For the past three decades, whenever the world has faced a problem that can be solved through technology, professional developers have been there to provide the solution. Let’s take the current health crisis, for example. Practically overnight, developers quickly mobilized to create apps to help others in need. Whether it was distributing vital health information, monitoring symptoms, or safely reorganizing indoor spaces to align with public health guidelines, the list goes on and on.
I’ve seen incredible moments of solidarity over the last several months as developers rise to these challenges. At the initial peak of the pandemic, our developer community was looking for a way to contribute. They brainstormed ideas, launched apps, and when the influx of new developers joined, the community pitched in to answer the increase of questions and offered to mentor the new developers.
As we’ve seen, developers are always ready to step up. They are critical to software innovation and will play a defining role in the next era of technology. However, the volume of problems that only software can solve continues to explode, and the complexity of the technology on which we all rely is increasing at an even faster pace.
There are two key challenges we face today. First, the current generation of developer tools doesn’t do enough to alleviate the burden of complexity. Second, there just aren’t enough developers to tackle all of the challenges that lie ahead. The most elegant and impactful way to solve both of these problems is a better approach to how software is built. By radically improving software development, current developers will be more productive, and a whole new generation of developers will also be able to participate in solving these challenges.
Simply expanding the pool of developers isn’t enough though—to solve tomorrow’s challenges, we need to cast a wider net in today’s talent pool and provide new pathways towards development. We live in a diverse world, but the technology space today does not reflect that.
Too often, female developers find themselves the only woman on their technical teams, as men greatly outnumber both women and non-binary people as professional developers, and white men still hold a monopoly on leadership roles. But there are already promising signs that demonstrate that the developers of tomorrow are taking new avenues to provide fresh perspectives to the field.
New Accessible Learning Tools
Anyone who wants to drive innovation in technology with software should have the chance to become a professional developer. It should be easy to get started, there should be multiple ways to learn, and a variety of career paths to take. For too long, becoming a developer wasn’t accessible or inviting to many people.
Computer science departments, while great for cultivating talent, are not the only places to learn coding. Studiessuggest standardized testing for college admissions is more a reflection of a student's background than their academic ability, and leads to a more homogenous student body. Recruiting solely from universities can lead to overlooking people of color or people from lower-income households, and missing out on capable candidates who would make great developers. The potential for training people through accessible tools is massive—this could result in an economic lift for new developers, and a dramatic change in the demographic makeup of the profession.
Whether it be online classes, community forums, hackathons, or professional bootcamps, people are learning the skills of development in newly accessible ways. We saw a surge of new members in our developer community at the start of the pandemic. Whether it was people who had extra free time because of stay-at-home orders, or developers who had been furloughed or laid off, folks were looking to expand their skills. The developers of the future will come from unique paths, have different perspectives, and will learn in different ways than their predecessors, which will expand even further the solutions to these unknown, future challenges.
Broadened Conceptions of “Who” Developers Are – and Where They’re Needed
The idea of “who” gets to be a developer has remained largely unchanged for decades. But how can we ethically develop tools for our world if developers only reflect one portion of that world? Today, women and non-binary people make up less than 10 percent of all professional software developers, and people of color make up less than 40 percent of tech professionals. While calls for diversity have resulted in incremental improvements, to prepare for the future, we need to expand our image of developers to be more inclusive regarding race, gender, ability, and skillsets. Thanks to changes in how and where software is developed, that work has already begun.
A broad spectrum of people who may not have been able to contribute to technology before are flocking to the field as the need for developers reaches far outside the borders of Silicon Valley. With the push to digital transformation in recent years (and directly from COVID-19), every company is now essentially a tech company, requiring more developers by the day, and in locations all over the world, not just U.S. technology hubs.
More Intuitive Building Platforms
Coding from the ground up, as required by traditional development tools, is rewarding yet sometimes disheartening to new developers. It often requires in-depth knowledge of the latest coding languages, which change often, requiring developers to continually achieve mastery of fleeting benchmarks.
Recently, though, there has been an influx of platforms framed around visual development that make building applications more accessible for newer coders. Tools like visual development, as well as A.I. assistance and built-in security fail-safes, allow newer developers to build applications both at a higher quality and at higher speeds. Though the developers of the past may have turned their noses at the platforms that skew away from “pure code,” as developers focus more on outcomes, the entire industry will realize the potential of these tools to build faster and better products.
Promising Inclusive Partnerships
While I’m certain that the new generation of developers will find their way no matter what the obstacles ahead of them, technology companies should be responsible for fostering their futures. Many companies already sponsor programs that aid aspiring developers from underrepresented communities. These partnerships with organizations like Women Who Code and Black Girls Code signal the real value that tech companies place towards a more inclusive and diverse world. These programs will not only directly impact their participants by immersing them in the world of development, but will also be investments towards a more inclusive future in Silicon Valley and beyond.
The new generation of developers will look nothing like the last, and that is truly something to look forward to. With more diverse voices and minds to collaborate, technology will only soar to greater heights. As an industry, we need to acknowledge these imminent changes and double-down on measures to promote inclusivity and accessibility to ensure there are enough developers to fuel the innovation of the future.
Jennifer Sable Lopez is Senior Director, Community & Advocacy at OutSystems.