screens, because eye trackers still suffer from accuracy issues,” Bojko told me. “It works much better on larger interfaces.”
Tracking users’ eye movements may not be a regular practice for Bojko and her research team, but personal contact with users is. Indiegogo’s researchers meet with customers in the headquarters in San Francisco and also go to customers’ and potential customers’ businesses and homes.
When a face-to-face meeting isn’t possible, Bojko uses remote UX testing services, like Validately and UserTesting. Such services provide videos of people using products and offer a very quick turnaround time.
Overall, Bojko enjoys the moments of revelation that come from seeing people use the product features she helps create. “There’s nothing that beats watching people achieve their goals using our product and getting their feedback on the spot,” she said. “That’s why I was glad to get a job not specifically for my eye tracking expertise, but for my user experience research expertise in general.”