“He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody,” goes the lyrics of the 1965 hit Beatles single.
That’s someone today’s software developer just can’t afford to resemble.
Developers today need to be well integrated within the enterprise they serve, and have a deeper understanding and appreciation of its business needs, according to a recent survey by the Strategic Council, a Toronto-based research firm.
Commissioned by Microsoft Canada Co. based in Mississauga, Ont., the survey polled 200 developers from various industries across the country, seeking to gain insights into work-related issues affecting their career outlook.
Eighty-eight per cent of those surveyed said developers are expected to have a greater understanding of the business environment in which they operate.
A Strategic Council analyst believes there’s a clear message in this.
“The industry is getting rid of the Wild West, lone developer type who got to do his own thing in his own world,’ said Warren Shiau, research manager, for the Strategic Counsel.
Shiau said today’s corporate milieu requires that developers learn to interact with co-workers from other levels of the organization. “Developers can’t be mere code monkeys.”
And greater integration with their corporate milieu is not the only demand being made on them.
Canadian software developers are also expected to adhere to tighter deadlines. Around 79 per cent of those polled by the Strategic Counsel said they were being asked to do more work in less time.
However, increasing job pressures don’t seem to have had eroded their morale – as 81 per cent of the respondents feel “secure” or “very secure” about their job prospects.
As many as 91 per cent of those surveyed agreed that building safe and secure code is a critical pre-requisite for a successful software project.
While 65 per cent said they had access to resources needed develop secure software, 31 per cent expressed doubts about the industry’s ability to produce secure applications.
Nearly half (49 per cent) labeled the growing number of security threats as “tough” or “extremely tough” hurdles to creating secure software.
Another 45 per cent cited difficulty in finding developers with the right skills, while 43 per cent said there was a “general lack of awareness” among developers about how to build secure software.
Shiau said these findings reflect the changing nature of IT security threats. A decade ago, he said, security threats were clearly defined and came from a limited number of sources. Today, he said, cyber criminals abound, and the weapons at their disposal are numerous and far more complex.
“The survey highlights challenges Canadian software developers face in [today’s] fast changing business environments,” said Jeff Zado, developer solution specialist for Microsoft Canada.
He said the findings support Microsoft’s hypothesis that developers are “pressed for time to develop safer platforms” for mobile devices, or to support new technology trends such as convergence and service-oriented architectures.
At least two Canadian software developers agree with these findings.
Clients are demanding project completion within shorter deadlines but an increasing number of “variables” make it difficult for developers to so, according to Milind Joshi, president and chief technology officer for Idea Technosoft Inc., a software company based in Toronto.
“I think there is a perception among non-IT executives that software developement should be as predictable as other engineering tasks such as building a bridge but we have to deal with a number of variables far beyond the process we have.”
For instance, Joshi said, projects are often plagued by new requirements that suddenly crop up due to industry and government codes that were not earlier considered or mergers and aquisitions that occur after software development has began. “Companies can suddenly decide to market to countries that enforce a different set of software regulations or new mergers might recquire interoperability with a different operating system.”
He said five years ago a software project that might have taken two to three years to finish is now supposed to be completed in six months to two years.
“Deadlines have definitely shrunk,” agrees Adam Cole, director of the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), a country-wide organization of some 6,000 IT professionals.
However, Coles said there is a “fair trade-off” because developers now have access to tools that allow them to create more complex code in less time.
Zado said “developers don’t feel they are being equipped with the right tools for their job.” Specifically survey respondents said they need tools that enable them to:
• Get more work done in less time – 89 per cent
• Build secure code – 89 per cent
• Spot errors faster – 88 per cent
• Tighten integration with other applications – 87 per cent
• Collaborate with co-workers and team members – 79 per cent
The survey also said that 91 per cent of the respondents credited Microsoft Windows-based applications for maintaining or increasing software security and 66 per cent thought Windows Vista will offer even better security.
“I think other platforms have been providing similar if not even better security features for years,” said Joshi.
“For instance capability similar to certain Vista default secuity features were available in Linux 10 years ago,” he added.
Traditional enterprise practices have also given way to a new world order, the survey noted.
Some five years ago, Shiau said, developers were able to work in a fairly isolated manner, enjoying easier access to bigger budgets.
“Today, developers realize they have to collaborate more with other professionals such as front-end Web designers.”
“This definetely takes some getting use to. But I never thought it wise for developers to be isolated,” said Cole.
Shiau also noted that developers now have to clearly demonstrate how projects “will contribute to business development” to justify funding.
To thrive in this environment, he suggests developers alter some perceptions about development projects. Projects, he said, are no longer just about having a great idea and then implementing it. “Developers have to take into consideration such aspects as collaboration, resource allocation and business requirements.”
He said developer have to view their work as a “management process.”