Your next boss might be a developer

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.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

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 Salesforce.com 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. Salesforce.com has 480,000 developers on its Force.com 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 Salesforce.com and others.

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

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