Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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How the Citizen Developer Will Save Us from the AI/ML Developer Shortage 

A developer shortage is heading for the workforce and it will hit hard. According to Forrester, the U.S. will experience a deficit of 500,000 developers by 2024.

Across all industries and global markets, the demand for software is growing at a faster pace than traditional Java or .NET developers can keep up with. The rise of AI and machine learning exacerbates the developer shortage. But if businesses want to remain competitive, they have no choice but to tap into these emerging technologies.

So, how can the business world bridge the gap between the need for AI-powered tools and the lack of available developer talent? By equipping citizen developers — line-of-business professionals who want to build software but lack coding backgrounds — with no-code or low-code platforms.

AI and ML Need to Become Accessible

Currently, AI and ML dominate technology conversations across industries. But we’re moving to the point where they’re no longer overhyped trends — they’re real technologies that benefit businesses every day.

But for AI and ML to truly become the norm, we need more developer talent — or technology that imitates the talent under the right kind of human supervision. And that’s where no- and low-code platforms come in. Low-code and no-code platforms rely on a drag-and-drop visual environment, rather than traditional coding languages written from scratch, to build websites, automate emails and construct new applications.

These applications are currently great for getting the ball rolling, allowing citizen developers to develop central components to new tools so experienced developers can focus on more sophisticated AI and ML elements. Ultimately, these higher-level processes will become capabilities citizen developers can address, too.

For example, a financial analyst working at a bank could develop a ML-powered fraud detection tool. Or a marketer could build a proprietary application that harnesses all customer feedback — from social reviews to website reviews to survey responses — and distills that unstructured data into actionable insights. Or a junior attorney could harness a tool of their own making to analyze data across thousands of contracts to better handle negotiations.

When it comes to no- or low-code AI projects though, building and maintaining the necessary datasets will present a hurdle. There’s no getting around this element. To reap the benefits of AI and ML, you need structured data at your disposal and lots of it. Harnessing that data is the work of a data scientist — not a citizen developer.

When you start to identify the problems in your business you want to solve, consider whether you have data around the problem. It may take some time before you can begin evaluating the problem and seeking a solution while you wait for the data to accumulate and then invest additional time in structuring the data.

This process may require expertise you don’t currently have in your organization. Since times are hard for hiring qualified, full-time data science talent, consider partnering with a consulting firm or project-based data scientist to get your data in the right place to start working with it on a citizen-developer level.

After overcoming hurdles in current software development and limitations to data, you will be in a better place to empower a citizen developer with a no-code platform. They can begin building a tool that will improve a process related to their own work.

 Recruiting

Not all employees are cut out for citizen developer duties. But there is a certain type of employee that’s a good fit for the role. In fact, you can probably already identify some enthusiastic but unguided teammates eager to build their own solutions.

Citizen developer types are prone to pursue shadow IT when they aren’t provided with the right resources. They’re passionate about working smarter and will acquire or even build their own non-sanctioned apps to make their processes more efficient. Their won’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude means they’ve probably presented a process and cybersecurity liability in the past — not because they’re malicious, but because they want to work more productively.

Equipping these entrepreneurial types with a company-sanctioned no-code tool provides the approved technology they need to thrive. When introducing a no-code platform to citizen developers, be sure to give them appropriate governance and create a policy on how to use the platform to reduce the risk for shadow IT. Thorough training for these citizen developers will also help secure buy-in from leadership so they feel comfortable equipping non-IT employees with such a powerful tool.

The rise of citizen developers doesn’t mean the demand for classically trained developers is going away.  But while they’re busy building high-level tools, citizen developers are the ideal professionals to help line-of-business teams apply proven and packaged technology (like AI and ML) to their everyday workflows.

As demand increases amid a too-small supply of developers, building a team of embedded citizen developers sets your organization up to weather the AI boom and talent shortage — and solve countless technology problems across your organization.

Victor Kuppers is a citizen development evangelist at Betty Blocks.

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