Analysis Technology platform companies depend on third-party developers to such an extent that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously turned his company's codependence into a mantra, repeating "Developers! Developers! Developers!" as a sign of appreciation.
Almost two decades later, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and many other companies rely on software developers to breathe life into their respective platforms, but they don't always know how to court them.
Apple, among others, is fond of citing how much money it has doled out to app makers. Last year, it touted the $70bn it has allowed coders to keep since the 2008 inception of its 70-30-per-cent revenue split scheme for iOS apps. Cupertino gets 30 per cent of App Store sales cash, application vendors the rest.
Setting aside how misleading it is to cite an aggregate figure when median revenue numbers tend to be low, it turns out that money isn't the most important aspect of how developers relate to platform companies. In other words, while tech giants are bragging about how much money they pump around, the people crafting the software on their clouds and for their online stores are interested in many other things besides.
Consultancy Accenture in December 2017 surveyed 750 US-based developers involved with 15 different developer platforms about their expectations and experiences. Its findings, published on Monday, indicate that developers are more interested in learning new skills and keeping existing skills current than in making money through a given developer ecosystem.
"The surprising thing that came out across the board was that learning was the number one choice," said Stephen Donnelly, head of technology for webscale services at Accenture, in a phone interview with The Register.
Donnelly said a lot of developers think of themselves as explorers and engineers and that the various development platforms don't really cater to educational interests. Along those lines, he said, one thing developers really want is some form of professional certification for their knowledge.
Education and revenue are related since having current, marketable skills ensures developers have the ability to generate income from coding. But Accenture's findings suggest platform providers should not focus on revenue potential at the expense of other things.
According to the survey, 74 per cent said they want to learn new skills or improve current skills while 64 per cent said they want to make money through their chosen developer ecosystem.
"Certainly, the bedrock for developers is to monetize their development investment, but ecosystems must have a number of other things in place first – such as a compelling value proposition, in addition to skills development," the report stated. "Without these more highly-ranked elements the ecosystem will struggle, even to the extent that offering to pay developers to develop applications can still fail to engage them."
The Register asked Donnelly whether this was a reference to Samsung's Tizen platform, given that Samsung has an incentive program to pay developers to make Tizen apps. Microsoft also did this for Windows Phone apps before surrendering to Android.
At this point, the public relations rep coordinating the interview interceded to indicate that Donnelly could not get into naming the worst performing platforms. Donnelly too expressed reluctance to shame subpar performers. But he did observe that Amazon Web Services scored well with developers.
In general, cloud platforms fared the best and voice platforms outperformed the average. Laggards, said Donnelly, included mobile, social, CRM, communications, and collaboration platforms.
Beyond a platform's educational potential, developers also value technically accurate, up-to-date content, with 82 per cent rating that as important.
With only 24 per cent of developers expressing strong agreement with the proposition that developer ecosystems do a good job providing necessary content, platform companies may want to put more effort into maintaining API documentation as a means of retaining developer loyalty.
According the survey, Microsoft Azure devs were the happiest with platform docs. Coincidentally, Microsoft recently agreed to outsource its web API content to Mozilla.
After content, respondents rated support as the next most important thing, with 81 per cent rating timely support as important and 79 per cent rating knowledgeable support as important. According to the survey, when having to choose between the two, developers preferred knowledgeable support to timely support by a small margin.
Android developers are more satisfied than other devs with the level of knowledgeable support received, the survey says. And Azure developers expressed the most satisfaction with the "timeliness and technical background" of support received.
But as with content, support could be better as far as developer are concerned. Just 23 percent said they strongly agree that developer ecosystems do a good job providing the desired level of support.
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Open source matters to some extent. Donnelly said it helps developers trust the platform provider and feel valued. But if the platform is large and commercially successful (e.g. Apple), that's not necessarily what motivates developer participation.
"If you're very strong, you can carry a closed ecosystem off," Donnelly said. "If you're trying to break in, then it's not as easy."
Donnelly said the findings indicate that there's an opportunity for companies providing development platforms to differentiate themselves because there's not a lot of distance between the leaders and laggards.
"Companies that recognize developers are a key demographic and invest in them can make great strides," he said.
That cuts both ways.
"If you read between the lines, there's a slight cautionary note," said Donnelly. "If you don't embrace your developers, then things will become increasingly difficult." ®
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