Survey finds widespread reliance on non-developer developers

Enterprises increasingly looking to 'citizen developers' to close IT skills gaps.

Does the concept of "citizen developer" mean anything? Eight out of ten enterprises now say they are working with "citizen developers," professionals operating outside the scope of enterprise IT -- and likely outside the enterprise itself -- to build applications. 

Keyboard Photo by Joe McKendrick
Photo: Joe McKendrick

That's the key takeaway from a recent survey of 1,400 IT executives released by by the IBM Center for Applied Insights. "These citizen developers help to close the skills gap for application development to drive greater collaboration and innovation across cloud, analytics, mobile and social technologies."

So who exactly are these citizen developers? They're application developers with some other job title. As the study's authors define it, a citizen developer is "an end user or hobbyist programmer who creates new business applications as a side venture outside of their normal work responsibilities." They come from everywhere -- other parts of the enterprise, other companies, open source communities, academia and freelancers. According to IBM, forward-looking companies -- the "pacesetters" -- have learned to make the most of this non-developer developer talent.

Is the citizen developer a new trend? The urgency comes from skills gaps that are getting hard to fill through conventional employment. In the survey, 40 percent of executives say they are having difficulties finding the IT skills they need. Companies have actually been learning to rely on talent outside their IT department for some time -- from the rise of packaged software in the 1980s to outsourcing in the 1990s to open source communities in the last decade. These days, many organizations are tapping into cloud services, APIs and apps for features and functions -- designed and built by somebody else -- to better support productivity and business processes.

So what's different now? The abundance of development tools and IT services in the cloud have opened up an abundance of opportunities for non-traditional developers. They may be part of the shadow IT trend, but not necessarily, explains Darryl Taft of eWeek. Taft cites a TrackVia survey which finds that citizen developers are more likely to assume ownership and build their own applications to get the things they need done.

They're also less likely to rely on IT, the TrackVia study says. "Citizen developers feel that they should have the freedom to choose the software and applications they use as part of their daily work. More than half of citizen developers say they are most qualified to make this choice, instead of IT or their manager."