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Bernard Golden, May 21, 2014
I just read through “The New Kingmakers,” a thought-provoking book by Stephen O'Grady of the small, but influential, analyst firm Redmonk. The thesis of the book is straightforward: technology changes have moved developers, previously of little importance within the world of IT, to a central direction-setting role within companies.
O'Grady attributes this change to four factors:
Open source, which democratizes both creation and access to software components, enabling developers direct access to useful software without having to obtain budget or endure sales interactions. This accounts for the move to PHP, MySQL, Cassandra, and Cloud Foundry rather than their proprietary equivalents.
Cloud computing, which makes infrastructure to run software (especially the just-mentioned open source) available for pennies. Amazon Web Services kicked off this revolution and it is continuing to cause pain to traditional system vendors and hosting companies as the move to ever-cheaper infrastructure permeates IT.
Internet communication, which eases distance and allows developers to collaborate across geographies and, crucially, work from wherever they happen to be located. MySQL is well-known for having staff strewn around the world; while this caused challenges due to varying employment laws and management coordination, it allows MySQL to seek out the best talent, no matter where it is located.
Micro-investment, which allows developers with a good idea to obtain the small amount of funding necessary to launch new software-enabled products or services. Incubators and crowdfunding like Y Combinator and Kickstarter, respectively, have made it possible for a developer with a good idea and access to the cheap resources listed above, to jumpstart a business idea quickly and inexpensively.
I think he is spot-on with his assessment. The software industry, and end user IT, has changed enormously over the past 15 years. Certainly, within the software industry, developers are now avidly pursued and well-compensated, with some companies like Google and Facebook providing incredible perks and benefits. That’s a big change from the past; at one company I worked at software engineering was openly despised by the CEO, regarded as nothing more than a unfortunate resource needed to create the product, and crammed into ever-shrinking cubicles in an ongoing effort to reduce engineering spend.
However, the fact that software vendors recognize developers as a critical resource to be nurtured and cherished does not account for their increasing importance and influence within end user IT shops, which have always been viewed as, well, a necessary evil, or, more charitably, a cost center to be reduced as much as possible. After all, while developers may make different technology choices today due to the above-cited changes, it doesn't necessarily make IT more important and, would not, in and of itself, result in developers gaining more clout within the larger company.
Nevertheless, I think O’Grady’s thesis is correct, even within end user IT organizations, but I don’t attribute it only to the changes affecting software development. I believe that the same factors underlying those changes are also having a powerful effect on the products and services companies deliver into the market, and this is causing IT (and developers who are setting the technical direction within IT) to take on a much higher prominence in companies.
Said succinctly, Marc Andreessen's phrase "software is eating the world,” by which he means all companies are permeating their offerings with software capabilities, means that IT is no longer a back office concern. It is now critical to every company’s revenue stream, which means that the creation and delivery of IT is now a core capability requirement -- and this leads, indirectly, to the increased influence of developers.
So, developers are the new kingmakers, whether they work at a software vendor or a software consumer. Their choices, enabled by the four factors O'Grady cites, are setting the direction for all software, no matter the organization within which they work. The “software is eating the world” trend is only going to grow and become more important, so we can look forward to developers being ever more influential.
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