The Rise of a New Hero - Citizen Developers

Citizen Developers: The New Paradigm

The notion of "citizen developers" is emerging as one of the hot trends of this decade.  As we careen towards 2020, we look to the next two years to understand the technological trends that will be driving our industry and economy.

Artificial Intelligence Gains Critical Mass

Where is artificial intelligence technology headed?  Every article we read points in a different direction.  Will it be the job-killing juggernaut, devastating mid-level jobs?  Will it peter out like it did in the first wave of AI in the 90's and early 2000's?  Will it become sentient and shrug us off the planet like the genocidal robots of the future characterized in popular science fiction?  Will it simply enable the next generation of "soft skills' in our software and apps, allowing us to extend the domains that our software can support, yet still requiring human beings to "drive" most of the application?

The answer is, as usual, no simple selection of one of these outcomes.  To understand the issue more deeply, I recommend reading one of the experts in the field.  Dr. Kai-Fu Lee has been in the forefront of a wide variety of AI initiaves over the past 30 years.  His work at Microsoft, Google, and Apple reads like a laundry list of executive jobs that has seen the evolution of AI across three decades.  His latest book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order, takes a great look at the evolution of this technology and a great perspective on where its going, both in service of and in challenge to the current social and economic structures of the world.

The executive summary?  AI is here to stay, not like the last time AI crept up on our radar.  The difference?  Data.  We now have enough data accessible to these algorithms to drive their performance to levels unseen in previous generations of AI implementations.

So if that's true, what is the impact on our industry and society?  In the near-term, widespread, job-killing chaos.  But also in the long-term, widespread, creative, job-creation opportunities.  Because much like the industrial revolution brought on the destruction of many low-educated, low-paying jobs, it also brought about the creation of entire industries of people whose skills were retooled to master the next generation of tasks and toolsets.

The challenge, then, is how to bring large numbers of people along without requiring 150 years of industrial development and the iterative retooling of our K12 and higher educational systems?  All with a dysfunctional government and a population seemingly unable to wrest itself from the sideshow of modern political deadlock.

One Solution

Although we have seen an uptick in the availability and a downtick in the cost of modern programming education, it seems too little.  It also seems too steep a task to ask someone who is gainfully employed in an industry role to completely retool their skillset to assume another job description, at the same asking them to take six weeks off, take a pay cut, start at an entry level, and pay someone for the privilege of this education and transformation.  Sound like the current model of coding bootcamps that we have today?

Well let's look at an alternative.  Instead of requiring this painful transformation of skills, what if we simply elevated the tools available to folks already in positions of business capability.  Let's leverage those capabilities so those citizens could utilize low-code platforms to automate the processes and data systems they already understand.  Now instead of requiring the to learn a host of third party languages and environments to transform their expertise into a digital software application, we allowed them to express themselves using the terms and logic that are familiar to them.

We could then create transformational logic that would allow the data and rules expressed by the citizen developer to be expressed as a functioning application.  If we could deploy that application immediately and at scale, and then provide for the easy connection of teammates into the platform for collaboration and access, would we not circumvent the need to reinvent that citizen developer's skillset?  Have we not provided an end-run around an intractable human training problem, and by using current technologies, allowed them to perform functions that before required whole teams or organizations to transform into applications?

Is this process the dream of citizen developer empowerment?  We think so.  Give it a try at Breakthrough's Loco platform.  Tell us what you think.