#CloudMinds: The Role of the Developer

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#CloudMinds huddle in Boulder, Colo.

What are we really talking about about when we discuss the role of the developer? Inevitably the conversation turns to the topic of change for a number of reasons. For one, developers face constant shifts in their processes — whether it’s changing to a DevOps approach or incorporating emerging technologies like containers. And second, developers are constantly delivering change to the products and services that they support.

During our recent #CloudMinds huddle, hosted by IBM Distinguished Engineers Brad Topol and Dan Berg, we dove into a deep discussion on the role of the developer. This idea of change came up several times.

One thing that’s enabling this change is the fact that developers now have more tools at their disposal. Developers working in the cloud have access to APIs that allow them to provision their infrastructure, network, compute storage and more. And, if you’ll pardon the Spiderman reference, with this great power comes greater responsibility. No longer can developers show up to work, write a small piece of code for a larger project and call it a day.

“My belief is that the role of the developer must be much broader,” Berg said. “They have to be full-stack aware, and they have to have a strong deployment automation background that allows them to develop not only the software aspect but also the deployment, configuration and manageability of their workload in the cloud.”

But not everyone agreed that the transition to this brave new development model would — or should — be that easy.

“I think it would be a mistake to expect developers to suddenly become completely OK with everything that’s going on,” Duncan Johnston-Watt, CEO of Cloudsoft, said. “In fact, I’d argue the opposite: that you’re in the foundational services business, which is a way of insulating them. I think of that as suspension in a car — it’s a way of smoothing out the bumps, and giving them the ability to describe what they want without getting into the nitty-gritty.”

How to tell if you’re a developer

Has the tech industry become too liberal with the “developer” tag? You can’t really talk about the role of the developer without touching on who in the organization the developer really is. In a cloud environment, we found concluded that the definition of a developer can broaden. They aren’t just coders anymore. And while the group found that it’s debatable whether developers really need full-stack capabilities, one truth emerged, as Lorinda Brandon of Capital One pointed out: It takes more than coding to build software and cloud applications.

She took it one step further by saying, “Everyone on the team is a developer.”

Ultimately, it comes back to value. What value does this developer bring to the team?

“The best developers that I’ve worked with can write the code — and they do very often write great code — but where they really provide value is in the innovation from ground up, generating ideas that shape the direction of your product” said Project Calico evangelist Alex Pollitt.

A question of skill

Inevitably, when you enter into a conversation about the role of the developer, the conversation will eventually turn to skillsets. Some huddle participants expressed the need for developers to have full-stack knowledge.

“The idea of full-stack developer assumes a certain amount of talent that is not with every developer,” said Dan Turkenkopf, senior director of strategic research for Apprenda.

Apigee’s Ed Anuff said he respectfully disagreed.

“I think that specialization with the developer role is going away,” he said. “The full stack developer is someone with a minimum level of competency to execute on the full stack. It doesn’t mean they’re this rare super talent and able to do everything.”

I’d love to get more thoughts on this, so let’s take the conversation a step further. In one sentence for each answer, tell me:

  • How integrated should today’s developers be with the operations side of the business?
  • What is your definition of a developer?
  • What skills must every developer absolutely possess?

And for more, check out this #CloudMinds podcast featuring Dan Berg, Duncan Johnston-Watt and Rich Miller: http://bit.ly/1YFx3H5

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Dad, husband, improviser, writer, videographer, editor, IBMer

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