Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Strategic Developer

Really interesting session from Paul Walk on a role he thinks is missing in most HEIs - the strategic developer.
Some notes I took cover the topic I hope:

How do we view software developers?
Hard to manage
Not valued role
Very few developers become senior managers
Rarely invited to input at strategic level for fear of being too technical
Come and go, often on short term contracts
Growing appetite for outsourcing IT
Replacing them with people who know how to manage SLAs

What do we lose when we see IT as commodity?
Capacity to offer differentiated services
Capacity to integrate systems
Does outsourcing have an effect on our ability to deliver a good student experience?

How do we exploit SaaS?
Benefits are real, but we lose the ability to customise. Some vendors offering APIs, or interfaces into these remote services. These change the picture.
APIs often described as machine interfaces, but are really interfaces for developers.
So, you need developers.

The value of a local developer:
should understand local conditions
is more accessible
can tailor remote services to local needs
can engage with the technical people in an external supplier
can engage with and exploit open source products.

Procurement of SaaS needs to take into account the APIs provided by supplier.

There are two relationships in SaaS. First, between the account manager and the local service manager
Second the technical relationship between local technical staff and developer in company. Usually ad hoc, and often not strategic.
Sometimes there's a development company in between.
Can be complex.
If have strategic technical developer locally, can liaise and build relationship with suppliers, users and service managers.

A strategic developer has moved beyond problem solving, more of a leadership role.
Is this a missing career path for developers?
Often choice is to become a manager, (and often an unhappy manager at that). Or leave and get job somewhere else.

Business has solved this by creating role of CTO.

Conclusion. Quote from Eric Schmidt
"Take a lead from the Victorians and ignore Lord Sugar – bring engineers into your company at all levels, including the top.”

Very good presentation and food for thought. Interesting discussion at the end about how hard it can be to have these sort of roles where some HEIs and some grading profiles look to management of people as a key indicator, rather than technical specialism and responsibility.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


andypowe11 said...

I find this area intriguing...

There's an implied question and answer underpinning this piece about whether 'software developers' are strategically important to HEIs? I don't know what the answer to that question is (my gut feeling is that they are not - which won't make me popular with Paul) but you've got to start with that question otherwise you'll end up in the wrong place.

The Schmidt quote doesn't work for me (maybe it was a joke?) - - it's out of context. HEIs would do better to worry about how to churn out more/better engineers of all varieties, than to worry about whether the software engineers they employ are treated strategically enough.

Just my 2p...

andypowe11 said...

Sorry one other thing...

On "Does outsourcing have an effect on our ability to deliver a good student experience?".

My answer would be "Does in-sourcing have an effect on our ability to deliver a good student experience?".

Anonymous said...

Its true to say that there is limited opportunity for career progression unless you want to move into a management role. Highly skilled technical staff who have spent many years learning their skills don't necessarily want to move into management and find these skills and knowledge are no longer required. There should be equivalent pathway for staff who don't want to move into management roles

Peter A said...

The concept of the strategic developer strikes me as very relevant. Someone who understands the tech detail but can also step back, engage with the longer-term view and lead it forward.
I don't think we need to look far - we have a few people who fit that description.