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Software // Enterprise Applications
09:06 AM

How IT Pros Can Become Great Developers

It takes business skills, as well as coding skills, to be a successful developer. The good news: Many IT pros already have the soft skills for the job.

Today's red-hot job market for software developers is causing technology professionals from every corner of the IT department to think hard about brushing up on their coding skills and trying for developer jobs.

It makes sense. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the software developer job market to grow 22% from 2012 to 2022, which far outpaces the average for all occupations. In response to this bubble, and accelerated by advocacy for STEM education coming from everyone from the CEO of Facebook ( to the commander in chief of the country, a number of online coding schools have sprung up on the Internet.

People are signing up for these courses with the hope that learning to code will lead to high-paying opportunities. But even for highly competent IT professionals, there is much more to being a good developer than knowing how to write a subroutine, avoid an infinite loop, or manage unhandled errors.

[For DevOps to succeed, we must draw from our whole talent pool. Read DevOps Ninjas Needed: 3 Ways To Build Ranks]

The changing role of IT in the company is driving a change in the role of the developer. Applications and data are now core to virtually every company's business model, rather than simply back-office tools designed to reduce costs and automate functions. In this world, strong technical skills are necessary but not sufficient.

A great developer is now someone who not only meets deadlines and writes good code but also makes business units happy. They have what some people might call soft skills. I think of them as must-have skills. These include an understanding of the company's business, strong communication skills, and the ability to build relationships and trust with the various stakeholders in an enterprise.

With developers now central to successful business execution, the difference between a good one and a great one can make a huge impact on a company. How can we take competent programmers to the next level?

The coding courses we really need
Developers need to be able to adapt and evolve at the speed of technology; a good developer is one with an open mind who readily takes on the challenge of investigating and leveraging new technologies and new approaches. Courses in JavaScript, Ruby, and Python are obviously the place to start for those new to coding.

But as the head of a business that needs to keep clients happy by offering staff that can solve business problems, not just technology problems, here is my list of courses I wish that online coding schools offered.

  • Intro to Agile: The number of available agile jobs outnumber qualified candidates by nearly 5 to 1, according to one estimate. The agile approach is gaining rapid acceptance in the development community, and a growing number of startups, development shops, and Fortune 500 companies recognize that it is a good way to develop faster, better results. But the supply simply can't keep up with demand.

  • Continuous Quality 101: Testing is no longer a finite, standalone task in the software development life cycle. Developers need to understand when and how to test their code (functional and nonfunctional) to speed time to delivery and improve user experience. Good testers have critical thinking, analytical, and investigative skills. They understand risk and have a sense of where bugs tend to hide, and they need to be good at collaborating with team members to fix them. The importance of testing skills is underrated.

  • End-User Psychology: It can be hard for developers to think like end users, but this ability to empathize is vital to a successful application. Developers should be able to understand and appreciate the value an application brings to its users. Likewise, developers should consider cultural differences that may exist between different populations of users. The need to understand end-user behavior and preferences is escalating as mobility and the cloud continually extend application availability globally.

  • When Coding Meets Bottom Line: Programmers who are viewed as "code jockeys" will not be able to make the contributions that companies need. To be a valuable partner in helping a company achieve its goals, developers need to be skilled in translating their understanding of how the company operates into ideas that will lead to new innovations and revenue.

Many IT professionals already possess the skills that make them good developers, putting them a step ahead of someone who's new to programming. Their years of experience in business should also give them a head start on skills like understanding the importance of the bottom line and communicating with stakeholders outside of IT.

But unless they're willing to add agile, end-user psychology, and a commitment to continuous quality to their course load, they may never go from good to great.

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Michael Rosenbaum, former Harvard Law fellow, is the founder and president of Catalyst IT, an IT services firm and development partner to companies such as Nike, L'Oreal, and Red Hat. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
3/27/2014 | 7:17:00 AM
Re : How IT Pros Can Become Great Developers
@ humberger972, you made very good points here. It becomes really hard to learn foreign languages if you haven't learned one while young. It is just like taking a head start early on, and then you can build on it. Same goes true for programming languages. If you are fluent in one or more of them, learning new programming languages shouldn't be that hard for you.
User Rank: Ninja
3/25/2014 | 6:11:16 AM
Re : How IT Pros Can Become Great Developers
Understanding the business of the company and good communication skills are certainly the prerequisites for a good programmer. Communication skills are necessary to ask the right questions to the stakeholders. In addition, a programmer needs to be a good listener as well. Listening combined with comprehension of the company business will go a long way in identifying the problem in hand.
User Rank: Ninja
3/22/2014 | 11:43:17 AM
Re: Greatness later in life?
As a multilingual person, in both languages and earlier programming, I keep looking at these newer programming courses and do find them daunting.  I think one of the bigger hesitations I have is that "what do I even do with this?" question that I think could be one of the roadblocks to wider adoption.  We all know coding is a key skill, and will always be a key skill in demand, the real question is what the article suggests, how do we teach the rest of the story?  How can we teach programmers what kinds of applications businesses need?  Do we need to teach variations of project management, marketing, sales?  What other courses make sense to build out an overall app strategy that these folks can use once they've created their app?
User Rank: Apprentice
3/20/2014 | 12:33:51 PM
Re: Greatness later in life?
If it is your first programming language, then it is probably true...

Like learning your first foriegn language as an adult is hard....but if you already have another language under your belt, picking up the next language is not so hard.

If you have multiple programming languages under your belt, learning a new one, even late in life is not so difficult..... which is why I like seeing simple programming languages in my kids school...give them fluence for life, even if the language they learned is retired when they become adults.

Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
3/20/2014 | 9:37:13 AM
Greatness later in life?
Just recently had the discussion with a twentysomething as to whether a programming language is like in any other language when it come to fluency -- if you don't learn it young, you might get competent with a lot of work, but you'll never be a "native."

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