In CNN Money’s 2017 job rankings, mobile app developers came out on top, beating in-vogue, emergent fields like data science, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence, as well as literally every other profession from other industries.
And it’s certainly not the only survey that has pegged mobile app development as one of the world’s hottest and most highly-paid skills.
But in countries like South Africa, where innovation is easily stifled due to a severe shortage in technical skills, just where will we find all of the mobile developers needed to build the next-generation applications that will power our businesses?
An alternative could appear in the form of low-code digital delivery platforms. These platforms use visual development tools to enable the development and release of mobile apps without needing deep-level coding or technical expertise.
The wrong debate?
In fact, the need for development skills across different native mobile operating systems may be somewhat over-hyped, notes Craig Terblanche, Regional Director of OutSystems SA. “When PCs first emerged, people flocked to acquire core operating system development skills; but with the introduction of the web browser the demand for these skills quickly waned,” he explains.
Low-code platforms emphasise the idea or vision of an application, and its relevance to solving a business or a customer challenge, over the technical development of the app itself. They allow individuals to get to a Minimum Valuable Product (MVP) quickly, free from constraints like skills scarcity, financial resources, or layers of governance and approvals.
For those that do want to pursue the route of deep technical skills in the mobile development arena, low-code platforms can be a convenient way to get into the field, and start delivering practical value to employers or clients immediately. “We’ve seen people start building low-code apps from all kinds of backgrounds – Business Analysts, classic BCom graduates, or those that are more technically-minded in other development fields,” adds Terblanche.
“Re-tooling oneself towards low-code development is actually very simple for those with a good understanding of system fundamentals, structuring data, mapping processes, defining business logic and understanding user behaviour.”
Major trends for 2017
Many analysts and industry experts point to inward-facing, employee apps as one of the next great frontiers for digital migration, as organisations realise that changing their outward digital appearance needs to be supported by true digitisation from within.
Forrester, for example, predicts that enterprises like The Home Depot and Unilever will spend four times more on digitising their operations, compared with the amount they’ve spent on digitally transforming their customers’ experiences.
As this concept of a ‘company app suite’ for staff gains momentum, addressing this demand seems unlikely if we rely on expensive, specialised native developers. A more realistic option is for non-technical business teams to be empowered with the tools to develop new solutions, unlock value from legacy architecture, and ultimately solve their challenges.
Perhaps the second major trend to dominate the mobile landscape in 2017 will be the need for applications to leverage data from an explosion of new sources. As we start truly integrating Artificial Intelligence, connected devices (the Internet of Things), and social business tools into our apps, the complexity escalates wildly.
Taking advantage of these new trends entails managing an exponential number of new data-points – which can become extremely costly with a fragmented, native development approach where applications are re-written from scratch across 3 or 4 different operating systems.
Ultimately, there’s no doubt that digital skills should feature on every ‘hottest jobs’ list, but honing in on native mobile development may be something of a blinkered approach.
The digital skills of the future should be far broader than this – encompassing the likes of user-experience, lean startup principles, pitching and lobbying for support, and creative problem solving, among others.
By Craig Terblanche