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The citizen developer has arrived

The combination of social media and smartphones has led to an astronomical rise in citizen journalism. People see something happen, whip out their phones, record it, post it on Twitter, and before you know it, the video is on the six o’clock news.

The concept of regular citizens using mobile technology to take up a profession’s mantle applies to other fields as well, such as enterprise application development. That’s right: IT workers without coding skills, and even employees with little to no technical expertise, can use low- or no-code rapid mobile app development (RMAD) platforms to build apps themselves. RMADs are object-oriented, web-based tools designed to make it faster and easier to build mobile apps.

Citizen mobile app development — as Jason Wong, principal research analyst at Gartner, called it in an interview with the Modern Mobility e-zine — is more important than ever, because developers are in extremely high demand. So many companies need mobile apps, and there just aren’t that many qualified developers out there to build them from scratch. As a result, it’s expensive to hire a mobile app developer with enterprise experience who knows a variety of coding languages. Many smaller companies with limited budgets just can’t afford it.

That’s why RMADs are so valuable. A citizen developer can at least get a foundation for an app in place before a qualified developer performs all the technical steps, such as integrating the app with back-end infrastructure. But even that is getting easier, thanks to technologies such as mobile backend as a service.

Many of today’s mobile app development platforms (MADPs) offer RMAD capabilities. They come with templates that have the basics of an app — its layout and interface, for example — already in place. They also have preexisting code for advanced features, such as geolocation services, that the person building the app can just drag and drop into place.

So if a company needs a simple data entry app, a citizen developer can quickly throw something together that allows mobile users to get their jobs done. In addition, MADPs let developers, IT pros and users build apps that function across multiple operating systems, so whoever creates an app only has to do so once.

Apps built with RMADs cannot replace the quality and customization of those fully developed in-house, and they don’t always work great for more complex processes. But they can make users more productive by simply mobilizing specific business processes. Just as a random person with an iPhone could never replace a trained news cameraman, a citizen developer using an RMAD cannot stand in for a top-flight developer. But they can help fill in the gaps.

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Great piece Eddie.

I especially agree with your last remarks that Citizen Developers can fill the gaps but we shouldn't think they will replace developers in particular (or IT in general).

RMAD is definitely a growing trend and we'll see it evolve in the next couple of years in ways we've never thought of.

You mention "there just aren’t that many qualified developers out there to build them from scratch" - however I don't think this necessarily means that the solution is for the business users to start developing apps (that will probably happen in some cases, but it will be a while before that becomes the norm).

What I think this allows is for IT to find, hire and use less experienced developers (like right-out-of-school graduates) to fill the resource gaps.

This sort of platforms and tools open the door to a wide group of available resources that understand programming but don't have the necessary experience to use traditional (old-school) technology. Also, onboarding a zero-experience graduate into using an RMAD platform is way easier and faster than sending them to Javascript bootcamp.

RMAD opens a new world of opportunities to solve the resource scarcity problem, but I think it will all start with less experienced IT folks, before it massifies in the business ranks.