Your next boss might be a developer

Your next boss might be a developer

Summary: Developers are finding themselves back in the spotlight as the shifting computing landscape clamors for their skills. Recently, I stepped outside my ID world to attend the Glue Conference and see what's up.


Developers are enjoying a renaissance.

"There is a swagger," says Dan Kador, CTO and developer at startup Keen.IO, a TechStars Cloud company he co-founded with three two other developers.

"It has been clear over the last couple of years in San Francisco and the Valley that the cult of personality in the tech world is shifting away from the Larrys and Bills and Erics - going away from the classic CEOs into engineers. Developers are a hot commodity," says Kador, who left the safety of billion-dollar giant to flex his developer muscle.

Kador, whose company develops analytics infrastructure to record event data, and other dev types might be biased in hanging their stars atop the tech world, but trends and numbers don't lie.

The availability of platform services such as Amazon Web Services provide an easy, cheap and sophisticated environment for developers to play and prosper (re: Pinterest).  Software services are taking off in the enterprise, mobile applications are exploding everywhere, open APIs are white hot for sharing data, Hackathons are trendy with 160 in the first three months of 2012 alone, and landing top-flight rock star developers is akin to pro sports free-agency.

"The web is unleashing creativity again and developers are the natural people to benefit," says James Governor, founder of the IT analyst firm Redmonk.

Stars have emerged such as Netflix's Adrian Cockcroft, whose 4-hour workshop at the recent Glue Conference was so packed that attendees took to Twitter to beg for a bigger space and adjustments to the AC.

Alex Payne is another. He co-founded BankSimple after leaving Twitter where he developed the API that fostered millions of Twitter-based applications built by more than 750,000 developers worldwide.

More than a million applications have been built for Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems. Facebook just opened an apps store. has 480,000 developers on its platform, according to its February earnings report. Sears, which pioneered the product catalog, has replaced it with an API for developers, U.K. retailer Tesco has a similar model around APIs as do unlikely sources such as New York City with its OpenData program.

"As more and more organizations want to expose APIs and as they become successful with that strategy the people who helped deliver that success will be advantaged and promoted," says Governor.

He says the broader economy is beginning to understand the value of software engineering and the people who do it. "We are bullish on this trend," he says.

And so are others.

"What we are seeing is yet another layer in the cycle that started when compilers took over, when languages got better, when the OS gave you better libraries and it has kept on over the decades and this is the next threshold that has been crossed in high-power-for-low-effort to a developer," says Phil Becker, who has spent more than 40 years in the computer industry, pioneered the BBS, and now runs PLB Ventures, which helps produce the Glue Conference.

"The act of developing gets closer to the person who wants it done and that is why the results are better and faster," says Becker. "And that is why you are seeing this explosion around developers."

There is no doubt that the wired economy is transforming the Internet from the days when every company wanted a Web presence to an Internet where data flow is the prize.

"The only people who can see the data are the developers," says Sam Ramji, vice president for strategy at Apigee. "So the developer is no longer a commodity as you try to disrupt competition and become the best, first, fastest player in your industry and the wired economy."

Ramji says it is a competitive advantage for companies with top developers versus companies that don't have them.

The equation is being put to the test by the likes of and others.

Pat Patterson, a developer evangelist at, outlined at the Glue Conference last week the company's mobile software development kit and its service.

"It's all about developer empowerment," he told attendees. "Developers now don't have to ask permission to go off and try things. The resources are out there."

Companies seeking innovative apps based on their APIs are courting developers to contests called Hackathons and are paying handsomely for the effort.

The top-prize handed out so far this year at a Hackathon was $100,000, according to ProgrammableWeb, which tracks the open API trend.

"When you can complete the steps from getting the idea to finished product in 24 hours, that concept just 2-3 years ago would have been insane to visualize," says Becker.

The concepts overlap the enterprise, where developers are becoming heroes to business teams.

"We see that a lot," says Alistair Farquharson, CTO of SOA Software whose Atmosphere portal connects businesses and developers. "We see the business guys having their own little private group of developers."

It's that kind of awareness and respect that is fostering the re-positioning of developers into the high beam of the technology spotlight.

"The web has shown that the best people to deliver great services to users are people who have an engineering heritage," says Redmonk's Governor.

See also:

Topic: Software Development


John Fontana is a journalist focusing on authentication, identity, privacy and security issues. Currently, he is the Identity Evangelist for strong authentication vendor Yubico, where he also blogs about industry issues and standards work, including the FIDO Alliance.

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  • that's a small world you live in

    I see mostly the opposite.
    The Linux Geek
  • Really?!!

    I have not seen this at all! I hope it is the trend moving forward. I mostly see companies outsourcing, cutting pay, refusing remote working and complaining about the cost of bug fixing, quality and duration. Developers (especially SR. developers) are treated so poorly that one the economy comes back there will be some heavy job shuffling going. Please don't get me started on all the resume lying and frauds out there. People that developed 10 years ago and think they still got it. I think it definitely is time for corporations to recognize the software engineers for what they are - technical innovators for companies.
  • The real folks running tech companies...

    in the second generation are usually MBA guys with a trick pony, like outsourcing or bringing out the company stock in an IPO. Under them are the Finance Unit who look to minimize risk (this also minimizes profits, but they don't care. Flat out don't care.) Then, there are the IT "Professionals" who I call the suits. The tech leaders know they are going to loose their jobs. They call upon IT to fix the problem. IT knows they can't fix it, but they need the charge numbers (they are voracious that way!). So, the best bet is to tighten up accounting, trim as much as possible out of the software budget and lobby for a huge business management software suite that will take time to implement and show benefit. Then they get their LinkedIn profiles up to date. Middle managers are terrified to say anything, since they are usually second to be trimmed after software. Yep, they're in their office updating LinkedIn too...

    This is why Apple is great, at least up till now. We'll have to see.
    Tony Burzio
  • What do you call an extroverted developer?

    A developer that looks at your shoes instead of his own when talking to you.
  • Lead, code, or get out of the way?

    I think not. Developers are more likely to be the slappee.
  • New way of doing business.

    Definitely a new way of doing business the old way - back to the basics and putting the now much smarter developer in the drivers seat. This is essential to survive at all long term. These are very hungry, very motivated, very smart teams out to kick some butt. Both management and developers of old school development houses will have a very difficult time flipping the cultural switch. For developers to who much power is given, much is expected. Not for everyone. Just because this is your fantasy job does not mean you can cut it.
  • Roll your own

    I was, am and will be a developer and I still even (gasp) code occasionally. The secret is to run your own business and the upside is you never have any problem talking to the other developers in your business.

    Frankly, if you can't understand the product, you shouldn't be in management.
  • Doesn't look very modern to me

    "The only people who can see the data are the developers" - Sam Ramji

    Then give the users a decent query tool for heaven's sake!

    This renaissance of the developer looks like a piece of out and out Luddism where every time someone in the business needs a report they have to find a developer to write an API for them.

    Or is this a renaissance of the days when you had a room full of programmers (COBOL then, Java now) taking days to do things that can be done in 5 minutes today using modern declarative tools?

    I don't think Apigee are very likely to be the "best, first, fastest player in your industry and the wired economy" with these kind of attitudes.
  • Symbionic/parasidic relationship...

    Developers innovate, create content and products. Everyone else is just overhead and machinery needed to sell it and keep everyone employed. Developers are the base of the inverted pyramid that is a company. If the visionary developers leave a company, so do the customers, the investors, the jobs, eventually its existance.
  • A wise man once said ...