To Avoid Getting Caught In The Developer Skills Gap, Do This.

November 2, 2016 Richard Seroter

 

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Nobody likes feeling overmatched. Whether playing a game of pickup basketball, or trying to persuade a two year old to take a bath, you want a chance to come out on top. Yet according to a new Global Perception Study by the Cloud Foundry Foundation, many large companies have put themselves at a disadvantage going into their software transformation.

64% of IT professionals in this survey believe we’re facing a shortage of skilled developers. And we’re not talking about advanced skills like 12-factor software practices or continuous delivery. No, enterprises are on the prowl for standard developer skills in specific programming languages and databases.

Why does this shortage matter? Call it a digital transformation or whatever you want, but enterprises finally realize that (re)building a meaningful relationship with customers requires a serious overhaul of technology strategy. A key component of that strategy is custom software, and companies realize they need talented developers to build it. And not just anyone’s developers, but their own developers.

This Global Perception survey showed that the majority of companies (> 60%) want to close this skills gap through hiring and training, NOT by outsourcing this critical component of their strategy. Listen to Citi’s Brad Miller share his reason for trying to completely flip his 80/20 “contractor to full-time employee” ratio. Hint: it has to do with ownership.

Ok, so how do you minimize this problem and avoid stunting your software transformation because of a lack of skilled developers? Here are a series of tactics that have worked for your peers.

Truly invest in your existing developers.

How did Adrian Cockcroft respond when a CTO complained that they couldn’t deliver like Netflix because they didn’t have Netflix engineers?

“We hired them from you!”

Most enterprises are full of talented developers. However, if you fail to give them challenging work and help them grow their skill set, they can easily find another company who will.

  • Tactic #1. Invest in legitimate training options and don’t expect developers to learn new things solely on their own. The Global Perception Study revealed that 62% of IT pros/executives think their developers have what they need to stay current with skills, but only 47% of developers agreed. If you care about your developers’ skills, then ensure that every one of them has self-service access to premier on-demand training from outfits like Lynda or Pluralsight.
  • Tactic #2. Initiate mini-conferences, workshops, and hackathons onsite to up-level skills in bulk. Here’s a secret for you: software vendors would LOVE to send their best and brightest to your office for a full-day workshop on modern tech. Just ask. Or, conduct such a seminar entirely with your own employees. Many Pivotal customers hold their own very successful “hack days” and onsite events. It’s inspiring to see.
  • Tactic #3. Take a proactive approach to industry conferences, and take advantage of early-bird discounts. Remote learning and webinars are very handy, but there still nothing like the energy and focused learning that comes from in-person events. We’re nearing the end of 2016, and now’s the time to plot out your 2017 conference plans. Poll your team, and look at conference lists, to figure out what will help your team the most. Nearly every conference—including our own SpringOne Platform 2017—has significant discounts for early registration, so don’t procrastinate!

Build a culture that attracts new talented developers.

To be sure, enterprises face some cultural disadvantages. Many startups and cloud-born companies put intense focus on workplace fun and employee productivity. But enterprises have their own advantages to build upon: many devs want to work on big problems that really matter. Do developers feel fulfilled adding stickers to digital photos, or would they rather change how money moves between countries or how industrial components communicate? That’s why those recent GE commercials are so impactful!

  • Tactic #1. If you think a major cultural change is needed, then start by incubating it. Many companies like Allstate have pulled this off, and create a network effect within their organization. Give a (sizable) team a charter, the necessary resources, and the freedom to (responsibly) bypass outdated policies that slow momentum. You’ll see the results. Just watch Dave from Liberty Mutual, a one-hundred year old insurance company, enthusiastically talk about what an exciting place he now works at.
  • Tactic #2. Encourage your team to speak publicly about technology. Do you know what happens today after almost EVERY tech conference presentation or engineering blog post by a big company? They post a “we’re hiring” link. If your company isn’t speaking at events or writing about your technology experience, you’re not going to get the fresh talent you crave. But speaking at events or writing papers isn’t just a recruiting ploy; it’s also a way to tell your employees that their work has value, and should be shared with the world. This is one way that you build an attractive culture based on learning and shared success.
  • Tactic #3. Revamp your open source policy. How easy is it for your developers to consume or contribute to open source software? If you paused to think about it, you have your answer. Most of the innovative things happening in technology today are happening in open source. If your developers can’t use open source software in their apps, you’re at a severe competitive disadvantage. And if they can’t contribute back, they feel like they can’t collaborate with their smart peers. If you’re looking for a template for how to redesign your open source policy, check out what CenturyLink did last year.

Empower developers with technologies that help them build better apps.

The Cloud Foundry survey shows that the dominant software skills enterprises want correspond to specific languages and databases. “Cloud-native” skills like 12-factor apps, microservices architecture, or continuous deployment? Not a top priority for many companies trying to solidify their base skill set. That’s understandable, but a risk for those companies expecting to become mature software-driven shops.

  • Tactic #1. Use frameworks that bring cloud-native capabilities in for “free.” There’s a reason that Spring Boot and Spring Cloud are now dominating the Java space: developers can quickly build great apps and leverage sophisticated patterns without much fuss. Pivotal is now bringing the same productivity to .NET shops with Steeltoe. Regardless of what language your developers use, carefully consider which frameworks can help you easily implement patterns for robust, scalable software.
  • Tactic #2. Leverage platforms that steer you towards sustainable software patterns. On one hand, it’s exciting for developers to have complete freedom to choose whatever tech they want, and assemble it however they wish. I’ve been there. But it also leads to an unsustainable mesh of components that drag down future plans, and doesn’t actually help you win. There’s a balance here. Look for platforms that save your developers from wasting time on undifferentiated heavy lifting, and steer their entire focus to building amazing, manageable applications. A good platform, such as Pivotal Cloud Foundry, gives your team confidence that core aspects like containerization, monitoring, logging, scale, and resilience are “just there” and let’s them invest their time and energy into what matters: customer-centric activities.

This Global Perception Survey from the Cloud Foundry Foundation brings a real issue to light. Software is a competitive advantage for almost every company, but without skilled, motivated developers, it’s virtually impossible to keep up. You don’t have to be overmatched by your competitors. Many companies turned their fortunes around by using the tactics above.

Want to learn more?

To read the full Global Perception Survey, visit the Cloud Foundry Foundation site. To partner with Pivotal on your software-driven transformation, contact us!

 

About the Author

Richard Seroter

Richard Seroter is a Senior Director of Product for Pivotal, a 10-time Microsoft MVP for cloud, an instructor for developer-centric training company Pluralsight, the lead InfoQ.com editor for cloud computing, and author of multiple books on application integration strategies. As a Senior Director of Product at Pivotal, Richard heads up product marketing and helps customers see how to transform the way they build software. Richard maintains a regularly updated blog (seroter.wordpress.com) on topics of architecture and solution design and can be found on Twitter as @rseroter.

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