Inadequate: The rise of the citizen developer


By Nick Black, CEO at Apadmi

With a new generation of online app creation tools with near zero coding becoming available, the trend of the ‘citizen developer’ is on the rise. Recognising the importance of going mobile, many businesses are working to get ahead in the digital revolution and are looking to this new group of developers to create their apps quickly. But are these tools the way forward for app development and can they really create successful apps?

Citizen X

The use of the word ‘citizen’ before a job title usually refers to someone who is carrying out the activities of a particular profession but does not have the traditional set of skills or training, for example citizen journalists, and now more recently, citizen developers. As defined by research company Gartner, a citizen developer is someone who designs and builds a new business application that is intended to be used by others. These people typically have low or no coding skills but are able to use the range of tools and services available that allow people to build their own apps.

Demand for app development is on the rise as companies strive to stay ahead in today’s competitive market. According to Gartner, by 2019 mobile phone sales will reach 2.1 billion handsets, which will add to the increase in demand for apps, both for enterprise and consumer usage. And by the end of 2017, the demand for mobile app development will grow at least five times faster than developers are able to deliver them.

This is a crucial issue for the industry at present because alongside the increase in demand for app development, businesses are looking for their apps to be built much more quickly so that they can keep up with the digital revolution.

Skills shortage

However, a growing digital skills gap – on a national level – means that there is a shortage of good developers, who are needed to undertake app development projects. Understandably, as digital is still relatively new, it has taken time for the education system to implement courses that will properly benefit students and mould them into skilled professionals. And our current school curriculum isn’t doing enough to teach digital skills from an early age.

So with the skills shortage becoming an increasingly bigger issue, the trend of the citizen developer is now on the rise as businesses seek to quickly build their own enterprise apps. There are an abundance of basic app building services available that citizen developers can use, which don’t need much coding, but they also follow a set structure and so cannot be used to create complex or highly sophisticated apps.

While this option might be ideal for small businesses on a tight budget that are looking to create an app with simplistic requirements, it may not be the best solution for others.

For businesses that require a multifaceted app that can carry out several different functions, a citizen developer with low coding skills who uses a basic app building service will not be able to create something that really stands up to expectations. Personally, if a business is really set on creating an app, I would question why they are not investing properly in its development to ensure that it achieves the best result. Businesses need to consider that the end product will be representing the company and so needs to uphold its reputation.

Go with the pros

Professionals within the coding industry will have spent a great deal of time learning and acquiring the skills needed to design and create successful apps and are best positioned to do so in comparison to citizen developers. These skills cannot be learned over night, and as the industry constantly changes and evolves, developers are expanding their skill set every day.

What’s more, there is more to the development of an app than just the initial creation process. This is perhaps where the problem lies with citizen developers; as they are more likely to be concerned with putting the app together quickly to meet the business’ immediate needs, and less so with the wider issues or considerations that may come into play further down the line. For instance, how well is the app going to perform? How will the app integrate with the existing business systems?

Bespoke and expert development, for example, ensures app’s seamlessly integrate into existing or new systems and infrastructure. If there are bugs or problems, what will the wider impact be? Who will fix the bugs or defects? What are the security risks, and have measures to prevent breaches been put in place?

Expert developers

Using these new online app creation tools will limit how well the app can be designed as they usually follow a set structure, so this means that there will be restrictions on what the app can do and how it looks, and the end product is likely to be very simple. An app created this way will not be of the same quality, or as intuitive, as an app that has been designed and built by an expert developer.

Another challenge that these do-it-yourself tools present is that any issues that arise within the service provider’s technology will affect the apps that have been built using these services. This can leave the apps vulnerable to flaws and the business open to reputational issues. In addition, if the app supplier encounters any delays when updating the technology to newer versions of mobile operating systems, like iOS updates, the app will also be affected.

The rise of the citizen developer is an interesting trend and I’m all for encouraging creativity and getting people involved with mobile development. But for businesses that need an app that will be able to meet its expectations and will deliver the desired function effectively, proper investment is crucial.

I would highly recommend that businesses work with expert developers to achieve an end product that will represent the business well. The demand for app development is fast increasing and the industry is being pushed to its limit. There’s still a lot of work to do to ensure we’re developing and nurturing talent from a young age. But by encouraging youths to pursue careers in the digital sector, we can support the growth of the industry and therefore be able to keep up with this rising demand.

Apadmi is the UK’s leading mobile app developer and ranks within the top 10 app developers globally. From the BBC iPlayer Radio app to the GuardianWitness app, Apadmi focuses on strengthening brand advocacy and engagement for its clients through the development of robust, intuitive and award-winning mobile apps and server solutions in both the consumer and enterprise space.

Smart Chimps thinks: Apadmi’s view is pretty damning for non-professional developers. What do you think? Is this fighting talk, or is Apadmi right? 


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