Most businesses already know they depend on software. Now, many of them are beginning to appreciate that software development — and the people behind it — need to be a higher priority. The good news is that the amount of software development talent entering the job market has grown. The bad news is that it is not enough.
The issues are volume and quality; software projects are increasingly complex, with multiple, diverse elements and contributors. The IoT, for instance, requires hardware and software teams to ensure that their respective components can interoperate safely and securely. Plus, attaining development talent is just the start: retaining it is a more significant challenge. Developers are in demand.
Tackling the challenge
There are a few ways to attain and retain talented developers. First, companies should encourage greater organisation-wide appreciation of the value of software developers (as part of needing to view IT as an asset and not an overhead). Developers will feel more valued and motivated. Alongside this, continue to proactively communicate that value to them while tying their activities to business outcomes.
Clear upskilling career paths should be provided for new and experienced software developers. Younger developers will expect rapid career advances — show them fast and more attractive ways forward, such as more opportunities to work on innovation projects and technologies or earn a new job title or salary due to learning a new skill. Experienced developers may want more time to explore new technologies, some freedom to decide what to work on next, or just shore up what they have been working on for years.
A mentoring programme connecting graduates with more experienced developers is a good idea. However, it may add an onerous workload. Supplement that ‘human’ support with tools that, for instance, help monitor code quality, engendering a consistent coding practice level and preventing the number of errors that escape into production.
Be flexible with everyone’s working hours, location, and choice of tools. Give them superior quality hardware and other workplace products to make their jobs as easier. Online training and permission to spend work time on it are essential.
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The growing diversity of automated tools that wrap around the developer’s digital workspace mean more people can become involved in aspects of software development. Sometimes called ‘citizen developers’, these team members may not be experienced or qualified software engineers. However, give them codeless development and testing tools and they can improve their contributions to the organisation. For instance, scriptless testing means that business testers can complete more tests without knowing how to write test scripts. They do not even need to know how to write a single line of code.
Automation also means that software developers take on more testing early in the application lifecycle. As a result, the impact on their working day is minimised, while issues are hopefully unearthed earlier in the process. This ‘Shift Left’ approach to testing is an integral part of DevOps. In turn, this liberates test engineers from more routine testing and enables them to focus on other tasks that need manual intervention (and there will be tests that need human help for many years).
Like just about any other aspect of doing business these days, software development teams can be remotely located. Many organisations are already using far-flung talent. Best practice includes having frequent but short video meetings with cameras turned on for better human interaction. Be sensitive to time zones, and consider rotating regular meetings so that team members can alternate who has to work early or late. Also, make the most of collaborative tools to keep everyone rowing in the same direction. Examples include project tracking, shared whiteboards, and version control.
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It is vital to create a ‘security first’ mentality across everyone involved within software development. Software engineers have not traditionally had much focus on security, but that needs to change. Also, people with minimal experience in software development — back to those citizen developers — can inadvertently introduce flaws. Therefore, everyone involved in software development must be aware of the security risks and their responsibilities in mitigating those risks. There also need to be clearly defined processes so that individuals cannot bypass security measures. Code reviews, automated testing, and AI-enhanced testing can all help.
Smart use of software development resources must be a priority for businesses today. By making development roles as appealing and engaging as possible, wrapped around the right processes within an organisation, companies can attract, retain and better utilise the talent available.