App Modernization

Are boards and developers speaking the same language?

Ed Hoppitt, Senior Director, Apps and Cloud Platforms, EMEA at VMware

We live our lives through apps. Whether work or play, apps enable more and more experiences for both individuals and organizations.

The developers behind the apps get that. Building and running applications, that can run on any device, is critical for driving revenue and improving competitive differentiation. Those on the boards know this and know people expect the experience to be intuitive, fast and responsive.

Boom time for developers

We only have to look at the demand for developer talent, the people that actually build these apps, to see that companies increasingly accept that life is app-based. We recently looked at job listings across Europe, and the data revealed that demand for development candidates grew by 38% year-on year to Q1 2022.[1] In some instances, the growth in demand for certain roles tops 300%.

The message is clear: company leaders know they need developers. But when they get them, do they know how to get the best out of them?

Does everyone speak the same language?

It’s worth stepping back for a moment and considering the situation. You’ve got an organization that is used to operating, and talking, in a certain way. Every profession, every team, has their own unique language which can seem impenetrable to outsiders. But finding a way around these barriers and establishing commonality across the wider business is critical to get everyone working in the same direction.

Now, what happens when you start adding a group of deeply skilled people with experience in an area your organization may not have extensive knowledge of? Things can get lost in translation, miscommunicated, words with multiple meanings used in the right context; it can all add up to a situation where what’s expected, and what’s delivered, risk not being aligned.

This is particularly true when you’ve got the business talking to technical teams, or technical teams talking to the board. And while tech literacy as a whole has dramatically improved over the last twenty years, the rate of technology change has also accelerated, meaning terminology, capabilities and requirements have all evolved equally fast. People that don’t build apps day in day out may have only just got their head around the value of cloud computing, which could make understanding the pros and cons of one development language over another, and the business implications of each, challenging.

It’s a situation organizations would do well to avoid. Yet the data suggests this is likely to be the rule rather than the exception: our study of job listings found that barely a quarter (26%) of the top skills mentioned in developer vacancies are business-related, and half (49%) of all listings fail to include a single business skill as one of their top 10 requirements.

A growing disconnect

The implication is simple: if businesses do not require developers to have business-related skills (such as stakeholder and project management), then there is more likely to be a disconnect between tech and non-tech teams. This could then lead to the situation outlined above – one where apps are developed that haven’t been properly briefed, or the outcome does not align with strategic goals, or it doesn’t meet the needs of users.

It seems odd that at a time when businesses are so desperate to hire developer talent, they aren’t considering what they actually need these highly skilled professionals to do. There are also seems to be a split between front and back-end roles: only 17% of front-end developer and 10% of android developer vacancies referenced business skills, compared to 24% in software engineer ads and 22% in machine learning engineer, data architect and DevOps engineer vacancies.

From challenge to opportunity

But where there’s a challenge, there’s an opportunity, both for businesses and developers.

The opportunity for businesses is obvious: start actively looking for developers to have more business-focused skills, as well as their core technical ones. Do that, and they’ll be better placed to communicate with non-tech stakeholders, with improved overall outcomes.

For developers, acquire those skills yourselves. It might seem counterintuitive to upskill for a market that is already crying out for your technical capabilities, but there will be candidates out there that already have that knowledge, placing them ahead of the competition. Not only that, but once employed, developers with the ability to communicate across functions can play a valuable role in helping the business get more from its tech investments.

Getting boards and developers to speak the same language

Business leaders and their boards know they need apps, and moreover the ability to conceive, develop and deploy apps rapidly. That requires developer talent. But if neither side has a clear understanding of what the other is trying to achieve, the right outcomes become less certain. Companies run the risk of investing time and money in talent but not getting what they expected. This can be easily fixed by being clear on the need for relevant business skills, and by developers take ownership of their own skillsets and pre-empting employer requirements.

[1] Average across a variety of roles that fit into the software development sphere, and several countries (UK, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Belgium and Austria)

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