The IoT Citizen: A New Class of Developer

by Roy Murdock | 12/14/2015

The Citizen Developer

What is a “Citizen Developer,” and why are we hearing this term with increasing frequency in the industry?

Let’s address the word “developer” first. We are accustomed to thinking of developers as highly technical people with formal training in engineering or computer science, buried in boards and code.

Within a traditional corporate enterprise, developers usually fall into the IT department, where they are tasked with maintaining systems, creating business applications, and allocating spending on IT-related hardware and software. The rise of the IT department grew around the need to purchase and maintain computers, servers, and networking equipment that grew in complexity to support large, dispersed, mission-critical networks and data flows.

The IT department also acted as a gatekeeper between Microsoft, Oracle, HP, Apple, Dell, and an average business user whose primary concerns revolved around a functioning word processor, spreadsheet software, an email client, and an Internet connection. For non-technical users, “just call the IT guy” became an important refrain that would be invoked to fix anything from the dead batteries in the remote to the blue screen of death.

Enterprise software is now changing rapidly from both sides.

On the labor side, regular users are becoming more tech-savvy. Computers are a ubiquitous part of life, and many children learn to use applications to solve problems through technology at an early age. Technical fluency is a prerequisite for almost any enterprise job, and the software industry in particular has attracted a large share of attention, talent, and funding in recent years. Demographic, educational, and skill-set shifts are blurring the line between enterprise users, software developers, and low level IT staff.

On the tool side, many enterprise applications are becoming intelligent enough to enable users to create their own sub-routines and applications-within-applications. In other words, they are allowing regular business users to program without coding. A few simple examples include WYSIWYG website development, email and newsletter services, and vanilla database management applications. More recently, has begun to invest heavily in its App Cloud, marketing it as an intuitive, point-and-click way to create custom, instantly social and mobile, pre-vetted apps. Services and support can now be purchased piecemeal and in easily and quickly configurable form, allowing enterprise users to assemble technology stacks without a need for deep technical expertise.

The confluence of these factors has fueled the rise of the “Citizen Developer” in the enterprise application development space. We at VDC would like to extend this idea further, into the realm of the IoT. We see a new class of professionals with cross-functional engineering, business, and statistical skills who are pushing the boundaries of IoT application development, even when it falls outside of their job description and academic background.

The IoT Citizen

Embedded hardware and software development has higher technical barriers to entry than enterprise application development, but we observe the same dynamics between the traditional IT/enterprise space and the IoT & embedded market: a growing alignment of organically-acquired technical skills with simpler hardware, refined high-level languages, and functional cloud development platforms.

We have yet to see a company excel in equipping the IoT citizen in the way that has as a business application enablement platform. There is a large gap in the market for the first few companies that can offer the most compelling IoT development community and environment for the growing class of IoT citizens.

Wind River’s Helix App cloud and Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite are positioning their tools and resources around the idea that many net new devices and their software will be developed by non-embedded engineers. Makers will be the first to evaluate, use, and improve the majority of these new products and tools. As the early adopters, makers will be instrumental in advancing the state of IoT development products and processes to the point where IoT citizens can comfortably pick up and use them. We will be quantifying and exploring these themes in more detail in our upcoming Embedded Engineer Census and Analysis Report.

The simple, distributed, data-driven nature of the IoT is opening doors to a whole new class of architects and developers. The vendors who equip the IoT citizen developer with innovative tools, platforms, and support will find themselves tightly woven into a new ideation and development process that promises to transform organizations and, by extension, entire industries from the inside out. How are you working to enable the IoT citizen developer?

View the 2017 IoT & Embedded Technology Research Outline to learn more.