Keeping developer skills fresh

My co-worker Richard wrote up a laundry list of tactics to cultivate and maintain developer skills. It’s drawn from the tactics we’re seeing organizations put in place and a recent survey from the Cloud Foundry Foundation.

Internal events

While I used to scoff at internal brown bags and workshops, I’ve seen those be highly effective in organizations looking to buff up at their developer skills. It both transmits actually new information and shows developers that the company actually cares. Upping morale and skills is hard to beat.


Also, it looks like the continual cross-training you get from pair programming is effective. Staff keeps up to date from the micro level of new keyboard short cuts to the big picture stuff like architectural patterns and domain knowledge. Plus, they learn and practice working together and trusting each other.

More survey findings

The developer survey that Richard kicks off with has some more interesting answers. Here’s some details from the survey:

– “By a nearly 2:1 margin, they are choosing training over hiring or outsourcing as the preferred method for addressing a shortage of skills in their own companies.”
– “We suspect that the companies further along in their cloud journey are doing more interesting things and are more risk tolerant; developers find those jobs more attractive. However, those companies that still primarily rely on legacy architectures, don’t push the envelope or are only very sluggishly making efforts toward digital transformation, struggle to hire and retain people that have the skills necessary.”
– “the majority of companies (62%) express confidence in the abilities of their developers to “keep current” with their IT knowledge and skills. At an individual level, however, only 47% of developers express confidence in their own ability to keep current.”
– “By a large percentage (60%), companies say they first adopt a technology—then upskill, train, or hire as necessary. This is preferred to selecting a new technology based on the skills already available in the company (40%).”
– “By and large, companies are addressing the shortage of skills by training or upskilling existing people rather than outsourcing (61% versus 39%) or hiring (62% versus 38%). They are making use of a variety of training methods from formal internal trainings, vendor-led trainings to informal trainings like ‘lunch-and-learns.'”
– It was done in 2016Q3, over 845 respondents in an online survey. “The survey divided respondents into four broad IT ‘roles’: Developer 30%, Operations 30%, Manager 20%, and Line of business leadership 20%.” And spread across geographies and industries.

Just out: [Mobile] Developer Megatrends H1 2015

“Only 20% of mobile developers target enterprises, but 46% of them makes over $10K per month, versus 19% for consumer-oriented developers.” The other thing to note is how close we are to having “mobile developers” just upgraded to simply “developers.”

Just out: [Mobile] Developer Megatrends H1 2015

CD enables us to deliver the business value inherent in new software releases to our customers more quickly. This capability helps the company to stay a step ahead of the competition, in today’s competitive economic environment.

We noticed that the frequent releases enable the application development teams to get faster feedback from the users of the applications. The feedback enables the teams to work only on the useful features. When a feature is found not useful, no further effort will be spent on it. This helps the team to build the right product.

Before, the team usually got to know the thing that they were building was not useful, until after the next big release. By that time, they had already spent months of efforts on it.

Stack Overflow Survey 2015: Technologies Used, Loved, Disliked or Wanted

Java and JavaScript very popular. Coupled with the Eclipse community survey and the RedMonk amalgamation surveys, you’d get a good view of things.

“Over 26k developers from 157 countries answered 45 questions.”

Stack Overflow Survey 2015: Technologies Used, Loved, Disliked or Wanted

Eventually, to do a developer strategy your execs have to take a leap of faith

I’ve talking with an old collegue about pitching a developer-based strategy recently. They’re tryin to convince their management chain to pay attention to developers to move their infrastructure sales. There’s a huge amount of “proof” an arguments you can make to do this, but my experience in these kinds of projects had taught me that, eventually, the executive in charge just has to take a leap of faith. There’s no perfect slide that proves developers matter. As with all great strategies, there’s a stack of work, but the final call has to be pure judgement, a leap of faith.

“Why are they using Amazon instead of our multi-billion dollar suite?”

You know the story. Many of the folks in the IT vendor world have had a great, multi-decade run in selling infrastructure (hardware and software). All the sudden (well, starting about ten years ago), this cloud stuff comes along, and then things look weird. Why aren’t they just using our products? To cap it off, you have Apple in mobile just screwing the crap out of the analagous incumbants there.

But, in cloud, if you’re not the leaders, you’re obsssed with appealing to developers and operators. You know you can have a “go up the elevator” sale (sell to executives who mandate the use of technology), but you also see “down the elevator” people helping or hendering here. People complain about that SOAP interface, for some reason they like Docker before it’s even GA’ed, and they keep using these free tools instead of buying yours.

It’s not always the case that appealing to the “coal-facers” (developers and operators) is helpful, but chances are high that if you’re in the infrastructure part of the IT vendor world, you should think about it.

So, you have The Big Meeting. You lay out some charts, probably reference RedMonk here and there. And then the executive(s) still isn’t convinced. “Eh,” as one systems management vendor exec said to me most recently, “everyone knows developers don’t pay for anything.” And then, that’s the end.

There is no smoking gun

If you can’t use Microsoft, IBM, Apple, and open source itself (developers like it not just because it’s free, but because they actually like the tools!) as historic proof, you’re sort of lost. Perhaps someone has worked our a good, management consultant strategy-toned “lessons learned” from those companies, but I’ve never seen it. And belive me, I’ve spent months looking when I was at Dell working on strategy. Stephen O’Grady’s The New Kingmakers is great and has all the material, but it’s not in that much needed management consulting tone/style – maybe his upcoming book on Oracle will add to it.

Of course, if Microsoft and Apple don’t work out, don’t even think of deploying all the whacky consumer-space folks out like Twitter and Facebook, or something as detailed as Hudson/Jenkins or Oracle DB/MySQL/MariaDB.

I think SolarWinds might be an interesting example, and if Dell can figure out applying that model to their Software Group, it’d make a good case study. Both of these are not “developer” stories, but “operator” ones; same structural strategy.

Eventually, they just have to “get it”

All of this has lead me to believe that, eventually, the executives have to just take a leap of faith and “get it.” There’s only so much work you can do – slides and meetings – before you’re wasting your time if that epiphany doesn’t happen.