'T-shaped' developers are the new normal

Don't go chasing waterfalls

Plate spinning routine by Henrik Bothe

Blog When I joined QA nearly eight years ago I did so in a time of wonderfully ordered roles and responsibilities. It was a world of web developers, designer, application programmers and database administrators. Each sat in their own little area worrying about only their little part of the puzzle with clear definitions of responsibility.

This venerable model heralded the age of web and app development, but it also contained the seeds of its own destruction, creating a world of silos, isolated and closed knowledge – a world of “not my problem”.

As these complex systems have matured the effort, and the risks, to change a product have become significant and difficult to achieve. As this era, and the solutions built around it, draws to an end, something new awaits.

The web developer jobs of today, the trendsetters and game changers, do not push bottlenecks through waterfalls. From tech startup to large-scale enterprise, the skills to succeed and adapt require a different mindset.

The modern developer requires clear methodologies to work with, a supportive organisational culture and tools that automate the simple tasks. This cultural change does not just apply to software developers – business leaders drive this change and provide the tools for their organisation to thrive.

With Windows 10 comes the end of the full product upgrade – from now on small iterative changes will be the norm

The organisations that take this approach are better able to attract and retain skilled and driven professionals. And this combination enables them to focus less on maintaining legacy and more on getting new products to market.

A more agile way of working

The Agile, Lean and DevOps movements are the cornerstone of the new generation of developers. Technologically adept professionals want the ability to self-manage, define priorities and work in a fluid way.

Agile allows us to create efficient metrics, openness and accountability.

Lean allows us to explore the work that has gone before, destroying bottlenecks in our systems. The new upstart DevOps use tools and organisational change to create scalable services and products, taming change and integration, where all stakeholders are expected to understand part of each other’s role.

This is the world where every problem is your problem. To succeed the team needs everyone all in, sharing responsibility, success and failure.

Work like a ninja

To achieve this way of working you need a more rounded IT professional, or what the industry refers to as T-shaped developer. A T-shaped developer has one or more deep skill-sets of knowledge complemented with broad generalist knowledge across an entire solution.

Sometime known as full-stack developers, these rounded individuals are the most in-demand devs – in a modern world that wants staff who can do front end, can make middleware sing and utilise the terminal on their chosen operating system like a ninja, and knows how to test.

Almost all of these new devs work in the world of open source – the closed shop shrink-wrapped products of the Microsoft and Adobe heyday draws to a close – and public open source solutions, software and services rise to replace them. The developers of today cut their teeth on Linux and OS X and they use languages like SCALA, Python and Ruby, instead of .NET and Java.

The enterprise software giants of the world have been slow to react but now Oracle has released Java 8, and Microsoft has changed its entire way of working in a few short months.

With Windows 10 comes the end of the full product upgrade – from now on small iterative changes will be the norm. .NET5 will be built on the principles of open source, with the source code available for everyone to see and use.

This is the age of the Frankenstein applications with services and solutions built up of perhaps a dozen different tools and frameworks. Each tool requires new skills to learn and manage and needs life-long learners that thrive as life-long learners.

Rapid change

This phase of machine-led, digital development is one of rapid change – many organisations are conducting root and branch reviews across their entire skill set.

At QA we recognise that many of our customers are large-scale enterprise operations with deeply embedded technology and ingrained organisational practices. But you will need to adapt and change or more agile and efficient competitors will out-manoeuvre you.

Continual change and movement looking for the next step of improvement and efficiency is the new normal. ®

David Walker is head of emerging technologies at at QA, the UK’s biggest provider of technical and business training in the UK.

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