Why is IT not always about coding and what a citizen developer can do?
What does it mean to work in IT, where advances happen every single day, with new software being released constantly, new programming languages finding appliances and Stack Overflow booming with new questions from users all over the world? It definitely does not make IT a homogeneous sector and there are also a lot of professions that do not come with coding experience or a deep knowledge of computer systems. Within these professions, the in-depth domain knowledge and capability of transforming raw data into valuable insights is more important than a degree in Computer Science. The life of such domain experts became significantly easier with the development of low-code and no-code platforms, which equip these Citizen Developers - as they are called – with the tools for making their job easier and more effective. After all, the choice of software is only a tool to achieve results.
IT without coding?
Well, not exactly without coding at all, but with specialized software translating the users’ inputs into code, without in-depth knowledge about programming languages etc. Let’s analyze the tools for automated code creation:
No-code platforms allow for the creation of application software, usually based on a visual interface via drag and drop. An user selects predefined functions, data sources, data flows, visual elements etc., in order to create a logical whole. A popular example might be wix.com, which helps building websites, without prior website development experience.
Low-code platforms add possibilities for more customization on top of the no-code platforms, often alongside options for coding an entire application (if requested), but at the same time checking the code for best practices, available resources, company’s compliance guidelines, as well as providing user support if needed. Have you seen the website or application Frilager? It is an traveling website, created with the Oracle APEX.
Automatic programming as part of generative AI currently received a lot of attention, mostly thanks to the already famous ChatGPT (generative pre-trained transformer, using large language models; See a previous article: Your own data and LLMs) or Copilot. The new advances in AI allowed for users to ask queries using natural language, and in return receive code pieces or requested data queries.
Of course, in each of these cases, IT knowledge generally may be seen as plus, in order for users to better understand what they are creating and how to mitigate potential usage problems before they appear.
Who creates applications without coding (much)?
Everyone! It appears that everyone can use those tools to make their work more efficient. However, many of the existing tools were specifically designed to be used by non-IT specialists. Nevertheless, even people with deep domain knowledge, who understand the domain specific needs and need to get the results faster than it would be possible with hiring IT-professionals for creating complex and tailored solutions, are turning towards no-code / low-code platforms. With the current advances in software development, the Citizen Developer role may eventually take over software development to create solutions that precisely answer business needs. The German term “Fachbereichsentwickler” (“domain developer”) proposed by Computerwoche.de (German text) clearly indicates that any domain may need tailored IT solutions and they can be developed internally. In many sectors, the Citizen Developer will be the person connecting domain specialists, such as HR-specialists, marketers, customer support specialists and the IT-specialists, who may point the best solutions for the problems and standardize approaches towards them.
Another, even further specialized and arising role is that of the Citizen Integrator, who keeps an overview of many processes in the company and knows its internal software systems. This person can map data flows between processes and, consequently, is able to identify bottlenecks, as well as provide solutions for data management problems.
Is Citizen Development a thing?
Google, Forbes and Accenture, among others, talk openly about Citizen Development - why shouldn't we? Some may think that it is the next buzzword and a trend that will not last long. However, there is in fact a need for specialists bridging domain and IT knowledge in all kinds of businesses for years to come. The job market is big enough to fit all IT professionals, whether on a more technical, or more domain-focus side, and everyone in between them.
The Project Management Institute states that “Citizen development is one of the most exciting business movements at present”. Seeing how many business teams are struggling with internal software infrastructure problems and the size of budgets spent on software developers in each company, it is definitely worth digging more into the topic of Citizen Development. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages of each solution, and those will be describe in the future.